The other day I was wandering the aisles of Costco somewhat aimlessly when all of a sudden I was stopped in my tracks. I looked before me and saw something I’d seen a dozen times, but never quite in the same way. Instead of just seeing the moment simply for what it was, I saw it in the context of my entire life–past, present and future. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

This is what I saw:

You have to understand, we are not cat people. I was born and raised to loathe cats. I am genetically programmed to loathe cats. Cats make my skin crawl. They induce me to itch and sneeze and cough in their presence. In fact, not even their presence is required. My eyes will swell and itch and water excessively if I even walk into a room where a cat has been.

I cannot abide cats.

And yet there I was in Costco buying cat food.

Bulk cat food.

It’s a long and somewhat amusing story, yet I am now the proud owner of not one, but two cats. We’ve had them for about four years. They are outside cats; but they do come indoors occasionally. One sneaks in. The other asks for permission and leaves when he ask him. And not only do I provide food for them, I have even dished out my hard-earned cash to the tune of nearly $300 in vet bills in order to care for them properly. I talk to them. I call them by name. I scratch them under their respective chins and along their respective bellies. And sometimes, if I have to wash that shirt anyway, I have been known to pick up my favorite and snuggle him to my chest. Just not too close to the face.

I love my cats.

So what stopped me in my tracks that day at Costco? Simply the realization that never in a million years would I have seen myself walking down the aisles of Costco with a bag of cat food in my cart. If you would have told me 30, 20 or even 5 years ago I would one day spend even one penny on cat food, I would have bet you a million dollars (or maybe even ten) that such a thing would NEVER happen.

In that tiny moment I left Costco and travelled back to my past, back to a much younger me who was looking at the older me standing there in Costco with cat food in her cart. Younger me was shocked. I jumped back to present me and thought about how as little girls, young women, young adults, and even as grown women, we have so many ideas about what our future will–or in this case would never–bring. And oh how drastically–or not–the realities of our lives can differ from our imagined course. In many ways, of course. But sometimes in such a way we come to embrace something we once loathed.

What about you? Has your life turned out exactly–or even remotely–as you planned? If yes, how so? If not, what has been the greatest surprise? Are the differences for better or for worse? Most importantly, how have you made the best of what life has thrown your way?

November 28, 2011


  1. SilverRain

    November 29, 2011

    Well, I’m a divorced desk-job-working mother. So . . . no. Life is not remotely the way my veterinarian-career-oriented, somewhat feminist, opinionated and strong teenaged self expected. -l- My life is a Blue Screen of Death, and I use Macs, not PCs.

    As far as making the best of it, I’m still working on that.

    I think, at least in part, I am learning to not expect it to turn out for the best, nor to worry about it when it doesn’t.

  2. Stephen M (Ethesis)

    November 29, 2011

    So true. So very true.

  3. La Yen

    November 29, 2011

    Well I was NOT going to marry someone in the military, that’s for sure. And that’s one of the reasons I broke up with my old boyfriend. (And imagine my surprise when I came home from work one day in our first year of marriage to find that my husband had, upon consulting WITH HIS MOM, enlisted. PS we are still married, fifteen years later.)

  4. Michelle L.

    November 29, 2011

    you realize– don’t you Dalene?– this is the sort of post that makes us love you even more.

  5. cabesh

    November 29, 2011

    My life has not been what I imagined….it’s been better. I never dreamed I’d live on the East Coast–that probably the only part I would change.

    When I was growing up we didn’t have much. Not much at all. I always assumed I’d live the same as an adult–happy, but always struggling to make ends meet. Every few weeks it shocks me to realize that we live rather comfortably. We’re not wealthy, but we have more than enough for our needs and wants. It’s something I’m not used to…..and not even comfortable with yet.

  6. m2theh

    November 29, 2011

    I was planning to be a Tony award winning playwright living in Manhattan, with a loft all decorated in black and white. Instead, I am a SAHM with one kid living in Utah, with beige carpet that sorely needs to be replaced.

  7. Andrea R.

    November 29, 2011

    I have a distinct memory before I had children of seeing an adult with Down Syndrome with his older parents while I was out with my husband and saying, “I can’t imagine having a disabled child.”

  8. Janell

    November 29, 2011

    I think the only major deviation thus far that would be a surprise to my teen self is that I twice graduated from college unmarried and did not produce a squabble of children by the end of my twenties. Those weren’t my ambitions so much as my expectations. My 30-year-old-self is quite happy that things did not go as expected.

  9. Judi

    November 29, 2011

    Life didn’t treat me the way I thought it would. But I’m not complaining. In some aspects it is even better, and I’m thankful.

