This morning I was thinking about a friend of mine who is starting a new life as a foreign service officer. I am overjoyed for him and his young family. I am bursting with a pride for his success. I feel a level and intensity of happiness for him that I’m not even sure I have grounds to feel.
At his going away party, as we hugged, this friend whispered in my ear something that he’d said to me on numerous occasions: “None of this would be happening if it weren’t for you.” I hugged him tightly, blew off his words and relished in the moment of this new beginning for him and his family. But, if truth be told, watching him embark on this new chapter has also been bittersweet for me.
Joining the foreign service was something I had dreamed of for many years. At one point, I was offered a position as a foreign service specialist. I turned it down. I turned it down, not once, but twice. Who does that??
At the time, I felt that respectfully declining was the right decision. Nothing they said during my interview at the State Department could reassure me enough, as a young single mother, that it would be in the best interest of my daughter to join the foreign service with no other adult along to help care for her. Even today, when I think of my reason for declining the invitation — despite feeling as if that may have been one of the biggest mistakes in my life — I have to say that, if given the chance to do it all over again, I still would turn them down.
I can chalk up my, could-have-been-in-the-foreign-service moment to one more version of life that I will never know. And, truth be told, I don’t even think that I would actually want that life today. The me from 10, 15 years ago wanted to be in the foreign service. Not necessarily the me of today, right now.
This reality didn’t stop me from feeling melancholy and engaging in a bit of self-pity this morning. I began thinking about the number of wonderful people in my life doing fantastic things. It’s amazing how many phenomenal people I am fortunate enough to have in my life. When I think about my soon-to-be foreign service officer friend and countless others, I sometimes feel as if I am constantly watching loved ones grow and prosper as I stand still, or worse yet, fall behind. How did I end up so far from where I thought I’d be at this stage in my life?
I have always aspired to help others realize their full potential. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to help people, empower them, usher in better lives for others. When I was younger, I imagined that I was destined for great things. I envisioned myself helping others as an elected leader or something similar. A few years back, I aimed to do it with a consulting business through which I offered executive coaching and various services to small business owners. Today, I hold no elected office and my coaching/consulting business petered out, giving way to competing demands for my time and energy.
Now, at the age of 44, I have a relatively unremarkable life. My life is good. I have a home, a meaningful job and my health. I’ve even launched a new business, Broussard Concierge, about which I am very excited. The life I have today is a combination of good fortune, over which I have no control, and what I have built by design. I own it and I love it. But, it is nonetheless an unremarkable life by most measures.
As a result, there is undoubtedly a piece of me that feels as if I’ve failed. I have let down the me who was a 3rd grader on the playground with high aspirations for what could be, what I could accomplish in life. I feel as if I’ve come up short and disappointed all the people over the years who have seen something great in me and waited with bated breath for me to make my “big move.”
Turns out, I don’t have any big move up my sleeve. I have instead a laundry list of lives never lived…I feel as if I am the embodiment of potential unrealized.
And then, I remembered what my friend whispered in my ear, ‘None of this would be happening if not for you.’
I’m always so quick to brush off thank yous and gratitude as graciousness or simply a kind person being overly generous. But this morning I thought, what if I allow what he said to be true? If he genuinely believes that I had a hand in his success? Why can’t I believe and allow that this may be a truth?
I started thinking back on the number of people who give me credit for having a hand in their success or helping them through a major turning point in life. These people have told me, and anyone else who’ll listen, the same thing time and again.
“I not for you, I would not be working in Silicon Valley”
“If not for you, we wouldn’t have made this life changing move when we did”
If not for you, I would not have this multi-million business”
“If not for you, I wouldn’t have the job of my dreams.”
“If not for you, I couldn’t have found the courage to pursue the life I’m living. You are my mentor and inspiration”
“If not for you, I would have missed out on one of the most important relationships in my life.”
I cannot take credit for the success of any my friends and loved ones. With some people, I will confess that perhaps I planted a seed. Nonetheless, I am always quick to remind them that ultimately, they themselves had to work the land, nurture the plant, and allow it to grow into whatever good thing that seed was to become in their lives.
Many of them are now living lives I would have loved to live at various points in time. As a result, when they look to give me credit, I sometimes feel like the teacher who has been surpassed by the student.
This morning as I recalled my soon-to-be foreign service officer friend’s words, I thought: what if, instead of the teacher being surpassed by the student, I am actually the mother who has helped to give birth to countless lives beyond anything that I as one person could ever do in a single lifetime?
What if I have been helping people to realize their potential all along and I’ve simply been blind to the reality? How beautiful would that be as a truth? And what a tragedy if I have been so deeply steeped in the day-to-day plight of my own life that I have failed to see the beauty of it all and take stock of what I have helped to flourish.
This time of year for me isn’t about resolutions as much as it is about reflection and vision. It is a moment to re-imagine today and tomorrow.
As we begin a new year full of hope and heartache, pain and promise…all the things that make life the wonderful ride it is, I rejoice in my bounty. I am thankful to witness the seeds I’ve planted bloom into wonderful lives and experiences for people who I’ve had the good fortune of knowing and calling my friends and loved ones.
If I leave no legacy beyond this, my life will be a life well lived. Happy New Year.