Remember When You Had Your Whole Life Ahead of You?

“Remember when you had your whole life ahead of you?”

My friend asked me this a few months ago after hearing about my 23-year-old daughter’s Disney Internship at Epcot where she’ll be working with the marine mammals; a job that combines her two favorite things in the world and is a dream come true for her… and for her 10-year-old self.

“No, not really,” I replied, trying to think back to a time when I had dreams that didn’t consist of a clean house, a night with actual sleep, and energy. I think I even chuckled a bit when I said it, not because it was funny but because I’ve gotten good at coping mechanisms since 1995.

My teen has her whole life ahead of her.
I tried to think back to when I had my whole life ahead of me. (EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock)

Remembering when I had my entire life ahead of me

Like her sister, my 17-year-old is chasing some big dreams. She’s currently thick in the middle of intense and arduous auditions for BFA Musical Theatre programs. The past six months have been wildly stressful with the numerous applications, prescreen auditions, and now, actual auditions that will keep her – and her father and me – busy traveling across the country for the next few months.

But despite the stress and the inordinate amount of time she’s put into the process, she’s ecstatic to finally be taking steps on the path she’s dreamed of since she, too, was about 10 years old.

When our kids are little we tell them they can be anything they want to be. We encourage them to follow their dreams and give them confidence to take the world by storm. Whether they want to be a teacher, a farmer, a mother, or an airplane pilot, we tell them they can soar.

We get more excited about some of their dreams than others (I can only imagine how my mother felt when I was determined to be an ice-cream man back in the 70s) but regardless of if they dream of being a doctor or a (cough) writer, we boost, support and applaud.

And somewhere along the way, our own dreams get lost.

“Remember what it was like to have your whole life ahead of you?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of that question over the past few months as I’ve excitedly helped my older daughter prepare for and move the 1,600 miles to Orlando, or while I’ve spent countless hours taping my younger daughter’s prescreen audition packages and sharing in her excitement over the programs she’s already been accepted to, knowing both of their dreams—the dreams they’ve worked so hard for and the ones my husband and I have been obnoxious cheerleaders for—are well on their way of coming true.

And then that question gets quickly pushed to the bottom of the to-do list or the laundry basket, and I forget about it until I notice it sitting in the dust on my (useless) master’s degree in Elementary Education that’s been mocking me from its place on wall since 1996.

Would I do things differently if I could hop into a DeLorean and race back to 1987?

I’d like to say yes because it’s fun to imagine the alternate path my life could’ve taken if I’d have made a few different choices—or been braver—but if I’m being honest I doubt I would.

I started college with a dream to become the next Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight. I had big, exciting plans to spend my life on the red carpet, interviewing celebrities and showing off my legs (if you know who Mary Hart is you’ll get it).

But for some reason I switched my major to Elementary Education a few months into freshman year and spent four years after graduation in a stuffy portable classroom instead of on a red carpet, got married, birthed the dream catchers, and suddenly found myself in 2018, wondering what the hell happened … to my ET dreams and to Mary Hart. (Pauses to Google.)

It’s easy to get caught up in our kids’ enthusiasm and optimism, isn’t it? As fully grown adults we know better, though. We can look back and see the blinking “Caution Ahead” signs we couldn’t see when we were their age; the unforeseen forks and unavoidable detours in the path.

Finances, family situations, experience, or just surrendering to the fatigue of the chase (sounds so much better than “giving up,” doesn’t it?)—the roadblocks can be real.

I’ll be honest: I’m envious of my kids.

I’m envious of their dreams and of the way they’re both not letting anything stand in their way of achieving them. I’m envious of the time they have in front of them to try these dreams out and maybe even change them. I’m envious of the fact that despite knowing that the careers they’ve chosen are unpredictable and don’t come with a big paycheck, they’re not fazed.

To them, their dreams are worth the uncertainty, rejection, and endless nights of ramen noodles. (I think it also goes without saying, I’m envious my older daughter has free entry into every Disney park until June.)

Last week I shared some photos of my daughter’s move to Orlando and captioned the one of her standing by the manatees she’ll be caring for, “Her 10-year-old self is super impressed with how things turned out.” A friend commented, “Is it too late for me to impress my 10-year-old self?”

It made me chuckle (see: coping mechanism) as I thought about how so many of us are thinking the same thing and wishing we’d had the courage or the opportunity or the stamina to do what our kids are now doing. But then I realized something. The fact that our kids are boldly and bravely chasing their dreams is a pretty amazing one we’ve actually achieved, isn’t it? (My 10-year-old self is pausing before answering but I’m ignoring her.)

And even though I may never interview celebrities on the red carpet, I know this:

We may not have our whole lives ahead of us, but we still have time to make new dreams, get back on the old path, or, if we want, to simply to rest in the knowledge that what we have accomplished in life and in our own kids is good enough. Especially when one of them can get me into Disney World for free.


Disney College Program: How Your Teen Can Work At Disney For College Credit

The Second Semester Goodbye Is Different Than The First

About Michelle Newman

Michelle Newman is one of the hosts and producers of The Pop Culture Preservation Society, a podcast dedicated to preserving the pop culture nuggets of our GenX childhoods, from Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees to Battle of The Network Stars. She’s spent the past nine years writing for publications like Grown & Flown, Entertainment Weekly, and The Girlfriend, as well as for her (now silent) blog, You’re My Favorite Today. A recent empty nester, Michelle finds immense joy connecting with others through the memories of their 70s childhoods. Follow the Pop Culture Preservation Society on Instagram and listen wherever you get podcasts!

Read more posts by Michelle

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.