I love my life! I love doing life differently. I’ve never felt more ‘me’ than I have in the past year. I know I’m on the right path. I know I’m doing the right thing for me.
But I also have to admit that, sometimes, I feel lost. Sometimes I can't help but feel alone. I have to admit that, sometimes, I look at all my friends who are doing the ‘normal’ thing in life and I can’t help but feel a bit jealous.
For a long time, I couldn't really understand these conflicting feelings. How can I be happier than ever and at the same time feel lost? How can I feel more ‘at home' in my life than ever and also feel alone? How can I envy my friends even though I know don’t want their kind of life for myself?
As so often in my life, a book connected the pieces of the puzzle. More specifically, it wasGlynnis MacNicol’s memoir “No One Tells You This” that did. Glynnis MacNicol is a Canadian-born, New York-based writer. Like me, she chose a less traditional path in life. The book is set in the year around her 40s birthday and tells the story of how she came to the realization that not having a husband and kids is something she chose – rather than that it just didn’t happen for her. The whole book is worth reading, but there was one thing that really stood out for me. One thing I hadn’t really thought much about before.
Doing life differently means not having a plan, not having a set blueprint to follow!
I never realized this before, but I think that is maybe the most significant difference between people who follow the traditional path in life and those who don't.
I think a lot of people aren’t really aware of it, but when you choose the traditional path in life, you’re basically signing up to a set life-plan. Once you decide to get married and have kids, you sign up for a 20-year roadmap for your life! Of course, there is some flexibility, and different people have different attitudes and approaches to life. But on the whole, you know what the major milestones of the next 20 years will be. You will get engaged, married, buy your first house, have your first child and then maybe a second and third. After that, your kids' milestones become the major milestones in your life. Their first birthday, their first day at school, the first heartbreak, the day they graduate from high school, the day they move out and eventually start their own families. When you sign up for this path, you know the next 20+ years of your life will be about being the best parent you can be, picking the right schools and hobbies, and helping your kids through the challenges of growing up, all the while being a good partner to your spouse and making sure you earn enough money to support your family.
Of course, I'm oversimplifying and generalizing a bit here. I'm not saying that everyone who chooses to get married and have kids ends up living exactly the same life. Of course not. But you can't deny that the underlying roadmap is the same. The milestones are very similar. When you choose this kind of life, you know what you're choosing for the next 20 years. There is a path you can follow that many others have walked before you. The path, while not without challenges and obstacles, is fairly well sign-posted and you know where it’s heading.
The thing is, when you’re doing life differently there is no plan. When you're not following the popular path in life, you're not choosing to follow another plan, you're essentially choosing life without a plan. There are no set milestones or achievements you know you will be ticking off. There is no commonly accepted goal you know you will be working towards. There is no well-formed track for you to follow.
Doing life differently doesn't mean you choose to follow the blue track instead of the red one. It means heading out into the wilderness without a track to follow.
It means living life without a map design by those who have walked the same route before you. All you get, if you're lucky, is an internal compass, a gut feeling, that tells you to keep left or right.
The freedom and the endless opportunities that come with that are exhilarating. Knowing that I will have the freedom and independence to follow my heart any step of the way, knowing that I could be anything and anywhere next year or in 5 or 10 years is exciting. I love that feeling.
But it's also lonely at times. I feel lost at times because I am lost. I chose to be lost. I envy my friends sometimes because they know where they are going – and they are all going in the same direction. They all understand each other's lives. They celebrate the same milestones for and with each other. They all get the support, encouragement, and acknowledgment that comes with ticking off our society's big milestones; getting engaged, getting married, having your first child…
When you don't follow the same path, you have other milestones and achievements. You will do things that are just as important to you as getting married or having your first child is to them – but society won't recognize them the same way. You won't get the same support and encouragement. Not because people don't care, but simply because they don't know. There is no beaten track for your life.
No one has gone and defined what you should do and achieve to be considered successful, so no one knows what’s important and what’s not.
My best friend is getting married next year. I couldn't be happier for her and I'm super excited about being her bridesmaid. I consider her and her finance family, and I love being part of their big day in such a significant way. She's also been a really easy bride, so it's been super fun. A few weeks ago, she made a comment in a group message with the other bridesmaid (another close friend of mine) apologizing for being a bit cheesy about something and for taking up so much of our time. The other bridesmaid responded that she's absolutely allowed two as the bride – which of course she is!! The truth is, there are certain situations in life when people are a lot more supportive and accommodating and let you get away with things they probably wouldn’t at other time. Like when you’re the bride! Or when you have your first child, and everyone totally understands that you disappear off the face of the earth for a while and that our Facebook feeds will be spilling over with photos of your little one. Or when you have to cancel engagements because your child is sick.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t get this kind of support and leniency in those situations – they absolutely should! But I think what a lot of people don't realize, what I didn't really realize until recently, is that when you don't follow this traditional path in life with the same milestone, then you don't get the same kind of support and leniency. Situations that are just as important to you as having your first child might be to others won't get recognized as such. Not because people don't care, but because they simply don't know. They don't know what the milestones and significant moments of your life are because there is no plan or roadmap for it.
And that's why it feels lonely sometimes. That's why I envy my friends sometimes. Because they all know and understand each other's lives so well. They all know what the important milestones in each other's lives are. I don't envy them because I want to be like them, but I do sometimes envy them for the fact that they all get each other. I don't want to be like them, and I don't want to live their lives. I love my life, but I do sometimes wish that there were more people like me in my life. More people who know what it's like when you're life's milestones are not recognized as such by most people around you. More people who know what it’s like to live without a plan.