When I was 12, my school friends and I wrote our “life plans” in the backs of our homework books. I wanted to be married by 22 (just like my mum), and then enjoy two years of married life before giving birth to my first child in one of those water pool thingamies without painkillers.
(And if you think that’s specific, you should have seen the description of my made-up husband-to-be; it includes a hair colour of “sandy blond with streaks of blond-blond”.)
Also in my plan was to become a journalist, and then a part-time journalist when the kids (two in total) came along. We’d all live together in a nice detached house somewhere in London. And I’d have an aga and a Smeg fridge – even though I wasn’t really sure those two items would look good together.
Over the years, I changed my plans – I decided that the dream life I’d once wanted wasn’t necessarily what I wanted anymore.
Which is fine. Except that sometimes it doesn’t feel fine – and not just for me. Many of us seem to have a hard time dealing with the fact that the decisions we made about ourselves years ago differ from what we want to do today. I know I’ve certainly struggled to feel OK about choosing to do something completely different from what I’d originally planned.
The same goes for anything we “like” and “dislike”, “do” and “don’t do”: dance in nightclubs, drink wine, eat tandoori chicken, travel… For example, I might decide that “I’m not the sort of person who likes to eat tandoori chicken” or “I am the sort of person who likes to travel frequently,” and that becomes part of who I am. I then become reluctant to evaluate those assumptions about myself because it’ll mess with my identity and how people perceive me.
As David Cain writes in This Will Never Happen Again, “Much of what you do today (or don’t do) was decided by the person you were years ago, a person with less life experience and less insight into your values. Your identity – as in who you are to yourself, and who you are to others – changes throughout your life, and the person most qualified to be deciding how you spend your time now is always going to be who you are today.”
I’m clearly not the same person I was when I was 12 – and a hefty chunk of my values and assumptions have changed too (almost everything, in fact, apart from my appreciation of the Spice Girls’ contribution to music).
So it’s entirely rational to revisit the assumptions I held back then, as well as more recent ones – such as the belief four years ago that Rob and I “just weren’t really into travel”, and that an annual city break or two would see us through life.
In a few years, we might decide that we want to return to London for good, make babies, and thrive on toddler group discussions about diaper rash and dribble. And if we do, we shouldn’t be worried about what it says about our “identity”.
In order to stay happy and (puke alert) “true to ourselves”, we’ve realised how important it is to constantly evaluate our lives and values.
It might seem crazy for you to change your life in one direction or another – especially if you have friends or family telling you that “you’re not the type of person to do that”. But who cares if you weren’t that person a few years ago? You are now.
Posh, Baby, Scary et al. were right on when they half-sang: “So tell me what you want, what you really really want”. If I were to nitpick though, I’d add “right now” at the end, and ask you to revisit in a couple of years’ time. Just in case anything changes.