  10. Laura--The Sushi Snob

    November 29, 2011

    I swore that I would be the one person in my family who didn’t need a blind date to meet my spouse. Guess how I met my husband? Blind date. But I’m grateful for that awkward date, because I’m happy beyond my wildest dreams. He’s much better than that wanna-be filmmaker I dated before him…

  11. angie f

    November 29, 2011

    In many ways, my life is exactly how I pictured it–in part because I never delved into too many details. I am an attorney and a SAHM. I have a bunch of kids. We live a reasonably comfortable life and are active in the church.

    The differences come in the expectations I gathered along the way. I imagined dancing with my DH and yet I’ve never danced with my husband of 14+ years because he doesn’t dance. I thought I’d have one more child (none seem to be coming). We thought we were going into the foreign service (clearances done, waiting on that second A-100 offer after postponing things the first time), instead, we are stateside and DH is a bishop. I thought my children would be calmer; instead we have a few with undiagnosed “issues” and a whole lot of crazy most days at our house. I thought I would be a more organized mom, like mine. Instead, I fight entropy; chaos is mine and we keep above water, just barely.

    In short, life is exactly how I planned and nothing that I could possibly have imagined.

  12. Dovie

    November 29, 2011

    I’m not as good at stuff as I thought I would be. In my imagination it was a lot easier to keep a house clean, raise children, manage relationships, deal with the bureaucratic, stay healthy, get my garden to grow, be on time and not loose stuff. Not that my life is bad or extraordinarily difficult, I am very blessed. I just thought I would be better at this grown up stuff. I have a greater appreciation for my mom and all the challenges she had to surmount. My younger self’s judgement has turned to my shame. I have a profound and sacred appreciation for her efforts and even what I once might have viewed as her “mistakes”. That is surprising to me, or would have been surprising to younger me.

  13. Moriah Jovan

    November 29, 2011

    I didn’t make any plans. Like so many girls raised in the church, there was this nebulous future with a husband. Oh, I vaguely had pretensions toward this or that or some other thing (had I to do it over again, I would’ve chosen architecture), usually spawned by others’ expectations for me (and, conversely, others’ expectations of what would NEVER happen because I wasn’t, oh, worthy, I guess [that would be marriage and children]).

    I wish I’d made plans. I spent too many years wandering around my life doing odd jobs.

    On the other hand, all those odd jobs added up so I can work at home doing a reasonably lucrative and specialized job I pretty much created for myself.

  14. Blue

    November 29, 2011

    Yes and no. I expected to grow up, get married in the temple and have a big family, and just work and serve side-by-side with my husband to raise our children and keep the home fires stoked as we lived the gospel with precision and exactness…checking off the list on a daily basis. Oh, also, my DH would probably be a general authority or at least a mission president.

    Clearly I didn’t have many great ambitions or aspirations. My dreams were pretty limited, as was (is) my awareness of what I like, what I want, what I’m interested in. I was never very definitively developed as an individual.

    We don’t have what you’d call a “big” family, and my husband is no longer a believer, We’ve spent all but 9 of the 24 years of our relationship as full-time students, never quite having enough money for some of our basic wants, but always having essential needs met. As of yesterday I have been a flight attendant for one-quarter of my life (!)…a job I once said I’d never do because “they’re just glorified waitresses without tips”.

    But I like my life. I love my family. We’re making it. I have the dearest friends and am still evolving as an individual. Who knows what the future holds? Sky’s the limit. ♥

  15. jks

    November 29, 2011

    I have had to really, really fight a hurricane to stick to the “no dog” life I imagined for myself. I have almost caved, but when it comes down to it, I think as a happy SAHM it would be the thing that would turn me into the unhappy, martyred SAHM whose needs aren’t taken into consideration. So I selfishly keep saying no and having the life I hoped for. Dog free. My husband promised me when we were engaged that he wanted me more than he wanted a dog and so I just remind him it was in our “prenup.”
    The rest of life I have had expectations, sure, but pretty realistic ones. Ups and downs, sure, but I expect life to have challenges. Just. No. Dog. (or cat either).

  16. BJ

    November 29, 2011

    I’m like Dovie- I always imagined I would be better at this whole responsible grownup thing. Cooking dinner every day wasn’t supposed to be a heroic achievement, and I never in a million years would have imagined that it might actually be a weekly struggle to get to church on time when the church building is literally just across the street from me. I’m very blessed in my life, mind you, just surprisingly bad at being a stay-at-home mom.

  17. dalene

    November 29, 2011

    I promise to come back and respond to each and every comment (because I’m loving them), but I just have to say right here and now, I don’t get this grown up thing, so Dovie and BJ, I hear you! I have grown-up bills and grown-up problems and even arthritis and grown-up kids, but I still don’t feel like a grown up. I do grown-up things all the time, but I still feel like a kid. Do you think that will ever change?

