Expectation vs. Reality

expectOnce upon a time, I was an uber-busy working wife and mother. I had a more-than-fulltime job, a husband and two young boys to care for, and juggled volunteer work at the boys’ schools AND church. Free time was nonexistent and sleep was optional.

Yet, as frantic and stressful as that time was, it was an enormously productive and satisfying period of my life. My life was full in every sense — full of busy-ness and stress to be sure, but also full of the joys of raising children, and interacting within a rich social network. I enjoyed deep and satisfying relationships within my work, social, church, family, and running circles. However, as I juggled and multi-tasked, I couldn’t help but long for that time in the misty distant future when I would have fewer responsibilities and the option to sleep in.

Within a few short years, everything changed. Our older son went off to college. Our younger son died in a car accident shortly thereafter, leaving us instant empty nesters. That traumatic event left Jeff and I rudderless for a time, re-evaluating every priority. I opted to take an early retirement package, and left my longtime job. Conflict at church ultimately led to my drifting away, after 20 years of intense involvement. Even my running group mostly fell apart, due to injuries or shifting priorities. Adrift, I immersed myself in preparations for our long-planned full-time RV life. After all, that was the dream — a life of travel and adventure. We sold the house, gave almost everything away, moved into the bus, and took off. Total freedom – at last! No boring routine, few responsibilities, and new horizons around every corner! Nirvana!

So here we are, two years in. Did expectation meet reality?

For me — partly yes and partly no. Don’t get me wrong, I love travel and adventure! We’ve had some absolutely marvelous times exploring national parks, visiting cities, and learning new things everywhere we go. But, I’ve faced some adjustment struggles along the way. I underestimated how challenging it would be to cope with a constantly-shifting environment after living in the same neighborhood for 30 years. I struggled to establish a healthy routine, when our days HAD no regular pattern. And I missed my people — my daily, in-person interaction with friends and family who knew me down to the bone. No amount of social media can fill that need for face-to-face human contact.

So, we’ve changed things up. This past year, we prioritized visiting and spending time with friends and family. We slowed our travels, spending more time in places, which helped me to re-establish healthier habits and an exercise rhythm. We have elected to spend the entire winter season – five months – at an active adult retirement community. And here, I have really found myself again. I’ve thrown myself into the daily activity schedule, made friends, and even joined a local church choir. Once again my days are full, productive, and include ample opportunity for social interaction with like-minded folks. It’s a place where I can feel part of a community again and enjoy an established routine – for a while. I feel more like *me* than I have in years and I’m having a blast!

Now, we don’t want to STAY here forever, we still want to travel. But, I think I’ve found the way to have it all. If I can get my social fix during the winter season, I can happily pursue adventures the rest of the year. Plus, we can bake in visits to family and friends as we travel. For me, I think this will create the happy balance.

So, what have I learned in this process?

  • Any major life change requires a period of adjustment. I expected that, but it hit me harder and lasted longer than I anticipated.
  • I underestimated how essential certain aspects of my life are to my daily happiness; especially, an exercise routine and meaningful social interaction.
  • If you’re not happy – change something. And keep changing things up until it’s working. If you can identify whatever increases your soul-level happiness, you can seek creative ways to fill that fundamental need. (Hint: it’s never about getting more “stuff”). You can ALWAYS change something, even if it’s just your perspective on the current situation.

We’re deep in the holiday season, which often carries its own heavy set of expectations. If you’re stressed or unhappy about something – change things up!

Here’s hoping you find your happy balance, through the holidays and beyond.

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