Is this what potential looks like?

I’m 34 years old. I hate typing that out or even saying it. It’s practically mid-30’s; I don’t feel mid-30’s. I especially don’t have a life that I assumed I’d have when I reached my almost-mid-30’s. I’m not sure of an appropriate adjective for my life and since I’d like to offer something poetic but am without words, we’ll just call it stagnate. Yes, my life is like a swamp and I’m the lily pad that never learned to float. I’m not even one of those fancy lily pads with a flower. No; I’m just green and slightly circular and am probably missing a chunk of myself thanks to a storm or a hungry turtle. My swamp has too many turtles.

As a lily pad that needs a life jacket in a murky sort of liquid-something that can’t be described, I spend a lot of time analyzing my successes in life, or rather, lack there of. At the tender age of ten or so, I had it all figured out. I was going to be an actress when I grew up. I was also going to be a pop star, a model, a writer and I was going to be married to Donnie Wahlberg (of New Kids on the Block fame) all by the time I was old enough to drink. But after portraying Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker in 5th grade my acting career came to an end. In time, I learned I can’t carry a tune, I stopped growing when I reached five-foot-one, my “manuscript” is a coaster covered in coffee stains and Donnie went and got a receding hairline. It seems that things did not go as planned and because of this I’m left chastising myself for not being the success I hoped I would have been at 21 — you know, 13 years ago.

I have tried my best not to compare my level of success to the successes of those around me. I’m surrounded by people who are far more prominent in their field than I am (if one more friend gets a book deal, I swear I’m gonna…) and those who have found success in marriage and family as opposed to some grandiose career. I do not have a marriage or family that I can try to make into a success, nor would I say I have a grandiose career. I’ve yet to decide if freelance writing counts as a career.

I get paid to write in the city I always dreamed of living in, but my parents have to help me with rent. I’m surrounded by some of the finest restaurants in the world, but I can’t indulge in them at my whimsy. I cannot drop my name at a door to a club and immediately be ushered to the VIP area, and instead of ducking from paparazzi on the streets, the only ducking I do is behind a garbage can to avoid an ex-boyfriend. In a city of 8 million people, I run into my past far too often than it would ever seem plausible unless it were a movie and this was all meant to be some ill-laid out attempt at foreshadowing. I really should have given acting another try despite the critics.

My sheets are only 300-count, I do not own a pair of Christian Louboutin heels and the socks I’m wearing at the moment have a hole in them. I had pickles for dinner last night, I argued with my father about something stupid yesterday and this morning my umbrella decided to crap out on the way into the office. But I know what it’s like to wake up to the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral on a mid-January morning, I’m well-acquainted with the feeling that comes with loving someone entirely and those pickles I had last night for dinner were by choice and I loved every bite of them. Perhaps the latter is at least a small measure of success.

I cannot decide if my inability of feeling like a success has something to do with the age limit I put on my goals when I was younger. When each year that I had assigned to a certain achievement came and went, I just pushed my “goal year” out a few more years. Book deal at 25? Well, we’ll just push that out to 28. Marriage at 30? We can cover that at 32. Perfect babies at 35? In this day and age, 40 is the new 30 to be a mother, right?

As I sit here, almost everything I was supposed to accomplish at 25 has now been pushed off to 35. I will be 35 in September. Fuck, that’s old sounding. What’s even more old sounding is the thought that I could, and probably will, be in this exact same spot emotionally, mentally, financially and success-wise in the next eight months as I am right now. But then, at the age of 35, will I have finally matured enough to find that I do have success in my life? Or will it really take something extravagant for me to realize that I fulfilled at least some of my goals and that I’m not just impotent potential but actually kinetic; energy that is loud and reverberating even if I can’t feel the feedback?

I can’t say whether or not I will ever feel like a success. I can’t guarantee that even if everything I had hoped for myself fell into place tomorrow, I’d be capable of acknowledging that I’ve reached the higher tier that I have obstinately placed in front of me and refuse to move. Considering where I live, I should consider myself successful for walking across the street and not being hit by an unruly cab driver, but I guess that would seem to trite and too inconsequential to the grand scheme. I don’t know the answer and I know I’m not alone in this thought process, so I guess that’s a success right there; a tiny one, but at least it exists.

I’m a flowerless lily pad who maybe has the potential to learn to float. And if that day comes that I do, I’ll make my way to the less muddy end of the swamp. I’ll hang out there and see if it’s a good fit. I just hope that someone will point it all out to me when I’ve arrived, because I’m pretty sure I won’t have a clue. I’ll be too busy waiting to upgrade to a pond.