Life Plans at Age 16 Versus Reality at 61

When I was 16, I knew that in my future I wanted a loving husband and several children. I knew that much. I also wanted a career since I knew from watching my mother get her Ph.D. as I was growing up that having intellectual stimulation and economic freedom contributed to happiness. I saw myself in a helping profession, such as psychology like my mother or else teaching at a university. I had no doubt that I would get an advanced degree – at least a Master’s – and I wanted to travel and see the world. I also knew that I wanted to live in a city for at least a while since I had grown up in a small Texas town and already was aware of the pros and cons of that life. I hadn’t ruled out living in North Central Texas where I’d grown up, but I knew for sure that I wanted to go out into the world and see what else was out there.

Now I am 61 and I have accomplished a few of those things I planned. I earned a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and I lived in Italy for a year right after I graduated from college. I have also traveled to Europe quite a few times during my life. Plus, I have that loving husband and three beautiful children, along with a beloved son-in-law, a possible second one on the way, and a darling granddaughter. However, the rest of my life is not as I had planned.

First, I’ve lived the past 20 years in Beverly Hills, which is a place that conjures up a whole host of images for most people, including myself. I am far from the stereotypic BH resident, but I have been actively involved with the school system here, have worked with countless parents and students over the years, and have made some good friends along the way. I would have never dreamed that would be part of my life story. Second, I worked as a professional therapist for only a few years and instead have spent most of my adult life buying and selling antiques, writing both fiction and nonfiction, and also working with students on all aspects of writing. I could never have anticipated that shift in my focus when I was sixteen. Third, I have not traveled as extensively as I would have liked – I have only been to Europe, Mexico and Canada – and I would like very much to see much more of the world before I die. I guess that remains to be seen.

So, the question is has this change from my anticipated life at 16 to my “real” life at 61 been good? The answer is more complicated than one might first think. Of course, I am grateful for my family. They make up the best part of my life and I couldn’t be more thankful for their presence. Also, I love that my life has been more adventurous that I expected, that has been a plus. However, what I couldn’t have known at 16 is that life is unpredictable, which makes planning a bit trickier than one might think.

For example:

How could I have known that I was going to marry a man who would open my eyes to the world of art, antiques and design? I might have stifled a small laugh at that possibility when I was 16.

How could I have anticipated that my reason to come to Los Angeles would be to care for my brother who had contracted AIDS? I had never heard of this disease when I was 16-years-old because it did not exist then.

How could I have guessed that my passion for writing would be the primary reason I would land a teaching job (without a teaching certificate) at one of the premier private schools in LA? I had never even heard of this school before I answered their blind ad in the LA Times.

How could I ever have predicted that teaching only one short year at that school would give me enough referral sources to last these past 15 years as a private writing teacher with the freedom to make my own schedule so that I could be home with my children and have more time for my own writing?

The answer is: I couldn’t have.

What I know now that I didn’t know at 16 is that “unknowns” periodically present themselves in life, and these unexpected circumstances have a way of shifting one’s path in directions that could never have been anticipated.

So, of course, I am happy that my life at 61 is as full, rich and blessed as it is. I am even happier to know that more zigzags will crop up on my life’s path in the future. Thank God for those unanticipated turns. They can make all the difference.


7 thoughts on “Life Plans at Age 16 Versus Reality at 61”

  1. This post was especially eye-opening for me. Living in the moment at college, it feels as if I can have everything planned and known by now, but you helped me realize that change and the unexpected can be surprisingly rewarding and good. In a way I think it shows that no matter what we think, what is meant to happen will somehow happen. This post really left me with the takeaway of having more faith and less fear, a much needed lesson.

    1. Aw, Madison, I am so happy to hear that this was helpful for you. Just as you know from your experience last year, life shifts in unexpected ways and so often it will take you on new and better roads. Love to you, sweet girl.

  2. A wonderful post, Len. I feel life builds on itself. Circumstances change, you adapt or grow (or some maybe not). I also know that we cannot plan everything, but must start with a plan.
    You’ve lived an interesting life. Hope the future holds lots more fulfillment and a wonderful surprise or a few.

  3. Your thoughts on these matters are very timely to me just now. I am going through some “stuff” that is causing me to weigh by abilities to make good decisions. All said, I think Madison is right. More faith and less fear…thanks ladies, I needed that reminder.

  4. Tess, it’s true, we do need to start with a plan. From there, life will build on itself just as you said. I certainly hope we both have a few surprises in front of us. Maybe more than a few good ones!

  5. My plans included being a college philosophy professor and now I teach high school English to seniors–maybe not too far off. First poem was published when I was in high school–it took me a long time to further my writing, but I eventually got there. In high school I sang and now for years I have been singing with the Amarillo Master Chorale. I did expect to be married but eventually I discovered being single suits me better, much better. The biggest difference is that I am much, much happier than I was then. Life has been very, very good to me.

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