Twenty Years From Now, Will I Be Disappointed?


When I was in college, living in Paris, one of my favorite quotes was from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

It was easy for me to identify with this. I knew that when I was in my forties, I’d look back on those years in the City of Light with fondness. Some instinct told me the hard moments would fade and I’d remember those explorations with rose-colored memories. In some ways, it was a typical college experience—I encountered new perspectives and found my politics, theology, worldview, and old ideals shifting. I dug into the whys of my faith.

Exploration was part of life—from literally getting on a train to visit a new location to engaging with friends from different backgrounds and world views. This became a habit I held onto: Seeking out new information and ideas, either through books or over a meal with a new friend.

Fast-forward nearly 15 years and that quote doesn’t fill me with the same excitement any more. It fills me with nostalgia and wistfulness. The last time I traveled internationally was in 2011, before we even started trying to start a family. We’ve gone on adventures since then, yes, but they aren’t what I was imagining in my untethered early-twenties.

These days, you’ll find me at home in the suburbs, establishing healthy routines for our daughters and grappling with ways I can make a difference in my community through cultural interactions with our immigrant neighbors and by dipping my toes in the world of activism. Most often, life doesn’t feel glamorous or adventurous. It feels so very typical. When asked what I do, I most often shrug and say, I just stay home with the girls.

This isn’t the whole truth, but I never know how much a stranger really wants to know about all the ways I’m piecing together meaning in my own backyard. I still read a variety of books that challenge my thinking, my outlook, and my faith. I still seek out conversations and friendships with people who have lived different experiences, whether by choice or circumstance.

My husband and I were talking about this phase of life and parenting. I told him it’s a both-and feeling for me. I both wish we could travel and live a carefree life and I recognize the importance of tending our roots. I look at others in our same season and envy how easy it seems for them to travel and attend all the opportunities away from home and I recognize that I don’t want that right now, not really. It’s still too much juggling and coordinating to make it worth it for me.

When I look back on this season in twenty years, will I be disappointed in the things I didn’t do, as Mark Twain suggests? Will I wish we had packed up and lived in an exotic location? Or will I recognize that the things I did choose are what makes future adventure possible? By giving our girls a solid and safe foundation, will they feel more free to roam and explore? By waiting a few years for various experiences, will I recognize the importance of not taking them for granted?

I’ll be honest, this season of staying home is something I would never trade for the world. Experiencing my girls as they  discover their world is pretty amazing, even as most of their exploration takes place within a couple miles of our home. But it’s also one of the hardest and often loneliest times. I am surrounded by an incredible community, but a lot of days feel long and dull and I have trouble remembering the bigger picture.

Maybe I need to revisit this quote more often. To remember that, twenty years from now, I’ll look back on this time with new eyes and a fresh perspective. Those long days will become sweeter over time as a bigger picture is pieced together. I’ll remember the joy and exploration of being with my kids during this particular phase of their childhood, when finding a rollypoly in our yard is as exciting as any grand adventure. I’m learning to broaden my view of those compelling words, to create a culture of exploration right here at home.