Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Are You Living The Life You Thought You’d Be Living?

Every day I’m faced with some small — or sometimes not so small — reminder that midlife is upon me. Maybe I’m not exactly old, but I’m no longer young either. Assuming I live to my early or mid-80s, I’m halfway there. I still have plenty of time to do lots of things — travel the world, watch my children grow up and maybe become parents themselves (or not), learn new tricks, make a difference, maybe learn to sew finally. But the energy I have to do these things and the body in which to do them is different now than it was 15, 20 years ago, and I know it will only continue changing, no matter how much kale I vow to eat or sleep I strive to get. To think of it a different way: if a life cycle were a single day, with birth happening around 6 am and death around 10 or 11, I’m at high noon. The morning is gone, evening feels like a ways away, but if I want to have a productive and enjoyable afternoon, I better get going.

These realizations have me evaluating things – determining what’s most important to me and what I can let go of. It kind of feels like the opposite of a midlife crisis and more like a midlife…breakthrough. (That doesn’t mean it didn’t sting a little bit this morning when I was slathering sunscreen on the kids and Jackson asked, “Mom, why do you have so many tiny wrinkles all over?”)

Anyway, I have been evaluating things, thinking about the life I’m living, determining if I’m spending my time doing the things I want to be doing, or if there are other/better ways to do the things I think I have to do that I may not enjoy (or maybe it’s possible that I don’t have to do them after all?). And I’ve been thinking about where I am in life vs. where I thought I would be at this age when I was younger. I think my 25-year-old self would be pleased for the most part with how things have turned out for us so far. I think things have actually turned out better than I probably imagined they would, in large part because I’ve been very lucky in many ways and I’ve fostered relationships that have deeply enriched me, and in smaller part because I took risks that paid off. Mostly, I’ve just been lucky.

What about you? Are you living the life you imagined you’d be living when you were younger? If you’re in your 40s like I am, do you feel any sense of a midlife crisis or a midlife breakthrough, or do you feel any distinction at all between this decade and others?

Related: What Advice Would You Give Yourself Ten Years Ago? and 30 Things That Will (Probably) Happen in Your 30s and An Ode to My 30s On the Eve of My 40th Birthday.

41 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Rangerchic July 17, 2018, 11:24 am

    I’ll be 43 in December and I think about these things too. Though I’m in a much different place than you Wendy. I had my(2) girls young. My youngest will be starting college in the fall. So I feel like I’m in a good place for the most part though I’m still dealing with a lot of things with my oldest daughter. I don’t feel like I’m having a midlife crisis or anything but sometimes I do just want to sell everything and live in the middle of nowhere – away from media and politics and all the crap. But that’s also not real life – so onwards and upwards I suppose. I’m hoping after my youngest get a year or two of college under her belt that my husband and I can downsize, do more traveling and think about where we want our future selves to live.

    I didn’t anticipate ever moving out of the state I grew up in and now that I do I’m not sure it’s where we want to be. We are working on our 4th year here and the first 3 years felt like an adventure. And now, I really miss seeing my nieces and nephews grow up and miss hanging with family and friends back home. Making new friends is so hard!

    I am grateful for all the good people in my life and one thing I can say about being in your 40’s (at least for me) is I don’t give a F*uck about what anyone thinks anymore. It’s so freeing! But no, this is absolutely not where I thought I would be (or even who I’d be married to) but I’m happy – and maybe lucky too.

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  • avatar

    cyndi July 17, 2018, 11:54 am

    Reading your column made me think. Sometimes life takes you places that you never thought you’d go-physically, emotionally or even mentally. After my first marriage ended many moons ago, I’d never thought I’d be remarried, parent to a a 15 year-old (y first child is 32 ) girl, and taking basically being the full-time caretaker of my 87 year old MIL so we can keep her in her home. I’m 57.

    I also recently retired after 30 years in the education system. I”m definitely in a different place than you are Wendy, yet I feel the same way you do. Some decades were better than others. Turning 30 was hard for me. Now I’m glad to still be able to do a lot of the things I did when I was younger. Age is just a number. I know that sounds cliche but it’s true. Some things turn out fine and others don’t. For me the key is never be closed to the possibilities, no matter what your age.

