Four years ago, I sat on the floor of the first home I had shared with my husband, ruthlessly sorting my collection of classroom materials. In one pile I stacked my most beloved read-aloud books, which I planned to keep for the baby who was growing in my belly. I boxed up the still-usable-but-unneeded resources that I could pass along to other teachers. Finally, I tossed aside the materials that were beyond repair.
I had recently switched careers from education to publishing. It was a thrilling and hard-won change after feeling lost and burned out only a few years into what I thought was a lifelong calling to teach. But despite my giddiness at reaching the publishing dream that once felt impossible, I still found myself hanging on to the trappings of my former life. The voice of my inner critic warned that perhaps I hadn’t thought things through, that I wouldn’t be good enough to succeed in this new role.
So I clung to my classroom supplies as if they were a safety net, albeit a thin one, in case I needed to go back to the classroom. In a way, I felt like a mom who was finally ridding her home of all the baby gear. I was a little afraid that the act of giving it all away would bring on an urge to return to my former, safer role as Ms. Bergman.
Though I loved my new job and sensed it was a better fit for me than teaching had ever been, underneath the tension I felt a deep sense of grief for the vision of my life that I’d given up. In some ways I felt like a failure—I had lasted only five years in education—and in other ways, I felt brave and capable—I had struck out to start a new career in a field where I had no experience, and I landed a job where I could see myself long term. But then again, I suppose we never really know what the long term holds.
As a teenager, I expected life in my thirties to be marked by political success. I thought I’d be living in a major city, working my way up the ladder at a law firm, and preparing to run for Senate. I might be married, definitely wouldn’t have kids, and would be thrilled with this arrangement.
As I prepared to graduate from college, I imagined life in my thirties would have me married to a godly man, staying home with our three kids after a short-but-rewarding career teaching elementary school, and perhaps volunteering in the church nursery a few times a month. I would be thrilled with this arrangement.
As it stands now, just a few months past my thirty-first birthday, I have been married for five years and am the mother of a high-energy three-year-old girl with another baby on the way, work as a copy editor at a publishing house, and write essays in the early mornings and other cracks of time. Most days I am content—and often thrilled—with this arrangement.
My personality type thrives on having a concrete plan—for the day, for the week, for my career, for the next ten years of my family life. I constantly have the ideal version of my life in view and believe if I can just push a little harder and be a little more virtuous, I’ll reach that ideal version and everything will be happy-clappy after that.
My life has taken detours I didn’t expect, regardless of my carefully laid plans, and I’m no longer under the illusion the future will be any different. Some of these detours I have chosen, or at least welcomed, and some have been dumped on me like a bucket of icy water. I didn’t expect to ever get burned out on teaching, let alone after just a few years of the work, leading me to seek a new career entirely. I didn’t expect to return to writing or for it to become one of the driving passions of my life. I didn’t expect to love motherhood the way I do and yet still feel so ambivalent about having more children.
Perhaps it’s a natural part of getting older and gaining some distance from my earlier expectations for my life, but sometime around my 31st birthday, my changes of plans began to feel less like failures and more like neutral course corrections. Each detour revealed a little more to me about who I really am (not who I think I should be), deposited courage into my heart to be okay with those things, and showed me a new role—whether as big as a job or as small as parenting practice—that is better aligned to my gifts and personality. I’m not the mom who thrives having two under two. I’m not the wife who does devotions with her husband every morning. I’m not the writer who knocks it out of the park on social media, though I have a huge amount of admiration for women who are those things. By realizing all the women I’m not, I have come closer and closer to the woman God created me to be.
I still feel tempted to map out my life in five-year plans, and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I tend to become complacent and aggravated without a plan. But the lesson I keep learning through every change is this: taking steps in a direction I hadn’t planned doesn’t mean all the previous steps were a waste of time, mistakes I should have had the foresight to skip over. It simply means those previous steps — like the semesters I spent studying political theory or the hours I spent planning math lessons — were right in the moment, and at some point, they stopped fitting.
There came a point in each of my pregnancies where I could no longer stand to wear non-maternity clothes. Sure, I could still fit some of my tees over my growing belly, and yes, I could squeeze into my biggest jeans with the help of a belly band. But while I felt itchy and uncomfortable in clothes that were no longer meant for me, I felt instant relief when I slipped into clothes that had been specifically designed for my changing body.
I’m realizing now that it takes great courage to admit when something, whether my first-grade teaching job or a favorite pair of jeans, no longer fits, and to choose a new way of being in and contributing to the world.
If you ask me right now what I expect my life to look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years, I will tell you this: I have no idea. And I’m thrilled with that.
Brittany L. Bergman is a writer and editor living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and her daughter. She is passionate about living a simple life marked by authenticity and gratitude. Brittany encourages moms to live thoughtfully and savor their right-now lives, and you can sign up here to receive her Self-Care Planner for Busy Moms. You can also find her at BrittanyLBergman.com and on Instagram.