We all hear it ticking within us: Graduate by 21, get that great job by the time you’re 25 so that when you’re 30, you can finally settle down and have the perfect family.
Sure, this may be an ideal path for some to follow, but since when did it become a timeline of success?
These days, many people discover that the four-year degree they sacrificed many nights of sleep to obtain actually did not lead to a desirable full-time job.
Others discover that while friends are having children and settling down, their own immediate desires don’t include diaper changes. And, then, there are some who get the degree and the job offers, but have no idea what to do next.
To anyone who has not followed a strictly outlined path: There is nothing wrong with you.
This article isn’t meant to encourage people to act irresponsibly, throw caution to the wind and mature because in order to make it in this world, you need to.
Rather, I’m suggesting you evaluate yourself through the mirror of society in order to figure out what you should be doing.
Find time to enjoy your passions, take the extra classes in college that might derail your four-year plan but will help you figure out what you like.
Enjoy your relationships with friends and family as they are now, not for what you hope they will be in the future.
Though it doesn't hurt to plan ahead, so long as you remain flexible in the face of life's curveballs, there are many reasons not to follow an exact timeline for your life.
Swearing by your biological clock produces certain negative effects, including these:
It promotes the “I’ll be happy when…” mindset.
“I’ll be happy when I have a better job," or “I’ll be happy when I have a secure relationship.”
To people who think this way, happiness becomes the end-all to a never-ending race, and no matter how exhausted you are from running, the finish line will always be out of reach.
It’s easier said than done to relish in your current surroundings, even if they’re imperfect, but it’s vital to your wellbeing. If you can’t do this, make a major change now (even if it’s just a temporary adjustment to hold you over until you get where you want to be).
It measures success based on others.
The fear of not doing things up to speed with the rest of the crowd often inhibits people.
So what if your friends got jobs in their fields of study while you’re still figuring out what you want to do with your life? Some people enroll in college with steadfast career choices, while others change majors three times before realizing what sparks an interest within.
I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t feel discouraged if you are the latter:
Remember in high school, when you’d be in the middle of taking a test and suddenly notice your classmates getting up, one-by-one to hand in completed quizzes? You’d then break out in a sweat, Christmas-treeing the rest of your answers so you could catch up with everyone else.
What was the result? Probably a grade lower than what you knew you could produce, just because you refused to take the necessary time to figure things out. Don’t Christmas-tree through life to be on the same page as everyone else.
Time will pass either way; you can use it wisely by exploring career-worthy interests or move with the herd to fit in.
You don’t reach for greatness; you reach for availability.
Young adults tend to be vivacious about chasing dreams. But somewhere along the line, that vivacity gets lost.
People secure themselves in uninspiring 9-to-5 jobs, or in dull yet safe towns. This happens because dreams stop being practical or become too much work and it’s much easier, and timelier, to succumb to the mundane.
I’m not advising unemployed musicians to hole up in their parents’ basements and wait for big breaks, but it is important to stop thinking that by 25 years old, if you haven’t succeeded in your grandiose aspirations, it’s time to forget about them.
Instead, consider getting a stable job so you can relish in independence. Still make time for your passions and realize that if you work diligently enough, you can still reach your dreams of becoming a novelist, touring musician or millionaire.
It ignores the notion that it is okay to make mistakes.
This, as with the above points, translates to both academics and personal relationships.
Say you’ve been in a relationship with your high school sweetheart for more than five years and you previously imagined yourself settling down and starting a family by now.
By the same token, you begin to realize the person you’ve been spending time with may not be right for you.
You have the power to change your surroundings, even if it sets back your plans. Take a risk, throw yourself back into the singles market and start again.
Breaking up with someone wrong for you is not so much a mistake as it is motivation to find what you’re looking for. But, it is better to do so now before you wind up in a marriage with a family you are not ready to have, just because your inner clock is telling you it’s time.
It doesn’t let you concentrate on the present.
Let’s go back to the previous relationship example, only this time, your high school sweetheart is indeed who you want to be with. Your sweetheart feels the same way and is fully committed, but not yet ready to take the relationship to the next level.
Relative scenarios cause many relationships to deteriorate because two people in love cannot get on the same page. If this is you, take a step back and realize how lucky you are to be with someone who shares an equal amount of love and dedication.
Enjoy this time together, married or not, with children or without children. Marriage is not a finish line in relationships; it is another full-time job.
There is something beautiful about being in committed partnerships before other chapters come along.
It’s the time to boost each other up while exploring individual interests; it’s the time to travel together and to enjoy spending time apart. It’s the time to indulge in your love for each other without other obligations.
Do not rush your partner out of wanting to spend more time in this blissful period with you.
In the end, success and happiness are valued on different terms and each person follows a unique path to reach these things. No matter the blockades in the road, it’s important to set aside moments to navigate your talents, cultivate your ambition and lead the best life you can.
Pave your own walkway so you don’t wind up at an endpoint of doubt and regret.