I was celebrating a birthday with a friend the other day, which inevitably when you've known someone in excess of a decade, led to a lot of conversations about how much things have changed. When you're 20, you see someone at the age of 30 with a house, a spouse and a good job, and you think, "Hey, they've got it all together." When you actually get to 30, you realize that these, along with having children, are not exactly criteria for having a successful and fantastic life.
It was about ten years ago for me that life became... less than excellent. My book was just released, but I was working some crappy (but well paying) contract jobs, my marriage was falling apart, I had way more credit card debt than anyone should have, and against my better judgment, I would agree to coach the varsity volleyball team of a small private school (one of the most rewarding and difficult things I've ever done).
So little of my life today has anything to do with those days, save for a small group of closer friends, and a wider network of people I would consider more acquaintances. The work and my role in it has changed dramatically, I'm financially in a quasi-positive place (I'm behind on retirement saving), I've moved five times, and of course, I remarried and procreated. Oh, and getting involved in juniors volleyball is nearly impossible down here.
I could not have predicted any of it.
It makes me wonder... does anyone ask that silly question in interviews? I can't easily predict the next two years, let alone ten. I think with age you start to embrace the chaos a little. You certainly may have some ideals in mind, but you realize that rigidity in your goals doesn't make for strong character, it makes you immature. The more data you have, the more you adapt. Compromise stops being a negative thing, and it becomes a necessary thing.
The dinner friend hit some of that reality pretty early in adulthood. Within her first year out of college, she achieved what she wanted to do. I'm sure part of it was a sense of "now what?" and perhaps mismatched expectations about what the career would entail. Since then, her career has evolved into something unanticipated, but likely far more rewarding. Indeed, compromise isn't what happens in cases like this, it's exploration.
It kind of reminds me of being in a bad relationship. We all know someone like this... they stay in a relationship that's abusive or difficult, because they've accepted that it's the way things are. They're miserable, finally split, and start something new and discover a jar of awesomesauce that they didn't know was possible. That's what exploration, in all parts of your life, can reward you with.
Having the discipline to explore life is hard. We've been brought up in a world where we ask to see ourselves in ten years (just ask the Millennials who were suckered into thinking that college graduate equals great job). I didn't intend to endeavor in the exploration that I have, particularly in the last ten years, but it sure did make a difference in my life. The exploration has rewarded me with a great little family, a comfortable place to live, and hopefully a relatively stable career path for some number of years.