It’s a soggy day here in Chicago. Not only is it raining, but the city is thawing out, too, leaving behind giant brown puddles on every street corner.
Normally on a gray day like today, I’d be scrambling to get home just like a cat caught in the rain. But today was different. Yes, I was anxious to get back to my apartment, but I stopped to grab a coffee for a quick boost of energy so I could work for the rest of the afternoon. I was feeling pretty good about myself.
A few weeks ago, I met with an advisor from school just to check in and bounce some job prospects off of him. Our meeting, however, quickly turned into more of a reality check for me. Looking back now, it was definitely something I needed.
After talking in circles in no particular order about all the things I wanted to do and see, and all the projects I wanted to accomplish and be a part of, my advisor asked me point-blank, “Where do you want to be at 35?”
I sat back in my chair, slightly stunned.
The question was so simple, yet the answer… is complex. In less than nine years, I’d be 35. That’s much sooner than I realized. What exactly did I want to have under my belt by then?
I’ve had in the back of my head for a while that I wanted to practice French again. I imagined writing some freelance magazines pieces, too, and maybe even work on a news podcast at some point. I started thinking out loud, listing these aspirations on my fingertips, when my advisor told me my hour was up and it was time to go home.
OK, so maybe he wasn’t so harsh about it — he wasn’t at all actually — but he did say to go somewhere and write down all the work I wanted to do, including the job title I wanted when I reached 35. “Think about your personal life, too, who you want in your life around then. That’s important.”
His thoughtful question has become my new mantra. Now, my “By 35 Goals” include all the ones from above, as well as “be an editor” and “be happily married.”
I know who and where I want to be when I’m 35. And to reach that goal, I’m working backwards, putting the bricks in place so I’ll have control of my world when that time comes and won’t be scrambling. It’s easy to get caught up in that ‘One day I’ll do it” state of mind, but it’s just as easy to put one foot in front of the other and walk toward your dreams– or in my case, walk backwards.
Racing to be done with graduate school, I’m eager to start my life, but sometimes I forget that I’m living it, which brings me back to today. This afternoon I had just stepped off the train when I felt my phone buzzing in my jacket pocket. It was a magazine editor I’d recently been put in contact with, and she told me she loved an audio story I’d sent her two days ago.
“I’d like to work with you on a piece for the magazine, if you’re interested,” she said.
“Yes, of course, I’d like that.” A part of me wondered if she could hear me smiling through the phone.
She gave me a deadline, the conversation ended, and I rounded the corner in front of my favorite coffee shop. I smiled again. It was obvious — I deserved a treat.