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  • Copa

    Copa July 17, 2018, 12:12 pm

    I’m in my early 30s, so even though it feels like a million years, I’m not actually THAT far past 25. I was so directionless at the time, though, that I could barely picture myself a few months out from where I was. So, I know my 25-year-old self would be so happy and proud of the progress we’ve made. I would’ve worried a lot less if I’d known a lot of the things that caused me the most anxiety and stress (namely, career, finances, and where I’d end up living) would all work themselves out.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark July 17, 2018, 12:19 pm

    Nope. And looking back, had I been even vaguely psychic — I’d have simply tried harder and thus succeeded in killing myself back in highschool…
    .
    Now, however, I am polite enough to stick around as a select few would overreact. But really? There seems to be no point in it. Everything that could have ever happened to me — didn’t. And, well… that’s a lousy place to.
    .
    In the future, mankind will understand suicide for what it often truly is. The best possible solution. Overpopulation will pave the way for realizing that — really? Nobody is all that soecial.

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    • Cleopatra Jones

      Cleopatra Jones July 17, 2018, 12:54 pm

      Wow BGM, that’s really dark.
      I hope you’re doing OK.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark July 17, 2018, 1:44 pm

        Of course — the best thing about dying in the 1980s is one would have exited exited stage left blissfully ignorant to what a FUCKED UP GARBAGE NATION this truly is. Filled with vile, spiteful, racists cunts and assholes — all of whom still back that filth in White House — a monster of a man who would long be dead if there were any karma or justice. Actually, half of America would be dead if there was any justice.
        .
        Then again — as Amerika crashes and burns — oh, just wait… perhaps our feeble minded nation truly will get what it deserves. To FALL hard. Better yet, here’s to hoping Trump blows us all the fuck up.
        .
        That would be justice. Fitting. And deserved.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar July 17, 2018, 1:03 pm

    When I was younger I drew a picture of a crystal ball with an image of a mother with a young daughter alone and the fortune teller crying. Turns out it was prophetic. Except for the crying anyway. I didn’t think I would be (almost) divorced but even that feels freeing and I can see a time when I am out of the weeds and can just be, without worrying about my ex and how horrible he has become. So some aspects of life will be harder for me than I had planned on, and I’m not a everything happens for a reason kind of girl, but I’m good where I am. I have health, friends and the ability to look after my loved ones, And I have a the most beautiful little imp I wouldn’t trade for anything. So if I had to go through everything I went through in order to get here, with her, then so worth it.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse July 17, 2018, 1:29 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how time is passing so quickly and reflecting on my life a lot recently. I’m 34. When I wa younger, I never thought I’d get married or have kids. And I did think I’d be career focused, which is not where I am. It’s funny where life leads you.

    All the nineties and early aughts nostalgia is also creeping in and making me feel ancient.

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  • avatar

    peggy July 17, 2018, 1:35 pm

    Hi-I am older than most of the commenters’ so far- I am 60 now. I want to encourage anyone who is very unhappy: with their job, where they live,marriage etc. to “make a move”. Anything feels better than being stuck.
    I left a near 30 year relationship/marriage and yes it was tough,but I am so glad I did. The sense of peace and relief after I left was amazing. My experience is that unhappy don’t even know how bad it is,until they leave and can gain distance on the situation and see now how much better off they are.
    I also am in a wonderful relationship now the best I ever have had.
    Also,as someone whose younger sister ( she was 44) was struck by a drunk driver and killed when she was on holiday,I can tell you that anything can happen. So don’t put things off,take action and always be prepared for the worst or best-both will happen.

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  • avatar

    ktfran July 17, 2018, 1:39 pm

    When I was, IDK, age 11, I distinctly remember visiting my uncle and his girlfriend (now wife) in the Chicago suburbs. My mom wasn’t feeling great that trip so his girlfriend took my sisters and I on the Metra into the City. It was December. She took us to her office building, where she had a corner office overlooking the ice skating rink. She took us by Macy’s, then Marshal Fields, to see the window displays. We walked by the art institute. I fell in love with the hustle and bustle and 10 years ago, this month, I made the move here.

    That’s the only childhood/teenage/early adult dream that has stayed constant. The rest of it, the career, the marriage, the kids, the pets isn’t even close to what I imagined but I love my life anyway. I’m happy. That’s all I can ask for.

    Last Sunday, I was walking home from the grocery store. It’s about a mile. I had bags on each shoulder. I had also stopped at a local coffee shot to pick up the most delicious draft iced coffee and an almond croissant. The US and Chicago flags were waving in front of me. For the first time in a while, I felt peaceful. It was a reminder of how much I wanted to be here, in this place, at this moment.

