Maybe it’s because I have a daughter nearing her tween years, or maybe it’s because I’m closer to middle-age than I care to admit, but lately I’ve been thinking about my own coming-of-age -- that wonderfully greedy time when all that mattered was what I was going to do and who I was going to become. If you’re a regular reader here at my thoughts hub, you know that I was going to be a great many things. I was going to be an astronaut, a tap dancer, a singer, a musical comedian, a political speechwriter, a producer, and so on. I was going to be impressive, noteworthy, and you wouldn’t have been able to overlook the mark I would leave behind.
Of course none of that happened. At least not long enough for a solid career to have launched or Google to have picked up on any of it. While I never piloted a space shuttle, the rest of it I lived briefly, long enough to experience the thrill, but short enough to ultimately file them away as phases. If you’d have told me when I was a burgeoning tween that everything I dreamed of would amount to phases, I’d have filled my first antidepressant prescription at the ripe age of ten. And as I watch The Girl, my girl, study ballerinas, memorize classic variations, and delight in the personal triumph of being invited to start pre-pointe earlier than she’d thought possible, I can’t help but ask if she’s setting herself up for just another one of life’s manipulative phases and will she, like her mother, near middle-age with the horrifying thought: is there anything about me that is lasting?
I stopped wanting to be an astronaut after I watched in horror as The Challenger blew up into a million tiny pieces on the television screen in my second grade portable classroom. I stopped dancing when it was obvious my technique was sub par. I stopped singing when the hours became too long. I stopped speech writing when my internship fell through because the politician I was to write for got caught in a hotel room with his pants down. And the rest of it eventually fell off too. Auditioning was greuling. Production was too hard with a young family. My coming-of-age came to an end with decades ahead and a completely unknown mark to leave upon them. The lust for all that I would do was suddenly lackluster. How could I have let this happen? How could that brassy, over-achieving girl be left with the remnants of phases and an empty plot line ahead?
I could have moved to Washington anyway and applied to another political office. I could have challenged myself to be a stronger dancer. I could have reorganized my priorities to make time for music. I could have sucked up the ho-hum of auditioning for a reward that may or may not have come. I could have hired nannies and carried on with a dazzling life in entertainment. Nothing stopped me. Nothing, but myself. Why did I quit? Why do any of us willingly allow dreams, ambitions, and goals to just fall off like a fully-equipped space shuttle, brimming with charisma and clout, but ultimately headed nowhere?
When we peak at that wonderfully greedy phase of planning and pushing forward, we are at the center of our universe. The world is our oyster. Life is ours to take by the horns. We’re allotted such self-centeredness. It is, after all, our coming-of-age. And it isn’t until something or someone penetrates our one-woman-show that we realize that we were never the only character in the story. Someone else is always better than us. Someone else is farther ahead. The love of our life turns out to be a jerk. A great storm washes away a solid plan, or a baby comes unexpectedly. Life is never as we imagined it would be as we were coming-of-age because the coming to was always only that -- a passage, from one place to the next. And perhaps we don’t really come of age until we know that it was never about what we would do with our lives. It was always about how we would live them.
Whether certain dreams materialize or certain expectations fall flat always comes down to what we want and what we’re willing to do to get it. There is always a way to make something work. But it can be hard, inconvenient, or take too damn long. We don’t know unless we try and sometimes we choose not to try. That’s okay. Or it’s not. You determine whether what you want is worth it enough to keep going at it.
But how do we know when enough truly is enough?
That, my friends, is where our journey either falls into place or comes to a screeching halt. That, my friends, is why a mother would ask, “Is there anything about me that is lasting?” Because if I’m really being honest, the truth is that I have a scattering of phases in my wake because when things got hard, I got lost, scared, and didn’t know myself enough to know how to respond. I didn't actually have a voice about my future until I realized I’d never actually had a voice at all. I spent a good while angry on the inside, focused on my actions and forgetting all about the importance of reactions. It wasn’t until I stopped being mad at what I saw behind me and started admitting that I chose to turn ambitions into phases that I began to understand. Some things I turned away from didn’t compare to what could take their place. Other things I just simply didn’t love enough after all -- at least not enough to make the center of how I lived my life. And, yes, there were opportunities that fell off because I was too scared, too lost, too quiet, and too proud to admit it. But eventually, like a serendipitous offering, that unanticipated empty plot line became a pretty damn good gift -- worthy of the same good greediness I relished in before. A second coming-of age, dare I say? Maybe.
Knowing enough and accepting enough has become my refuge -- a different kind of mark on the world. Rather, it’s the marker that characterizes whether something in my life is complete or whether it falls short. It is a word that soothes me when I don’t have all the answers, but feel confident with what I do know. It is the word that has allowed me to forgive myself for everything I let dissolve into phases, and it is the same word that has given me the grace to appreciate everything I gained from changing course. There are people I would never know, children I would not have, and a partner not to share this gift of a life with, if it had all been enough way back then. Something always made me quit, but what won’t phase out is the burning in me to live with meaning, to work with anticipation for what adventure will come next, and to fill my heart with the pleasure of just being me and all that I am without impression and noteworthy accomplishments.
And as I look down the barrel from my age to that of my daughter as she prepares to fire away at her greatest desires, I want her to know that her enough is what she makes of it. She will define what matters and what is worth fighting for. And when she comes of age, whenever that may be, if her “enough” is so authentic to who she truly is that it bears no explanation to herself and no care for how others view it, then my work as her mother will have been enough too.
I know enough to know that just as earth will never fully evolve, just as a house is never perfectly complete, and just as a story is never without other possibilities, I will never, ever be truly enough -- not unless I choose to shut out the rest of the world. There will always be a push as I thrust into anything new. Therefore, I will always have room to grow. I will always have reason to explore. I will be coming to something until my last breath here and my first glorious view of whatever lies beyond this passage.
I could have been a great many things. I still can.