What does success look like?…10 years after college graduation

Some of the dear young women that I mentor graduated from college last week. I warned them, from their early college years, that it would go by in two blinks.

They humored me but inwardly moaned. Graduation seemed agonizingly far away. They just wanted to hurry up and get on with life.

But, now they know. It goes by FAST.

For me, it’s been 10 years since I graduated from college. Stating that fact makes me feel super old. TEN YEARS.

I enjoy Mary Englebreit anything and I remember taping this picture to one of my notebooks while I was in school.
…Dream the future.

Well, now the future is here. I’m living the future that I’ve always dreamed about, the one I was so anxious to get through college for (why was I so eager for those years to pass?? They were golden…and then gone).

I look back at these 10 years with a wry smile and try to release the bitterness that wants to seep into my honest gratefulness at what my life has brought me.

I had grand plans for a teaching career in higher education. But after graduating (7 years ago now) from grad school with my MA in English, my “career” has slowly slipped away to nothingness.

I’ve been a full Stay-at-home-mom for more than a year now.

Being a Stay-at-home-mom is valuable and a role worthy of the highest respect but that wasn’t what I dreamed for myself when I was in college.

Yes, I wanted to be a mom, but I wanted more too—I wanted something outside of myself, beyond my home, beyond the mundane, something I could build a foundation on, that would spell “Success” to myself and others.

So, lately, I have had to have some heart-to-hearts with myself about what success looks like to me now, 10 years later.

I’ve done my fair share of grieving over my lost dreams, the career I wanted but just wasn’t to be (at least right now). And I think that my grief was real and honest and needed. It hurts to let go of your expectations and the life you thought you would have.

But what’s on the other side of grief? What’s left when the mourning is over?

It’s in this place, this quiet, contemplative place, full of gratitude (and also small twinges of jealousy and longing), that I’m redefining success for myself.

I’m going back to the foundational question that lies behind every successful endeavor: What do I want?

And I know a few things that I want:

I want to be an awesome wife.
I want to be a loving, nurturing, supportive mother.
I want to be a kind and thoughtful friend.
I want to be an honest and consistent writer.
And more than anything, I want to bathe all of these desires in my longing to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and love my neighbor as myself.

My 9-year-old talks a lot about being “famous” one day (mostly fantastical machines like a movie-in-nator that takes you into your favorite movies so you can have an adventure!).

I remember wanting to be “famous” too (Newberry awards! Tony Awards!) when I was young (and not so young)—that desire to be known, to be recognized, to feel important, to see my name in lights.

I wanted success to look a certain way.

But it hasn’t looked like that for me and I’ve had to come to grips with my desires, both good and misplaced.

I hope that some of my shallowness has faded away in the last 10 years. I know I’ve grown more of a backbone and acquired some bravery along the way, as well as become an expert in all things Autism, ADHD, and the male-child (still working on that last one—boys are very confusing).

But success…10 years later? It doesn’t look anything like I thought it would and, my word, I’ve had to mourn my losses along the way.

But clarity often comes in the wake of tears and it’s become easier to identify what success looks like to me: I want to Love: Give love, accept love, put on love, be His Love.

And yeah, that sounds all cute and cliché and christiany, but I’ve been stripped of so, so many of my expectations and desires for my life—about teaching, writing, marriage, and especially motherhood—and growing roots in Love is the only thing I’ve got left to build a foundation on.

So these days, 10 years later, I’m working on blooming where I’ve been planted, successfully. If people can say, “She loved well” as a measure of my success in the next 10 years, I think I’ll be satisfied with that.

What were your dreams and goals at your college graduation?
How have you had to adjust your expectations about how your life has turned out?
How do YOU define success today?