Why Setting Deadlines Will Never Give You The Happiness You Want

by Maria Bellissimo

I recently asked one of my girlfriends if she has a deadline for when she wants to get married.

“I don’t care to get married,” she replied, “Or have kids.”

I also don’t want kids, so there was no need to ask her why, but I was surprised this was coming from her. She’s single and dating now, but she was in a long-term relationship just a few years ago. She and her boyfriend almost bought a house together.

He backed out at the last minute, so they broke up and she bought the house on her own.

“I used to have a timeline,” she told me. “I thought I’d be engaged by 27, married by 29 and have my first kid by 31.” “What changed?” I asked. “After I broke up with my boyfriend, I realized timing doesn’t matter,” she said.

She and I were on our way to our cars, so I didn’t ask her specifically what it was about her breakup that shifted her perspective. I suppose we all experience unexpected events that emphasize to us that life doesn’t abide by our plans or deadlines.

We already know this, but once in a while, we get a forceful reminder. While sometimes harsh, those reminders are undercover godsends.

During moments of heightened awareness that aligning our ducks won’t spare us from the unexpected, we have increased motive to free ourselves from our own expectations. Growing up, we’re sold on this idea of “perfect timing.”

We’re given what is considered a typical life timeline, or a subscription for success, if you will: finish high school in our teens, graduate from university by our early 20s, launch promising careers and marriages by our mid- to late-20s and start birthing children by our early 30s at the latest.

Although this standard agenda is meant to guide us, it creates unnecessary pressure. Living in a deadline-oriented culture that values productivity over fulfillment only adds more tension.

To reduce the stress, we have to realize that we choose to accept or disregard deadlines, and we can, therefore, choose to live without them. Fortunately, I think some people are starting to get it.

I look at my friends, and I see evidence of the gradual dissolution of deadlines. They are all on very different paths, many of which are not nursery-bound by 32 because life isn’t as streamlined as it used to be. It’s not about being married with children by a certain age on the premise that marriage and children make everyone happy and at the exact same time.

It’s about finding what drives us as individuals and cultivating personal happiness based on those passions. Furthermore, it’s about doing so at our own pace.

Last year, another friend of mine wisely stated that deadlines make people feel like they’ve failed for no reason. It’s true: Often, people assess personal success by comparing their lives now to where they expected their lives to be now. That approach almost guarantees disappointment because let me reiterate: Life doesn’t abide by our plans or deadlines.

There are too many factors we cannot control. However, what we can control is how we measure success. Rather than evaluating ourselves based on where we’re at in life versus where we “should” be, we can forget about “should” and eliminate deadlines.

I’m not saying forgo all sense of direction. Have ambitions and strive for them, but lose care for how long it takes to reach them. They’re supposed to be just as fun to get to as they are to be at, anyway.

Plus, timing is not your best measure of success. I’ll give you your best measure of success: Are you happy? As long as you are happy, you are successful.