  18. Melody Newey

    November 29, 2011

    Dalene, I love this post. And about the ever-grow-up thing, well, you’re not alone.

    When I was younger I wanted to many great and amazing things. And I have done many great and amazing things. Most of which where not the great and amazing things I imagined. I don’t care if it’s a cliche. I believe in “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” Plus, in this holiday season – The Other Wise Man-ness of life is sublime. Don’t you think?

  19. Michelle

    November 29, 2011

    I think I’m still in shock at how challenging life can be and is for pretty much everyone at some point or another. When I was younger, the hard trials seemed to be more the exception. The older I get, the more I realize they are the rule. Part of the plan. A big part.

    Adjusting to that reality has often sort of thrown me for a loop, but it has also strengthened my testimony of the Atonement in remarkable ways.

    (And p.s. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a real grown-up. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who still feels bewildered by it all.)

  20. Mrs. Organic

    November 30, 2011

    Life is so much harder and at the same time so much better than I ever imagined it could be. Of course, my perspective has shifted a bit over the years as to what comprises “hard” and “better”. I cannot believe that I’m frozen in my mind at 21 and here I have kids approaching their 20s. Aack! And also, hallelujah.

  21. kim

    November 30, 2011

    The greatest surprise I’ve had regarding the way my life has turned out is the complete and total shock at how FAST it’s flown by. How am I a grandmother?? How, I ask you!!!

    The sweetest surprise is how much hubby and I are enjoying our almost-empty nest. We have a lot of time to ourselves and basically no more kid-related responsibilities (other than frequent babysitting of grandbabies- which we LOVE)… it is pure bliss 🙂 Fortunately, we’ve nurtured our relationship and cared for it lovingly through all the ups and downs of our married life and now we’re reaping the rewards of our efforts. Sometimes I feel like newlyweds, only without all that awkwardness- just lots of fun times together! I totally was not expecting this bonus at this point in our lives.

  22. Jess

    November 30, 2011

    I snuck zucchini into a chocolate cake I baked today, and I am not kidding about this. I don’t even feel particularly guilty about the oven baked turnips and parsnips I told the boys were “frech fries” with dinner tonight. Dear heavens. No one told me the thirties were going to bring me to this.

  23. Rosalyn

    November 30, 2011

    I love this post–and all the comments. I love the little glimpses into people’s “real” lives. I’m also glad that I’m not the only one that doesn’t quite feel like a grown-up most days! I’ve checked off a lot of the things that were on my list as a young woman: college, degree, marriage, children. But I don’t think I ever imagined the specifics of my daily life, which would have shocked my younger (and much more ambitious self), who was convinced I would have done something more remarkable with my life! I think, all things considered, that I’m glad my ambitions have moderated with age–I’m much happier with my more modest expectations.

  24. Lisa S

    November 30, 2011

    Thought I would marry by the time I was 24….I married at 34
    Thought I would have at least 4 kids, 2 boys 2 girls. I have two girls.
    Thought I would live in a house with more than one bathroom, my own garage, laundry and garden. We have lived in our condo for 11 years raising our two girls through their teen years…with one bathroom, shared garage and laundry and no place to have a garden.
    By the end of January, my two gospel loving girls who have their own testimonies will be leaving the nest. My 21 year old will be entering the MTC to serve a mission speaking Spanish, and my younger one will be entering BYU-I with a partial scholarship.
    I expected my living arrangements to be more than I have now, but my expectations for my kids are exactly what I dreamed. I couldn’t be happier. There are some other issues that surfaced at 21 years of marriage, but now they are stable and our relationship is as good as, probably better than it was as newlyweds.

  25. she-bop

    December 1, 2011

    I really, truly thought I would be a mom, living in Hong Kong, doing something in the fashion world. I would have 2 brilliant children who never did anything wrong, because I had taught them so well. HA. What was I thinking?? It’s a good thing sometimes our teenage dreams don’t come true.

    I always knew I would marry a blonde surfer dude. That one worked out, although he’s not blonde anymore, in fact, most of his hair is gone. And, he hasn’t surfed for at least 25 years.

    I NEVER thought I’d be a registered used car saleswoman, do accounting as a part time profession (I failed every math class I took), be able to sell crafts that I make (and people seem to actually like my style), and be so horrible at many of the mommy duties (like, cooking and cleaning). Life is an adventure, and it feels like a total surprise to me, every step of the way.

    And about the age thing…I don’t get it. How in the world am I old enough to actually have people asking ME how to do things, or my opinion on something? Come on people, I don’t know…I still want to call my mommy for the answer. It’s very strange to have others look at me like I know what I’m doing. I’m just hanging on for dear life on this crazy merry-go-round called life.