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  • avatar

    peggy July 17, 2018, 2:00 pm

    My 44 year old sister,I meant to say..

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  • avatar

    Kate July 17, 2018, 2:33 pm

    Oh, I have no idea what I thought at 25 my life would be like now. I was in grad school having a blast, tbh, living in a condo in Brookline MA (basically Boston, very nice neighborhood) with my first husband. Going out with friends, doing a Research Assistant gig, getting all A’s, seriously having so much fun. At that point I don’t think my husband had thrown away his life and completely shit the bed yet, but was about to.

    Then a bunch of shit happened after that, and whatever. I’m married again, it’s a great marriage, living in a different nice condo but in Cambridge now, working in the field I went to grad school for, still having fun, but in a different way. I don’t know what the fuck.

    Life, fuck it. Whatever. Getting older is kind of a drag though, and if you’re in your 40s and don’t think so, then I don’t know about you.

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  • Lucidity

    Lucidity July 17, 2018, 3:01 pm

    I’m not living the life I thought I’d be living. When I was younger, I was an overachiever. Everyone (including myself) expect great things of me. I was featured in an article called “Faces of the Future.” I thought I’d have a high-powered career and be a high earner by this time (my early thirties). Instead, I could never decide what career path I wanted (still can’t!), and ended up in low-level, low-paying management position in the veterinary industry. It’s ok – I love my co-workers, I get to cuddle with the clinic cats all day, and money really isn’t that important to me – but I really thought I’d end up in a job that I was passionate about, and this isn’t it. My husband is wonderful and my life outside of work is fulfilling, so I’ve come to accept that I’m just not going to be one of the lucky few who love their jobs. If I ever figure out what kind of work would make me excited to get up in the mornings, I’d gladly switch careers or go back to school, but so far, nothing inspires me. Sadly, nobody has ever volunteered to pay me to read books, which is the only thing I really want to do all day.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse July 17, 2018, 6:52 pm

      Ha, me too on your last sentence! Dream job.

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    • avatar

      ktfran July 18, 2018, 7:11 am

      I’d totally do that too if someone wanted to pay me.

      I’m definitely not in my dream job. I’m good at what I do. I like the people I work with. I’m able to advance. I draw a good paycheck and benefits. I definitely don’t love it. I guess I always viewed work as a means to and end. As in, I need money and health benefits. Guess I got to work.

      I suppose if I had my dream job, I’d own a bookstore. Do people still go to bookstores?

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      • avatar

        Kate July 18, 2018, 8:05 am

        Yes, people still go to bookstores. There are plenty of independent book stores around – oh wait, this is Massachusetts where a lot of the population still has a few brain cells firing. Not sure about the rest of the US at this point.

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      • avatar

        anonymousse July 18, 2018, 9:03 am

        I worked at a few bookstores and libraries when I was in school/my early twenties. I’m actually applying for a job at my local university’s library. The pay isn’t super awesome, but it has great benefits, free tuition for myself and my family….plus, books.

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      • Lucidity

        Lucidity July 18, 2018, 9:29 am

        Lots of people still buy books! There’s a whole movement to get back to physical books, after studies started coming out showing e-book readers have less focus and memory retention, not to mention sleep interference. I still read the occasional e-book, especially in the winter, because my local library has a massive collection that I can access from home, but I get most of my books from used bookstores. They’re the only things I collect.

        I fantasize about owning a bookstore, too, if I ever won the lottery. Of course, it would be hard to manage what with all the time I’d be away traveling the world. Also, I’d need to actually play the lottery, but my parents ruined that for me by calling it “the stupid tax” and teaching me the statistics as a kid (they had a friend lose everything to a gambling addiction).

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      • Lucidity

        Lucidity July 18, 2018, 9:57 am

        Anonymousse, I’ve applied to libraries and bookstore but have never even managed to get an interview. I hope you have more success! My sister has an MA in Information and works at a library. She tells me it’s 50% data entry and/or fixing IT issues and 50% kicking drunk and/or drugged up people out, and 0% making book recommendations – lol!

