There was a section in my senior memory book from high school that asked, “Where will you be in 5 years? 10 years?” I think it stopped there which seems appropriate because when you are 18, imagining middle age is nearly impossible.
Five years after high school, I expected to have graduated from college and to be in my first year of medical school. Ten years after high school, I imagined I’d still be on the path to becoming a doctor. When I closed my eyes, I pictured myself as a doctor or with a high powered career of some sort and I pictured a house with a white picket fence. But interestingly, I never pictured a partner, children, friends or even pets. But that vision makes sense because I grew up working class and a profession that provided financial stability was the holy grail.
In the weeks leading up to my 50th birthday, I thought a lot about that vision of my life and compared it to the reality of what has unfolded in the intervening years. I am not a doctor. I did have a career as a social worker which gave me the financial stability I’d imagined, but I gave it up because I was burned out and because I wanted to write a book. But I don’t have a published book yet either.
I think part of why I dreaded turning 50 so much was because I was judging my life by an outdated standard of success. I was calculating my worth based on what I earn and what I’ve accomplished professionally instead of who I am and the life I’ve built.
My life is good. Really good. I have friends scattered all over the country who make me laugh, think, and feel loved every single day. I have a close-knit community of friends right here who do the same. I have the love and respect of my extended family. I have a loving and supportive partner and two kids I absolutely adore who think I’m pretty ok most of the time.
A Polaroid of my imagined life would be Dr. Vikki Reich standing in front of her house with the picket fence but a Polaroid of my actual life would be Vikki Reich surrounded by friends, family, her partner, her children and her two dopey cats. It would be so crowded with people that it would be difficult to fit them all in the frame.
I am living in the better picture. Maybe I’ll have a profitable career in midlife and maybe not. Maybe there will be a book and maybe not. But I know now that my legacy will be that I loved with everything I had and that is the standard that matters most.