    Loved this post Dalene…made me think. And I’ve decided, I am very happy with the life I have. Thank you for making me take a closer look.

  26. Lisa

    December 1, 2011

    I have had these thoughts so many times myself, of how did I get here…can this really be my life? Raising teenager daughters I often encouraged them to accept and love their own life and trials, as you just never know what another person has going on in their own life. I still believe in those words of counsel…even though the last few years have been difficult.

    Admittedly, sometimes when I see a newly wedded couple I can’t decide whether to pity or envy them. Pity…because they don’t know the heartache and disappointment that life can and may bestow upon them sometime in the future. Envy…because they know nothing but pure bliss at this point.

    However, I think I’ll keep my own personal journey with its twists and heartaches…for all of this has molded the person I am today.

    A great thought promoting post, I enjoyed reading all your thoughts and comments.

  27. Jess

    December 1, 2011

    When not making glib comments, I note that this life has not turned out at all as planned. I married someone who was not even on my radar screen when I was little, someone who now does not even believe in God. I went with the back-up career plan, was unable to get pregnant, and had an adoption fall through. I now have two marvelous boys, but am not sure I’m done, love my job, even though I spend way to many hours doing it, have a spouse who stays home, but I’m the one who sneaks veggies into desserts on my days off.

    The biggest suprise, perhaps, is that I have not turned into my mother, which is how I just thought the world worked.

    I never thought I’d be the person in charge of my children’s spiritual development, or that they could feel so torn between what their parents each believe.

    I never imagined how much strength I would get from church, because growing up it always seemed to require so much energy and effort from my parents in their various callings, like it took much more than it gave.

  28. dalene

    December 1, 2011

    SilverRain–This Mac girl is also learning to adjust her expectations and trying to worry less when things don’t turn out as planned. I’m still, however, hoping for everything to turn out for the best in the end.

    Stephen M–Yep.

    La Yen–I love that you’re still married even after he consulted WITH HIS MOM and not you. Also, you are a good example to me of someone who rolls with what comes your way.

    Michelle L.–I didn’t, but I appreciate the love. Thank you, dear. Right back at you.

    cabesh–It makes me happy to know that you were happy then and are happy and comfortable now.

    m2theh–I get you on the beige carpet. I hope it gets to be replaced soon.

    Andrea R.–You are another example to me of someone who takes what comes your way with courage and grace. Love you–

    Judi–It is no small thing to find and be thankful for the parts that are better.

    Laura-The Sushi Snob–I’d like to hear more about that awkward blind date…

    angie f–I hear you on the dancing and the whole lot of crazy and have a good deal of experience in chaos. I love your summary: “exactly how I planned and nothing that I could possibly have imagined.”

    Dovie–As I said before, I get you on that grown-up thing.

    Moriah–You bring up a good point about making plans. I had plans to a certain point and then was surprised when I got to that point and had no idea what came next.

    Blue–It is interesting to me that we often end up making so many significant decisions about our futures–what we will study, who we will marry, what career we will choose–before we are definitively developed as individuals. I guess those choices are part of what shapes our continual evolution.

    jks–I used to be such a dog girl. Now I like dogs, but I have had enough of poop and I am therefore perfectly content (at the moment) with my outside cats.

  29. dalene

    December 1, 2011

    BJ–I’d like to hope that we are better and will ultimately be more successful with the important things than we think we are.

    Melody–I always love your way with words and am personally proud of you and the great and amazing things you have done, for I know they are truly great and amazing and you’re not done.

    Michelle–When I was younger I thought things were much more simple and much more black and white. As I have grown up I find I am not just surprised at the hard things, but also how some people have to deal with not just one, but many hard things. I still can’t wrap my head (or my heart) around it all, but I too am learning to rely on my testimony of the Atonement.

    Mrs. Organic–I’m happy there is a “better” that comes with your “harder.” And yes, hallelujah!

    kim–Your comment leaves me feeling happy and hopeful.

    Jess–Wait until your forties! 😉 And I also appreciate your second comment. I too completely underestimated how much strength I get from being active and serving in the church. It carries me.

    Rosalyn–I am loving the comments as well. I don’t think I could ever have imagined how fulfilled I often feel, even amidst the completely unglamorous ins and outs of day-to-day.

    Lisa S–One bathroom? That is something! But seriously, congratulations! I wish your missionary and your student well. It sounds like you enjoy your nest no matter what it’s size or shape.

    she-bop–that you are a registered used car saleswoman is one of my favorite facts about you. Well, that and your art, which I love. And need more of. I am happy you’re happy!

    Lisa–When I see newly weds I feel the same way. I’m pretty sure they have no idea what’s coming. But I have to say that many of the kids I know seem stronger and so much more prepared than I remember being, so I feel hopeful for them.

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