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      • avatar

        anonymousse July 18, 2018, 10:06 am

        I’m not sure what my chances for an interview are. I have the experience and qualifications but I feel rusty after being out of work for roughly four years.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 18, 2018, 10:48 am

        I was being sarcastic. I obviously know that people still go to bookstores. I still enjoy walking into a bookstore and browsing the shelves.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 18, 2018, 10:54 am

        Actually, my cousin came into some money a few years ago and opened a book store in Montana.

        My family, despite not everyone being well educated, are readers. You should see all the books my Grandpa had on the Civil War, his favorite subject. And he only went to school through 8th grade, he grew up on a farm. He read more than anyone I know.

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      • Lianne

        Lianne July 18, 2018, 12:13 pm

        I guess this is me too…I really love what I do for the most part, but it’s not because I am passionate about my industry or feel I am in my “dream” job. I just am happy with where I am in my career at this point in my life and feel I have made good decisions, etc.

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    • Copa

      Copa July 18, 2018, 9:21 am

      Have you considered a job in publishing? 🙂

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      • Lucidity

        Lucidity July 18, 2018, 9:49 am

        I’ve only thought about it in passing, like, I wonder who reads all the manuscripts that get submitted. I’ve never properly looked into it. I have BA in English so that might be a starting point. Thanks for the suggestion, Copa, it’s definitely worth a try. I’m too young to give up and get complacent.

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      • avatar

        anonymousse July 18, 2018, 10:08 am

        That WOULD be my dream job.

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      • avatar

        K July 18, 2018, 11:08 am

        @TheRascal works in publishing 🙂 Her job does seem pretty cool.

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      • Lianne

        Lianne July 18, 2018, 12:16 pm

        Wouldn’t you be worried about all the shit books you’d have to read?? I guess if you’re getting paid for it, it wouldn’t matter 🙂

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      • Copa

        Copa July 18, 2018, 2:30 pm

        My first job out of school was at a subsidiary of one of the major publishing houses and it was the perfect place for me at the time. The only downside was that the pay was pretty low. (Related to this thread’s general theme: I wrote above that I was completely lost at 25. I started that job when I was a few months away from my 26th birthday, and heavily credit getting my foot in the door at that company to all the great things I have in my life now.) One of my friends works for Penguin Books and part of her job is reviewing picture book and YA literature submissions.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse July 18, 2018, 11:58 am

      Side note, anyone read “Educated,” by Tara Westover?

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      • avatar

        K July 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

        It’s on my list to read. Looks good.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl July 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

        Great read. Saw it on the ‘new and interesting’ list a few months back and read it on one of my work trips

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      • avatar

        anonymousse July 18, 2018, 4:27 pm

        I finished it last week! It was so good. The way she was “homeschooled” and later ecame such a scholar is kind of amazing to me.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star July 17, 2018, 3:26 pm

    If you told me ten years ago what my life would be like at this moment, I wouldn’t have believed you—because it’s soooooooo much better than I was expecting.

    I never thought I would be a wife and soon-to-be mother with good friends in my mid-30s. I was shy and lonely right out of college for a long time, and I assumed I would never have those things. I was going to muddle along, alone (besides my family), in a low-paying job forever.

    I still muddle along in my not-so-well-paying job. But it’s just a job—and not being alone is all the difference between flirting with depression and being HAPPY (generally).

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  • avatar

    Ange July 17, 2018, 5:03 pm

    I dunno, I think I probably wouldn’t have imagined much more for myself job wise. I earn ok money, enough to enjoy life. I’m not stuck in an office and I get paid to travel overseas having experiences so that’s pretty cool. I’m not someone who loves work or finds fulfilment in it so I’ve been luckier than most to get work that’s generally interesting and pays the bills.

    My husband is a great guy and we have a good marriage. I never thought I’d get married so that’s a turn up for the books. It’s our fifth anniversary soon and neither of us are going anywhere any time soon so yay for maturity, contentment rules.

    My health is the biggest concern. My body doesn’t cooperate anymore and I fear being like my grandfather, practically immobile for the last 20 years of his life and dying young. I’m the only one that inherited his arthritis and it’s sobering. But what can you do? I try not to think about it.

