I have always been very type A. I like schedules, concrete reasons, and plans. When I was little, I kept a notebook specifically for lists: lists of groceries, lists of summer activities, lists of books. Each list was color-coded and had a key to it. In fifth grade, was so worried that I would be late for school that I made my mother drop me off a full 45 minutes early. I would roam around the empty hallways, re-organize my locker, and get my bearings before all the other kids came rolling in. As a 22-year-old, this tendency towards order manifests itself in my incessant need to sanitize my hands, my exact scheduling of every workout, and my habit of getting up at 6am to make sure I don’t “waste the day.”
When I was younger, I had a very specific plan for my life. People joke about five year plans, but as a 12, 13, and 14-year-old, I had at least a ten year plan. I would go into high school, get straight A’s, and do extra-curriculars that were obscure yet interesting enough to get me into Harvard. At Harvard, I would major in linguistics (I planned to be able to speak seven languages at this point), and would graduate with honors. From there, I would work for the UN as a translator, and eventually marry someone who had an equally international background and high-power job.
And then I got sick.
My focus began to shift. Those extra-curriculars suddenly seemed superfluous when I could be running and burning calories instead. The time I could be spending brushing up on my Mandarin vocabulary blurred into time studying the calorie content of every food known to man. My mind, once sharp and alert, began to deteriorate as my brain and body began eating itself, desperate for calories. I distinctly remember working through a problem with my physics teacher, and when he asked me what 18 + 2 was, I burst into tears, because I truly couldn’t tell him the answer.
While other kids spent the summer getting internships and shadowing professionals, I spent it being force-fed bananas by nurses and making paper crafts for art therapy. I often laid in bed at night in those treatment facilities, crying angry tears over the fact that I was so far from where I thought I’d be. I felt like I’d completely failed. I disappointed my friends, my loved ones, my parents, and what’s even worse, I’d disappointed myself. Here I was, retraining myself to perform a basic human function, and I realized that my life would look drastically different from what I had originally planned. It was the most humbling, difficult feeling to process.
And that lit a fire in me. I refused to let myself and my illness derail me from my life. So slowly, I began piecing myself back together. I nourished my body and my mind and began tentatively planning again. Yet this time, I wasn’t making plans out of ambition and a need for prestige, but rather plans that would support me holistically, and that would allow me to continue healing outside of the walls of a treatment center.
I decided to go to a small, liberal arts college in California, a college that no one had ever heard of, that didn’t even have a linguistics program. But, it was close to family and the community values were things that I felt I needed at the time. I started back out in the world very unsure of myself. I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore and I was tentative about all the uncharted territory. I was deeply insecure after having to forego everything that I thought I would be, but ever so slowly I started to grow more comfortable with who I was and where I was at in life. And once I felt more established, like I had my footing again, I decided to transfer schools to something that I felt could push me a bit more. It still wasn’t the original Ivy League that I had planned, but it was rigorous and I knew that from there I would be able to launch myself more confidently into the world.
Fast forward two years. I am newly established in New York City, even though I always vowed I would NEVER end up here. I’m living in a beautiful apartment with a good friend, and working my dream job at a company I adore. I don’t speak seven languages, in fact I speak three less than that. I am certainly not on the marriage track with some worldly man. And you know what? I love my life now far more than the life I thought I wanted. Yes, I had major setbacks. I fell short in a lot of ways. The life I live now is wildly different to the one I dreamt of when I was younger. And yet, everything worked itself out.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that while it’s great to have ambitions and hopes and dreams, if life doesn’t work out exactly the way that you thought it would, it does NOT mean that you have failed in any capacity. There are so many times throughout my life where rather than getting what I wanted, I got what I needed. If I had gotten what I wanted, I would not be nearly as happy or healthy as I am now. Being at an Ivy League and working in a high-stress environment certainly would not have been conducive to my recovery. While being sick was a tremendously painful experience, I now get to help others who are struggling and it is SO fulfilling. I wouldn’t have been able to help these people had I not walked in their shoes.
As you go about your day, your week, your month, etc., give yourself GRACE. Allow yourself to bend with life’s curves, rather than break at them. Know that despite disappointment and the various hurdles that may come your way, life ALWAYS goes on. Someday, you may look back on the course of your unpredictable life and find that each little setback and change of plans made your journey just a bit more incredible.
Sending love to you all, xx.