Letting Go of the Life I Thought I’d Have

When I look at how my life has turned out, there are some areas I’m extremely proud of and other areas I’m less than thrilled with. The fact that I’m even still alive and didn’t commit suicide, having lived with depression my whole life, is a testament to my perseverance and drive.  But when I look at the things and stuff I’ve accomplished, I think: how did this happen to me?  I was the Type A overachiever growing up who was going to be super successful. I got straight A’s, worked doubly hard to be the best at everything, got into an elite East Coast university and then everything fell apart.  

All my goals were based on me not being enough, not feeling good enough and needing to do more to prove myself to be worthy.  I was going to be a superstar because then I would know I had accomplished enough to be lovable.  When I switched from International Relations to Theatre in college, I went from thinking I’d be the Ambassador to France to thinking I’d be a movie star.  Nothing else was good enough.  

When acting didn’t work and I realized I didn’t have the drive for it and just wanted the glamour and wealth, I decided to let it go.  But then I realized how lost I was.  I’d come to LA for acting and now that I wasn’t acting, why was I staying in LA?  I had done a lot of admin and PA work because I did it as a student in college for extra money, and when I came to LA I just needed a job to pay the rent.  I didn’t need a job to further my career; I was going to be a movie star.  Then there I was at thirty feeling deeply unmoored with no clear direction in sight.

I decided to save up money to travel and set up a blog to document my six-month road trip in 2009.  I was going to be a superstar who got paid to travel.  Travel influencer wasn’t a job yet, but blogger was.  I had no idea how to do it as a business and no confidence in myself to say, hey look how awesome I am, you should pay me for this.  I came back in debt, unemployed and expanded my photography skills to food by documenting my numerous baking projects.  

In 2012, I moved to Paris to study French at the Sorbonne, thinking, see America just wasn’t right for me.  I’m going to be an expat living a fabulous life in Europe.  Six months later, I was back in LA, unemployed and in debt again.  

I’ve spent the last nine years trying to unravel the emotional roadblocks and resistance instead of picking up and running away, even if it is to someplace fabulous.  While I know I’ve grown tremendously as a person and really expanded and become a more balanced and less reactive human being, I can’t help thinking that I’ve pretty much wasted the last decade.  I know deep down I haven’t, and I’m so proud of myself for where I am mentally and emotionally now.  I know for the first time in my life I have a solid foundation to build on.  Outwardly though, it looks like I’ve done nothing.  No relationship, no career, no fabulous house or lifestyle.  

It’s made me take a really hard look at my values.  What does success look like?  Is it money, power and prestige?  Is it the amount of joy, love and happiness in your life?  While I know it’s the latter, I haven’t accomplished much in either category.  Who gets to decide that, though?  Is it what I feel is of value to me or what other people tell me is of worth?  Am I doing what I want or what I feel I need to in order to get the pat on the head from society?  Who says I need to have a husband, two kids, a house and two weeks of vacation a year?  Personally that image always freaked me out, because I looked around as a child and saw that once a woman got married and had kids, her life was over.  Any dreams she had were set aside to take care of her husband and kids.  It doesn’t have to be that way, but that was the only example I saw and I ran screaming in the other direction.  But that wasn’t me pursuing my dreams and passions, that was me taking action in response to something I didn’t want.  Success is being connected to your true self, that inner being that only wants the best for you, and making all your decisions and actions from there.  I’m far from mastering that, but it’s something I work on every day and it’s led me to some insights.  

Here’s what I do know.  I have a rock solid friendship with the most amazing woman.  We’ve known each other for almost twenty years.  We lived together for a while a decade ago.  We’ve been through everything with each other.  We know absolutely everything about each other—the good, the bad, the horrendous and the embarrassing.  We’ve never had a fight.  We don’t judge each other.  We are always there for each other and we’ve managed to remain friends as we’ve transitioned from being two young, single women to her marrying and having kids while I remain single.  

Here’s what else I know.  This kind of relationship is incredibly rare.  When I think I don’t have much of a social life, don’t have a lot of friends or a man, I remember that having the quantity does not necessarily mean having the quality.  I need to focus on the amazing relationships I do have, including a new friendship that is similar to my most treasured one.  I would still like to find a man I can have a deep connection with, one I can travel with and build a life together, but I don’t want to settle for less than what I want and I don’t want to think I have to be less in order to be with him.  So I’m focusing on me, on being the woman who attracts an amazing, supportive equal partner.  

Ultimately I have to let go of how I thought my life would look, because that image was based on a lot of negative beliefs that I don’t want to carry around anymore.  It was the dream fantasy life of someone who was miserable, lonely and trying to escape her isolated life.  Some of the things I want might look the same on the surface, but the feeling behind them will be completely different.  The money, house and lifestyle will come because I love myself and know my worth, not as evidence to convince myself I’m worthy.  My man will come because I feel complete as I am, not because I’m looking to him to complete me.  

The perspective I have is one of my greatest accomplishments.  The life I thought I would have was full of stuff, but I was never clear on how it felt.  The stuff was supposed to fix everything and make me happy once I’d achieved it.  Letting go of that empty existence doesn’t seem like such a sacrifice anymore.  It’s also letting go of the girl who wanted that stuff and all the heavy, dark reasons for wanting it.  I’d like to be able to say that I’ve let that go, I feel light and have created fabulous new things in my life, but I’ve committed to be honest here.  While I can feel how good that would feel to be like that, I’ve still got some work to do to live there on a more regular basis.  Life is always a work in progress and some days are going to be better than others.  I know everything is always working out for me and things are always getting better. That’s the life I know I’ll be having for the rest of my time on earth.  


  • Heather

    Jen- it’s been a billion years but I am sure you are still the strong willed independent woman I spent weeks on Mackinac Island with. I love to follow your journey and am proud of the woman you are! Sounds like finding out it’s ok not to fit in anyone else’s mold is exactly where you are supposed to be. I have the spouse, the house, the kids and I love my life, but everyone has their own path to follow! Take care!