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  • Lianne

    Lianne July 17, 2018, 9:17 pm

    When i was a lot younger, like late teens/early 20s, I thought all I wanted was to get married and have kids. I had no direction other than that. Then I broke up with a dickhead boyfriend and started focusing on me. I’m so glad for it. I’m in a marriage that’s a partnership, and while it’s work, it’s good work. And my kids, even at 2 years old and 3 months old, I cannot imagine a world without them in it. That part is in line with what I thought my life would be….but I also have a career and it’s one I love. I didn’t think, as a young woman, it was something I really cared about. But as I continue to learn and grow, I’m so happy to have it. Life is fucking hard sometimes, but overall, I am happy and I try really hard in those dark moments to focus on the happy things.

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  • avatar

    convexexed July 17, 2018, 10:31 pm

    I just turned 32. I originally went to college and grad school for the creative arts, and graduated right into the recession and watched my chosen field disappear as a job prospect. I spent my twenties doing all kinds of jobs in all kinds of areas–from waiting tables to teaching to retail to bookkeeping, none of them a career. I was working 40 to 60 hours a week. My only rule for myself was to make myself indispensable, become really knowledgeable about whatever job I had, and keep earning more. So, one job I started at $10/hr and 2 years later was in a lead role earning $14.50/hr. Another I started at minimum wage (about $8/hr) and a year later had moved up and was earning $12/hr. None of those are great wages, but I did learn a lot through my twenties about taking pride in and making the most of whatever I was doing. Mopping floors? I’ll be the best floor mopper you ever met. Etc.
    From about 26 on I started taking one or two classes at a time at the community college, and by age 30 had graduated from nursing school and immediately got a job in a major hospital.
    Now I’m 32 and a pretty new nurse working with nurses who are like 25 years old with twice my experience. That’s humbling, too. I love my job, but it’s exhausting. I still need to go back to school to get a bachelor’s in nursing, but I’m not quite ready yet.
    I never stopped working on my artwork and my writing, but it wasn’t until the past year that I’ve started to focus on it in a more goal-oriented way. Starting a blog and an Instagram account, applying for shows, etc. I feel like, now that I spent so much of the last decade trying to get the ‘paycheck in a job that is fulfilling with good job security’ thing down, all I want to do is nurture the sides of me that have been neglected.
    When I was 20 I would never have thought I would be a nurse. I would have assumed I’d be making my living as a graphic novelist and poetry professor. Haha. I’m proud of my efforts and their results, but a little sad to think it took me ten years to get where I could have been right out of college if I’d simply gone to nursing school instead of art school. But 18 year old me would never have thought I could understand science, do complicated calculations, and hold people’s lives in my hands.
    I also assumed I’d be married with kids of my own by now. I have the classic long-term boyfriend who doesn’t believe in marriage, and he came with kids. I also have never owned a car or a house yet. I honestly don’t even know if I want a husband, kids, car, house anymore. I feel young and old at the same time.

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  • avatar

    d2 July 18, 2018, 12:57 am

    As I kid, I dreamed about the fun stuff that I liked to do turning into dream jobs. Somehow I managed to make that happen and be financially successful at it. My 25-year-old-self struggled with the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and would be pleasingly shocked to realize that I never had to figure that out.

    As a kid, I dreamed about being married, mostly from a desire to feel wanted. This in itself is not a healthy basis for a relationship, nor are the long hours of a passionate career, but that took a while to figure out. I definitely didn’t see the manipulative/abusive relationship coming, from which took years to recover. My 25-year-old-self would be disappointed that I do not have a romantic relationship at this point, but would be relieved that I am comfortable with myself.

    My crisis period was not in my midlife, but instead in my teens and 20s – so I got that one out of the way early. For me, midlife was just being busy with life and not thinking about it. Since then, I have felt a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the way things have turned out.

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  • avatar

    JAhaa July 18, 2018, 2:31 am

    No, but not in a bad way. Its quite interesting to live the life I am.

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  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy July 18, 2018, 7:06 am

    I love reading these and I love that there is such a variety of ages and experiences among this community. Thanks for sharing your stories!

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  • MaterialsGirl

    MaterialsGirl July 18, 2018, 3:35 pm

    I have random flashbacks to the lost years of my 20’s with douche bag.. and I cannot believe how happy and lucky I am. The place I’m in now, a career that’s progressing, traveling a ton, husband who is my partner, kid on the way.. five years ago as I was marrying DB, I felt like I was stuck. I hadn’t done the things I had dreamed of as a kid. I never thought the life I have now or the happiness was possible. I thought I everything would be a struggle and sacrifice for not a whole heck of a lot. Taking those steps to breaking away from him, working on myself.. all of that made this life possible.

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