A Guest Blog by Elizabeth VanCamp!
I’ve been struggling with the idea of a fulfilled life for the past couple of months. 5 years ago, I had expectations for where I wanted to be by now. I wanted to have graduated from Iowa State University or a school in Seattle I’d been looking into, to be living in some glamorous apartment in Seattle or Boston, married to my high school sweetheart, never having talked about having children because I didn’t want any, and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to have accomplished career-wise at that point. Sure, it wasn’t concrete, but I knew I wanted to get the hell out of the Quad Cities area because I didn’t want to be “stuck”.
Where am I now? I’m living in the Quad Cities, working my dream job as a Mental Health Professional (5 year ago me never thought about working in the mental health field, but 3 ½ year ago me figured that one out!), having graduated from the University of Iowa, married to my high school sweetheart, living in the home we’ve owned for two years with our three dogs, and, yes, I’ve given myself permission to talk about the possibility of becoming a mother someday. Where I am now compared to where I wanted to be might sound like a huge disappointment and failure, but I have to force myself to look at things in a more positive light and ask myself, “Am I happy?”
Here’s how I look at things. Because I didn’t go to a school outside of the Quad Cities (when I went to the University of Iowa, I took all online courses and loved it!), I saved a lot of money on living expenses. The money I saved while staying here went towards traveling and doing the things I was interested in doing. I was never rich, but I was able to save enough to do exciting things like travel to 4 different states and 3 other countries, as well as to have a beautiful wedding and start a life with my husband. By always working at least 20 hours per week, and eventually working full time, and volunteering while going to school full time, I learned hard work and perseverance, I gained excellent work experience which helped me get my dream job, and I appreciate my degree so much, despite it taking me an extra year to achieve. By sucking it up and living in an apartment which I wasn’t super fond of, we saved enough money to be able to buy our first home at ages 21 and 22, something we’re very proud of. And by giving ourselves 8 ½ years of being together and 4 years of marriage before adding children, I’ve been able to healthily come around to the idea of having children, instead of bitterly or forcibly having to come to terms.
If you feel like I’m bragging about my accomplishments right now, you’re exactly right. I have to brag about my accomplishments to myself in order to not let the expectations of others affect my happiness. I have to remind myself that while I may not have taken the path that others would have chosen for me, I am fulfilled and happy in my life. There were many people who did not want me to get married at 19, who thought I was stupid for not going away for college, who thought I was wasting my college years by working so much instead of partying all the time, who thought we were going to fall on our faces when we bought our house, and who disagree with me working in the social services field. If I lived by all these people’s expectations of my life, I would never be happy; I could never find fulfillment. My marriage makes me happy, my job makes me feel fulfilled, my three crazy dogs give me purpose, and my home is a loving and secure place to be myself. All of these things add up to a very happy and fulfilled life, but only because I view it in that way.
Perception is everything, and that’s the key to a truly fulfilled life: putting aside others’ opinions and expectations, are you happy with your life?