Thirty years ago, I worked with a friend whose husband got the opportunity to bring her along on a three-day business trip. His company generously offered to reimburse them for the cost of babysitting, which sealed the deal for her. Knowing two relevant pieces of information–that I was already acquainted with her two kids (a girl and a boy, aged four and six) and that Jim and I were a young couple in need of money–she asked me if I wanted to move into her home and take care of her children while she was gone.

I don’t remember a lot of detail about those three days; it was mostly a blur of my trying to get my friend’s daughter to eat her vegetables and begging my two charges just to get along for goodness’ sake. One little moment in time, however, has stuck with me for all these years.

After I finally got the kids to bed on the second night, I turned on the television and grabbed a notebook I had brought with me. I sat down without remembering to grab a pen first, and opened up a drawer in the end table to see if I could find one there. Several pens sat waiting for me, but my eye was drawn to a small piece of yellow paper, on which a three-item list was written:

  1. Go back to school
  2. Lose twenty-five pounds
  3. Find a new hairstyle

I remember feeling extremely guilty upon finding that piece of paper. Granted, those three items are probably on many women’s personal to-do lists, but I was a nineteen-year-old newlywed and college student who thought my twenty-nine-year-old friend couldn’t be more perfect or have a better life than she did right at that moment. By finding her list I felt like I had intruded on her deepest thoughts. Guilt aside, I realized that we all have things about ourselves that we want to improve or change, no matter how awesomely we are perceived by our friends and family. In addition, there’s nothing wrong with striving for more at any given moment. Those were important lessons to learn at my young age, and carrying them with me all this time has been a gift.

I lost touch with my friend a couple of years after her husband’s job transferred the family out of town, but have thought of her often. I wonder if she ever finished her degree, or if she lost the weight she thought she needed to lose. I wonder how her goals and dreams shifted over the years; mine certainly have. I wonder what she’s doing now.

Even though many of us fight it like crazy, change is a part of life. I was talking on the phone with a good friend yesterday about how people are always evolving. We change involuntarily due to our circumstances and our environment and our experiences and the people with whom we surround ourselves. Sometimes we have to change: situations beyond our control can make everything fall on its side and spiral until we can right it all again. Sometimes when we’re at our most comfortable, we feel the need to change. While many of us have definite ideas when we’re young adults about the direction our lives will take, we eventually realize that life can be turbulent and unpredictable. Often we don’t even end up at the destination we planned from the beginning, even if we make lists of our goals and dreams along the way.

Although having kids is the one major thing on my life list back in the day that came to fruition, nothing else in my life looks like anything I could have aimed for via bulleted list thirty years ago, and I’m fine with that. I have learned that employing a sense of fluidity–even though it’s difficult sometimes–is what results in the most happiness for me. By trying to go with the flow I’ve landed in some pretty fantastic places. I’m not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in ten years, but I bet I couldn’t even begin to imagine it today. What about you?