I used to think that one day I would have my whole life sorted out. Like most people, I put a deadline to it: By 26 I’d have my dream job. I’d be married by 27. Then I’d buy my dream car by age 30. I would also own my own home by that age. By age 35 I’d have 2 children…
Here’s the thing though… none of those dreams ever came true. And I’m not sorry about that. See, I’ve learned that although we all need to settle down and ‘adult’ at some point, there is actually NO DEADLINE for figuring things out.
And what a relief that is… because I’ve recently realised that I’ll never, EVER get to the point where I know exactly what’s what, all the work is done and I can just relax.
The misconception that one day everyone finally manages to ‘find themselves’ or ‘figure things out’ is one that leaves many unhappy, dissatisfied with life… even depressed. We compare ourselves to others, always certain that other people have their act together in some mysterious way that we can’t quite put our fingers on.
Think about it, can you be forty and STILL not settled? Can you still be sixty and still searching for yourself?
Sounds sad, right?
Maybe, but maybe not. You see, while I agree that we are all on a journey to maturity, I don’t think that people ever truly develop into one, static version of themselves. Life is, and always will be about growth and evolution.
If at forty you are exactly the same person you were at 30 when you ‘found yourself’… well that would be pretty sad.
I’m 31 now and there are so many things on my long list of of goals and deadlines that I haven’t achieved. I could let myself be very, very depressed about this. I could let myself feel like a failure… But there are also so many things that I have achieved. Things I hadn’t even imagined. Things it would never have occurred to me to dream of. If you were to stop reading this for a second and objectively assess your life, you would no doubt find that the same is true for you.
Some people look like their life is all about sunshine and smooth sailing. Some people actually think they have their entire lives mapped out. More likely, they just haven’t hit the first roadblock yet. They haven’t run out of fuel, or got a flat tyre.
We can’t all be that person. Truth be told, very few of us will ever even meet that person. So, why do we all feel this need to know and manipulate the future in order to feel safe?
At the end of the day, life isn’t safe… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful.
If you’re a goal-oriented stresspot like me, it’s easy to become discouraged. You feel overwhelmed because you’ve caged yourself with lofty ideals and deadlines. This especially happens when these goals aren’t realistic, practical or flexible.
There comes a time when we need to stop, reassess and learn to set goals that are actually within our power to control.
If you’re going to start studying Law at 18 in hopes of being a supreme court judge at 25, you’re almost certainly setting yourself up for failure. Ditto setting a goal of getting married when you’re not in a relationship, or buying a car when your bank account is in terminal overdraft.
I’m not saying that our goals and ambitions should be ‘safe’. Don’t listen to anyone who gives you that ridiculous advice. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t judge yourself or feel like a failure if you couldn’t accomplish a goal that wasn’t realistic.
You should be flexible enough to realise that your dreams might change, and reorient yourself without fear or regret if that happens.
From the moment you accept that you may never fully figure things out, you realise that you can’t wait until then to start living. You can’t wait until then to ask for a raise or lose that extra 30 pounds. You can’t wait until you’ve got your whole life sorted before you take that trip around the world that you’ve been dreaming of. You need to live the life you want to live today.
That being said, we do need deadlines. They keep us from pressing ‘pause’; putting life on hold until that vague day when everything is finally figured out. Often, the simplest way to accomplish this is to say, ‘When I turn 30, I’ll take a year off and travel the world…” Deadlines can give us the impetus we need to start.
No point in starting if our goals are all wrong though…
If you could set a goal today that would definitely still be as important to you in 20 years, then you’ve probably ‘figured out’ as much as you need to about life.
At 31, my priorities look nothing like they did when I was 18. I aim to live a healthy lifestyle. To be generous and make time for family. To be patient. To be a loyal and reliable friend. To be a self-sufficient, responsible adult. I aim to be a woman I can respect.
Those things are in my power to achieve. If you’re already there, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve already got life ‘all figured out’.