When I was eleven, my mother asked me to write down what I thought my future would look like. We were on a family vacation in Rome and we were trying to distract ourselves from the blazing summer heat in our hotel in the late hours of a tired evening.
I scurried off giggling with the notebook I carried everywhere. Then I did what I do best: daydreamed. I sat and scribbled about the things that were most important to me. I looked at my future and painted my own version of innocent perfection.
I came back into the room where my parents were and proudly held up the sheet of paper that held my dreams so vulnerably. I held it carefully like a treasure map. I had filled the front and the back and began to read out loud into the night.
Over a decade later, here I am, sitting in the Rose Main Reading Room in the New York Public Library reminiscing on that girl and her whimsical dreams.
I don’t need to have the paper in front of me to remember what filled my heart to its brim back then. I look up at my surroundings, now with their grandiose architecture and features laced with quiet inspiration, and I wonder what she’d think of this place.
I look up at my surroundings and look back at that little girl so full of hope. I wonder if she knew how much magic she had in her. I remember her distinctly and I wonder if she would be disappointed in me. I have not yet colored in the pencil drawing she outlined for me: our future masterpiece.
Instead, I scribbled here and there. I’ve traced outside of the lines. I’ve colored in some places awkwardly and there are erase marks where the broken parts are. It’s not the picture I painted in my heart all those years ago. And yet, it’s beautiful to me in its entirety.
I don’t need the piece of paper to remember. As a young girl of eleven off on a European adventure, I thought I knew it all. I was sure I would not fail on my heart’s greatest quest.
To me, at eleven years old, the most important thing was finding true love.
I remember writing down specifically that I would be married at 25, have my first child by 27, live in a house with a dog by 30, and have a second child to complete the family before 32.
So now I sit here, 25 years young, in the New York Public Library surrounded by books and real love stories, and the singleness of me echoes in the quiet surroundings of the reading room. Did I fail that little dreamer?
I’m nowhere close to being married and no prospects in sight. Just the idea of having a child in two years is so silly that I hear the people in the paintings laughing at me. I have no love story for them to read.
I failed that little girl that lives as an echo in my heart. Or could it be she who failed me?
Why did I ever feel the need to give myself a deadline? Why did the world mold us with these expectations? Why would I think that perfection ended with a white picket fence and changing my last name?
What part of my big, big heart thought that that would be enough for me? And why did my “big dreams” stop short of my true potential? I wish she saw there was so much more to her than deadlines.
Now I’m single, happy, and (recently) a resident of New York City. I’m learning the ins and outs of my own heart. I’m figuring out what I love about myself before I let someone else love me again.
I’m falling in love with the world at 25, and I honestly have no regrets about where I am and especially about where I’m not.
Since I wrote on that piece of paper all those summers ago, I have done more than what those words spoke. I have traveled alone, near and far. I have begun a career that has led me here — a place I wasn’t bold enough to dream about before. It led me here as a confident woman not ready to fall in love with someone yet. I’m not ready to give up on my own self yet.
I wrote those words foolishly. Because there is so much more to life than getting married by a certain age. I want to become somebody who’s worth someone else spending forever with. I’m not there yet — and that’s OK. I’m so much more than the engagement ring I envisioned on my twenty-something finger.
There is still so much more in the world I want to see, boundaries I want to break, words I want to write, stories I want to create, and a life I want to mold that is wholly my own. There is still more to me that I need to get to know.
And even though I’m young, broke and alone, I wouldn’t have it any other way.