I just turned 38, and by all appearances, I have got my shit together. I graduated from college, married a wonderful guy and had not one but four healthy children. I have a home, a great job, friends aplenty and I’m healthy. But I still feel like I suck, and here is why.
I was at the gym this morning and I was introduced to a pretty, young, fit girl. Our coach was trying to give an anecdotal introduction and said “Tell Noelle about how you met Bradley Cooper.” So she did, but I couldn’t exactly hear her, because my brain was screaming to myself, “What have you done with your life?”
There was a time when I was just like her. I was 20 years old, living in Los Angeles, finishing my theater degree while waitressing and acting and being an extra in several television shows that have since been canceled. On my break one day, I went to a coffee shop on the Paramount lot and ran into Jim Carrey. Jim freaking Carrey! This was before he got kind of weird on Twitter. Well, Twitter hadn’t even been invented in 1997. He approached me, and we had a genuinely nice little conversation. But I don’t have proof of that, like a new profile picture; I just have a cool story. Now, I’m trying to one-up a beautiful 20-year-old girl, but I look more pathetic than cool. Alrighty then.
What was even more embarrassing was that it was very apparent that I obviously abandoned my dream of being an actress and was now living in the Midwest.
I knew what the 20-year-old’s next question was going to be before she even said it: “Do you still act?” I gave my rehearsed answer about moving back to the Midwest to save money after meeting my husband, and then we had a baby, and in order to pay for the baby, I had to get a job at a university that didn’t use my theater degree, but will pay for my children’s college, and now I am…well, stuck in Indiana for at least another 20 years. So, no, I don’t act anymore. Unless local commercials count, but I know they don’t.
She smiled and slowly inched her way to the other side of the gym. She probably didn’t want to catch my failure.
As I was working out and feeling like I had failed my younger self, I started to re-evaluate my choices. Back then, I set goals for myself, and besides winning an Oscar, I achieved them. The Oscar is debatable, because I did eventually get one when I gave birth to my fourth son and named him Oscar. In retrospect, my goals included finding a handsome, loving man to marry, supporting myself financially, living in a house and meeting Oprah. I wasn’t’ specific about the locale. But most importantly, I wanted to be happy.
We all know that most college kids don’t really know what they want. I set nonspecific goals for myself, and to my credit I reached them, even the Oprah one. The difference now is that I stopped making goals for myself and started making them for my children instead.
That is why I suck.
If I don’t have any future goals of my own, I’m just living on autopilot. My kids can make their own goals. As I approach 40, I need to make my own—starting now, with not comparing myself to someone half my age. I mean, it wouldn’t’ be fair. I would kick her ass.
Truthfully, though, I believe there is so much more than I ever imagined. My 20-year-old self’s goals couldn’t possibly have seen the unstoppable potential that I have witnessed in many women past the age of 40.
This article was originally published on