I wanted to have my life together by 25. I’m not exactly sure what I meant when I made that declaration a little over a year ago, all I know is that I’ve missed that milestone by about four months now, and I’m okay with that.
There’s a lot to be said for the moment when you realize that life isn’t exactly what you thought it would be—married at 23, kids at 25; okay missed that, how about married at 27, kids at 30; no, let’s try married at 30, kids never. Landing that dream job upon college graduation? Not exactly. Moving up within the company at my first job—took longer than expected. Getting to a size that I’m comfortable with…hasn’t happened yet.
Still, there’s even more to be said about the moment when you stop caring about missing life’s deadlines. Recently, I had sort of an epiphany when I found myself attempting to plan out my life yet again, making adjustments to the “ideal-life” timeline—a task that I’d been mindlessly doing since high school when I couldn’t wait to get to college, and in college when I couldn’t wait to get into the real world and “start my life,” and in the real world when I was completely unimpressed with life thus far. I realized that I was wasting so much time planning and anticipating what life would be like at a particular age or stage, that I wasn’t enjoying what was going on now.
At one point I literally thought, I wonder what my life will be like, not even when I’m elderly or when I’m married, just an open-ended thought. I abruptly shook myself out of the daydream and thought, this is your life. I realized that I’d simply been anticipatorily existing, waiting for life to get started, as signified by some monumental accomplishment or change, and not accepting or embracing that where I am now is in fact my life.
That’s when I took the pressure off of myself to not be the last friend to get married or to follow in the exact footsteps of my favorite journalists or authors who had book deals or positions at top magazines by their late 20s, or to try to keep up with or beat my own personal circle of Joneses, which was really just hurting my pockets. Instead I opted for goals. The difference between fantasizing about a dream like it will suddenly fall in your lap and establishing goals is that goals can be worked on now, in the present moment.
For instance, I have a goal to move into a one-bedroom apartment by next May (sounds simple enough, but let me tell you, in New York City this is a big deal), so what am I doing now? I’m saving a set amount of money each month, no matter what, to make sure that I part ways with my cozy little studio in eight months. By 30, I want to eliminate my credit card debt. What have I done? I’ve paid off all of my small credit cards, leaving me with one hefty card to knock out bit by bit, and I’ve been (painfully) resisting purchases. These are concrete, measurable steps that I can take now to prepare, and most importantly, create the future that I desire. It gives me something to look forward to, but not in a far-off, idealistic way because I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I resist the temptation to go off track.
Even more so, I’ve begun doing some mental work to fight my urge to compare myself with others and their accomplishments, resolving that I am in exactly the place that I am supposed to be and in order to go further, I better figure out what my current circumstances are teaching me and use them to advance. So what if someone achieved something at 32 that I don’t get around to until 45? We have different life experiences that bring us to certain places and the most important thing I can do is keep my eyes focused on me and not place so much emphasis on milestones, but rather the process involved in reaching them.
When I’m older and reflect on my 20s, I want to find evidence of life, so I’ve become much more conscious of the memories that I am creating now. There are a number of things that I’m working on to enhance my life, but what’s crucial is that I’m doing so to experience a better present and not just to fulfill an unfair expectation or beat some arbitrary time clock.