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By Brittni Henderson
Part of my morning routine is to go through a collection of quote cards on my desk that will inspire, enlighten, or simply make me smile before I get my hectic to-do list started. The box has a little window in the front so once I find “the one,” I can peek at it throughout the day. Some I’ve displayed a number of times; others are still brand new even though I’ve shuffled through them for about a year. About a week ago I found: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Such a short phrase, but in that specific point in time, it had such a longer message for me. With my 27th birthday coming in June, I thought my life had been cruising in the high-speed lane—and at speeds way too fast for me sometimes. So much has changed for me, so I wondered if others in our millennial generation felt a little retrospective, too. At 17 where did I think I would be in 10 years? Have I accomplished everything that I set out to do over this time? What roadblocks or changes took place that rerouted me in a new direction?
With so many questions running through my mind, I decided to take to social media to see how and what my peers were thinking. One resounding—and very reassuring— common thought was that not one of them was somewhere that they had envisioned a decade ago. Whether it was a change in educational plans, trial and error, or even health concerns, many have ended up content, despite being somewhere they never expected.
Aynsley Guertin, 25, of North Smithfield. Guertin’s 15-year-old self wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do when she “grew up.” Even when she started studying communication disorders at James Madison University, she was still a little confused about her pursuit of this field as a future career. But after taking a summer job at an overnight camp for individuals with intellectual disabilities, she realized that working with the special needs population was her calling.
“[Working at this camp] was a complete game-changer for me,” Guertin says. “I’ll never forget those eight weeks and how they really helped to secure my life plan.”
But did she really know what, or where, this “plan” would take her?
After a few more internships and jobs to further her experiences, she graduated from college and was offered a job in a location that most of us have only seen on television or Google maps.
“I was given a job opportunity at the New England Center for Children…in Abu Dhabi!” Guertin said, “I knew it was a decision that I had to make completely on my own or I might not be happy with the outcome. My recent ventures have taught me not to take life too seriously and that if a great opportunity is given to you, even if it doesn’t fit with your ‘life plan,’ you should take it!”
What does the future hold for Guertin? She hopes to travel to new places to help other people, possibly continue her education to obtain a master’s degree, and eventually start a family.
“I have no clue where I will be, or who that husband will be, for that matter!” she joked.
On the contrary, a 27-year-old woman, who would prefer to remain anonymous, thought she had her future all figured out 10 years ago as a naïve and sheltered only child entering college for the first time.
“I thought I would be finishing high school, going to college, and getting ready to marry my high school sweetheart,” she says.
Her vision of life, however, did not go as planned. She struggled with the newfound college lifestyle and ended up leaving halfway through her sophomore year battling depression and anxiety. She moved back to her small town to attend community college, got a job, and met a guy who led her into the dark world of drug use. She discovered she was pregnant a year later. Shortly thereafter, she decided it would be best if she broke ties with her unborn son’s father and moved back home with her own family. She gave birth to her son when she was 21.
“I was unmarried and had no college degree,” she says. “I was alone and scared with a baby who depended on me. I got back into drugs when my son was a few months old because I didn’t know what to do. I hit rock bottom.”
Everything was barreling downward until she met a new young man, who would end up being her fiancé years later.
“I was the top of my class in high school, I followed all the rules,” she says. “I never expected any of my last 10 years to happen, but I am so grateful that I have my son. Now I am stronger than ever and moving forward. I have a great job, and for the first time in 10 years, I am really looking forward to my future.”
Kelly McKeon, 23, of Cranston, knows what it’s like to meander through the unexpected new paths that life can sometime etch out for us. McKeon suffered an accident that left her in permanent physical pain for years.
McKeon’s original life plan was set into motion when she enrolled at CCRI to study radiology, a decision that was influenced by her older sister who was also pursuing a job in a healthcare related field.
“It [would lead] to a good paying job, so I figured I would dip my feet in,” she says. “I hated it instantly and knew I didn’t belong in the medical field so I switched my major to general studies so I could get my Associate’s Degree and decide where to go from there.”
McKeon picked up a job at a day care center and found her true passion in education. She spent a few years working her dream job until the moment that would change her life forever took place.
“I was in the high speed lane on the highway when I hit a pothole and my tire blew out, causing me to lose control and drive into the Jersey barrier,” McKeon says. “I wasn’t on my phone, I wasn’t changing the radio—I wasn’t distracted at all.”
Three weeks later, McKeon woke up in the hospital with life-altering injuries. She had broken many of her vertebrae, pelvis, pubic bone, jaw, wrist, ankle, and shoulder. She was unable to walk for five weeks. She suffered a brain bleed, which causes seizures and potentially strokes. This bleed caused her to lose her memory from the majority time she spent in the hospital and she lost all ability to smell or taste.
“My dream was to be a caretaker and before my accident, I was doing just that,” she says. “I achieved this dream by ignoring what everyone said and followed what my heart told me to do. Now, I spend everyday researching new doctors and procedures to get better and to be able to return to ANY kind of job.”
McKeon knows that she will probably be physically unable to resume teaching. Now, she hopes to be happily married someday with a beautiful family. Being a caretaker for them would be just enough for her to fulfill her newly conceived dreams.
Using a “loss” as an unlikely stepping-stone to a positive life change was something that Elitta Picard, 26, of North Providence, took full advantage of a little over a year ago. To Picard, her late grandmother was the most important person in her life. Losing her was one of her greatest fears, but once she was forced to accept this loss, she realized there was really nothing else she needed to be afraid of in life.
“In a way, having to let go of her made it easier for me to overcome all of the other fears I had in my life,” Picard says. “I started going after the things I wanted.”
She pursues things that make her happy, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Taking care of herself is her goal every day.
“The idea of me being secure in every aspect of my life is one of my main goals and it is something that I know I can attain,” Picard says. “I think that if you need to go back to school, change your career, end a bad relationship—now is the time. There’s no shame in starting over.”
Picard also realizes that as much as she can plan out long-term goals for her life, she, like the rest of us, can’t predict how long it will take to reach them, but that’s OK.
“I’ve learned that life hardly ever goes as planned,” she says. “There’s only so much you can control.”
Joseph Cordoves, 25, of North Providence, has a similar sentiment when it comes to his outlook on the future. The only difference is, he didn’t have a plan 10 years ago—and still doesn’t. Like others of our generation, he realizes that there are many factors that can contribute to a change, but he urges each and every one of them never give up.
“Many get derailed from their goals by a financial hardship, an unexpected medical condition, unplanned pregnancy, or other sudden (unexpected event),” Cordoves says. “These things happen to so many of us, but these hardships help make us who we are. Overcoming the hurdles that life throws at us can sometimes feel impossible … but I truly believe that they will help forge you into a stronger and more improved self… If you get knocked down, get right back up and continue fighting. A quote by A.R. Lucas stuck out to me: “If there’s even a slight chance at getting something that will make you happy, risk it. Life is too short and happiness is too rare.’”
Cordoves dreams of becoming a New York Times best selling author. He has written almost 300 pages of a first novel with his best friend, hoping to be done by the end of this year.
“Never give up on anything you truly want, no matter the difficulty,” Cordoves says. “Now go out there and accomplish your goals, achieve your dreams, and be successful and happy!”
I guess Gandhi was right—there is definitely way more to life than increasing its speed. Life sure is flying by quickly, but I try to savor every moment, no matter how unimportant it may seem. Sometimes what happens on our way to completing certain goals is actually more fulfilling than what happens at the end—that’s when LIFE actually happens.