My 28th birthday snuck up on me and, as I do every October, I reflected on my life. Then I laughed. I was not coddling a crying baby, nor was I running after a mini-me toddler. I was not staring lovingly into the eyes of my husband; not even those of a boyfriend. (Although, on more than one occasion, I stared lovingly into a piece of my mom’s pumpkin pie.) And with each passing day, my job brought me less and less joy. This was not the life that I had planned for myself back in high school.
The “10-year” part of my 10-Year Plan had finally arrived and then abruptly left.
I had barely moved through my timeline – school, career, husband, children, happily ever after – which I ultimately defined as my “purpose.” These past 10 years were to be spent creating this life, and then the remainder of my lifetime would be spent growing and cultivating it. I wasn’t succeeding at my purpose, and this reality punched me in the gut. Angrily, I thought, Why bother creating a “plan” that is not guaranteed to come to fruition anyway?
After a few weeks of wallowing in my defeat, I questioned why this life plan was so important to me. We don’t tend to hang on to decisions that we make in our teen years, so why did this one have to stick? I decided that it was time to throw out the plans of 17-year-old me and, instead, trust in God’s. I clung tight to the words from Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.”
Ok God, here I am. What’s your plan for me?
I didn’t hear booming voices in the sky or burning bushes that talked, but I did hear one question, repeated over and over again, in my heart: What makes you happy? It took some time to find the words. Instead of focusing on big-picture goals, I started with simple things that I find myself smiling about: traveling, exploring, stepping outside my comfort zone (just a little bit – let’s not get crazy now), interacting with strangers, and taking a stroll outside while soaking in the sun.
I eventually followed up with my own question: What do I need to do to find long-lasting happiness? I spent a few months discerning these questions. At first, I reacted with nail-biting anxiety and fear of the “what-ifs” (What if I never find it? What if I’m just as unhappy a year from now?), but then that transformed into excitement and the endless possibilities of amazing “what-ifs” (What if this is the adventure I have been waiting for? What if this is the time to do what I’ve never had time to do?).
As soon as the joy outweighed the fear, I knew it was time to make some life-altering decisions. I terminated my apartment lease and moved back in with my parents so I could save money. I told my boss that I would not be renewing my contract when it expired. I focused on my physical health; I changed my eating habits and started exercising four to five times a week. I made prayer a central part of my day so that I wouldn’t miss out on further instructions or questions of the heart. And I reignited my passion for writing.
I intend on dedicating this next year or so to the search for long-lasting happiness as I do things that I love, such as exploring places I’ve never been, tasting local cuisine I’ve never tried and carrying on conversations with people I’ve never met. Do I think I will find long-lasting happiness in just one year? Of course not. (But how awesome would that be if I did?) But in my heart, I know that it is important for me to begin searching for it. Perhaps, along the way, I will succeed at finding a new purpose. Perhaps I will find myself 29 and broke. Whichever the case, it’s not my plan. And I’m OK with that.