I was never under any illusions my life would fulfill all the highpoints of a fairy tale (maybe a tiny part of me secretly hoped it might). However, when I first started daydreaming about my future, I did expect to cross off a few big items, ideally by the time I turned thirty: marry my prince charming, have four perfect children, and establish myself in a meaningful and fulfilling vocational career, which would contribute in some huge way to making the world a better place. That was the big fairy tale picture in my happy ever after.
When I started fleshing out this vision for my future at fourteen, it seemed like I had given myself more than enough time to check everything off my list; thirty was essentially a lifetime away. However, reality hit as I entered my mid twenties and then, rather quickly, approached thirty with just a hint of what I had originally envisioned. I became concerned I had somehow screwed things up. I had found some of the aspects of my daydream, however, they didn’t exactly fit my original notion of fairy tale happy ever after. In fact, many areas of my life seemed more unexpected than blissfully easy and perfect.
While it might appear to an outsider that I’ve achieved happily ever after, my vantage point whispers that this isn’t always entirely true. Yes, I’m happily married, have adorable children, and found various careers. Yet, marriage hasn’t exactly been the leisurely ride off into the sunset I had anticipated, raising kids requires about 120% more patience than I was prepared to give, and my vocation and career have yet to coincide.
First, regarding marriage: it has been encouraging, comforting, fulfilling, and beautiful in countless ways; it has also been exhausting, frustrating, and irritating in surprisingly unexpected ways. To the obvious point: a good relationship takes a lot of work. I naively didn’t factor that in when I was daydreaming about my prince charming. I thought if he was the one, interactions and building a life together would be easy. Sometimes conversations and joint decisions do come relatively easily but most of the time there’s a lot of hard work encompassing long conversations and compromises to find understanding or come to an agreement.
Then there’s the shock of children, who have challenged me emotionally and physically in ways I’m still trying to wrap my head around (temper tantrums aren’t supposed to start at fifteen months old, right??). Yes, kids are wonderfully giggly, silly, joy-filled, and possess an insane amount of energy – but there’s also a mountain of tough decisions, discipline, compromise, and more sleep deprivation than anyone should have to endure, that goes into helping them grow.
As to my original notions of vocation and career, at least in my current life stage, they’re not the same. I felt that my vocation was to serve the underserved, all while working to change the, admittedly, complex systems and circumstances relating to those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantages. My passion for serving others, while also working to change systemic issues, still exists, even as my employment journey has detoured from the aforementioned topics. I’ve had the privilege of employment in several sectors while working for and with incredibly talented, thoughtful, and generous bosses and colleagues, but I would hardly qualify any of my previous work as world-changing in the ways I had originally envisioned.
Am I the only one a little surprised that life isn’t turning out the way I had originally envisioned? Certainly not. Everyday life, which ultimately comprises our ever afters, is full of hard work, exhaustion, intense emotions, and facing the perpetual unexpected – not exactly aspects we daydream about when we envision our futures of perfect happily ever afters.
While life may not go as anticipated, it doesn’t mean our ever afters are misguided. For those of us in the ordinary routines of life, that’s okay. Most of the time, our day-to-day experiences simply signal the unexpected nature of life. Even things we originally thought would be straight-forward usually aren’t, and that’s okay too. Joy and peace still exist in the unexpected ever afters and there’s a surprising amount of grace to be found in the imperfect.
For me, part of finding happiness and peace in the unexpected ever afters in my life means rejecting the notion that everyone else’s life is perfect while mine is not. I know that I’m not the only one struggling, but after observing cursory and perfected updates on other’s lives this belief is challenged. It is easy to feel like everyone else is experiencing varying degrees of perfect happily ever afters while I focus on the unexpected aspects of my ever afters.
This challenge is compounded due to the fact that people rarely openly discuss how life hasn’t turned out the way they anticipated. Or, if they do, it’s spun in a way that makes it sound like life is better than they could have ever anticipated. Sometimes it is better, and that’s great. Other times, it’s more helpful to honestly acknowledge things aren’t the way they were dreamed about, hoped for, or planned; the process of growth in first acknowledging, accepting and then embracing the unexpected can be accompanied by elements of bitterness, frustration, selfishness, optimism, awareness, excitement, and a whole host of other emotions that, hopefully, ultimately bring about a beautiful blend of joy and peace.
Finding the way to this place of acceptance is a daily journey that often has one step forward, three leaps backwards, two baby steps sideways…at least that seems to be my process pace. So if you’re not at that nice, final stage of acceptance in processing how your life isn’t going according to fairy-tale plan, that’s totally okay. You’re not alone. I’m always comforted when I hear or speak the words, “you too? I thought it was just me.” It’s relieving to know I’m not alone in my thoughts or experiences. If your life fills more unexpected ever after categories than the perfect ever after daydream themes, we hope you join us as we share our journeys and work to uncover joy and grace even in the most unexpected of our ever afters.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having recently relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
*photo credit: personal photo taken along Hadrian’s Wall Walking Path*