We know they are false images. Those photographs in magazine that make us think,
I wish I had those eyelashes.
I want skin like that.
What do I have to do to get a thigh gap?
We know they are false images. Deliberately photo-shopped into an impossible outcome so that if we buy into them, we have to engage permanently in body projects.
We know they are false images. And still sometimes they tease us, call us to them, tempt them.
Think of all the work you put into talking yourself out of what they are selling because, deep down inside, you know that it isn’t real.
And, now, I want you to think about another false image.
It is the image you have of your life at 22 when you are looking forward and thinking “I’ll be married by 28, have the dream home by 29, have my first kid by 30, make partner by 32, be done with having kids by 34, be back to my pre-baby body by 35.”
After sharing with you last month about an honest conversation I had with close friends about feeling disappointed in our lives or like under-achievers, so many women have approached me to share their own disappointments.
And what has struck me by those conversations is that no one is disappointed in the choices that they had to make in order to see their parents’ through a terminal illness or support their child through a challenge or rally around their partner in a work or personal crisis or navigate our own health crisis. Nope, those decisions were the right ones. It is just that in the midst of living through those difficult circumstances, making those epic decisions with our heart in our hands, we were still supposed to work our way to the corner office, be named a New York Times Bestseller, have another child, build the dream house. We were still supposed to achieve the vision we imagined at 12 or 22 or 32 or 42 or 52 when our imagination was in a vacuum and there was no weather, no real lie in there to set things off course.
As I have had these conversations, it has occurred to me that these visions we have for ourselves can sometimes, if we hold them too tightly, move from encouragement to damaging. They move from aspirational—which is what every single magazine editor will tell you is what their images are meant for: just to inspire you to your own best- to castigating. A record of what we were meant for and failed to achieve.
Our visions, sometimes, hurt us as much as photo-shopping does. Our visions, in fact, can be photoshopped—erasing away the real curveballs of life (as opposed to sunspots and wrinkles).
Have your visions for yourself actually brought you shame because you have held them steadfast even though you had to swerve to meet life?
It is time to change your relationship to your visions. It is time to understand that visions are only meant for inspiration and that they cannot know what your path will be and where you might need to rest or offer assistance or change course. Our visions are vital suggestions, giving us valuable information about who we are when we are having them but not necessarily who will be as we journey there.
And so is here what I want to remind you. Where you end up doesn’t matter nearly as much as the journey. Our journeys are, in fact, the goal. And if we point our compass north and say, “I’m aiming for New York City” but, eventually, find ourselves satisfied in Philadelphia, we aren’t failures. We’ve honored our journey, played to our current truth rather than old rules.
What vision do you have for yourself? Is it one rooted in who you want to be or what you must do or have? If the image you have for yourself is confining or shaming, it is not meant for you, dear friend. Because you are meant to be boundless.