How I'm Overcoming Societal Pressures to Achieve Life Milestones
During my 20s, I felt like I had all the time in the world to accomplish and experience all the things I wanted. Once I entered my 30s, though, that carefree spirit was replaced with immense pressure and a sense of urgency to have it all, by like, yesterday. And by all, I mean the life milestones society deems we all must follow: get married, buy a house, start a family, etc.
While these are all goals my fiancé and I desire and are working towards now, that wasn't always the case. We've been together since high school (I know, rare high school sweethearts) and were practically babies ourselves. Marriage, children and homes were not at the top of our minds. As we got older, though, the pressure started to build. Family members constantly ask us when we're finally going to get married. Friends our age have zoomed past us in the baby department and now have multiple toddlers running around.
Still, it took us a long time to feel fully ready for those things. We had growing to do, life lessons to learn, careers to establish, and finances to get in order. We took (and are still taking) our time with it all. Below, I share the perspective shifts and tips that helped me finally surrender the pressure of timelines and feel confident in charting my own path on my terms.
Acknowledge That 'Being Behind' Doesn't Exist
There is no right timeline for reaching life milestones. Marriage, babies and a mortgage are not requirements for living a full and happy life. These society-imposed goals and timeliness are a social construct. We as a collective created them, attached an age to them and decided that that was the "right" time to have achieved those things.
However, the reality is that our unique life paths are not inherently wrong if they don't fit that mold. Everyone's life journey and timing is different because we all have different challenges to overcome and lessons to learn.
For me, for instance, there have been many factors that have affected my readiness for those big life milestones. For one, my career hasn't had a traditional path. After college, instead of getting a job, I started my own business as a freelance writer and life coach and focused all of my time, energy and money on growing it to the place where it is now, for years. So I didn't have the mental or financial bandwidth to even think about having a big wedding, buying a house, or starting a family.
My fiancé and I also come from low-income families. There's no generational wealth we can tap into to help give us a step up towards those big goals. We're doing it all on our own. That's yet another reason why it's unfair to compare your life path to someone else's. You never know what advantages or disadvantages they may have had.
And as far as babies go, my mental health has also been a big reason why it's taken me so long to feel fully ready for the commitment. I've struggled with anxiety and severe panic attacks for two decades and I'm still learning how to manage and heal it.
Looking back, I can now see that the timing for everything in my life has actually been perfect, even though things felt like they were taking forever at the time. I didn't know what I didn't know but now I do. And the same goes for the life milestones I am yet to achieve. When the timing is right for my unique life path and evolution, it will be perfect, despite what society dictates is the ideal time.
So no, you are not behind in life because there's no such thing as being behind. That is simply a narrative and one you can choose not to buy into, which brings me to my next point.
Focus on the Present
Throwing these self-imposed deadlines out the window is easier said than done, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Personally, this took me years to finally click. No matter what I did or how fast I tried to race towards those big goals, they felt so far away. The more I rushed, the more pressure and anxiety it created, which greatly affected my overall level of happiness, life satisfaction and wellbeing. Instead of celebrating my small wins along the way, I was focusing on how far I still was from where I wanted to be.
My advice: Be gentle with yourself. There are a lot of aspects of life we can't control, and timing is often one of them. It's great to dream big and set intentions for our future, but attaching deadlines to them creates unnecessary stress and pressure that doesn't feel good and can lead to disappointment and unhappiness when things don't pan out at the time we hoped.
Case in point: My 21-year-old self thought I'd be married with a couple of kids by the time I turned 30. So when I actually turned 30 and hadn't yet ticked those boxes, nor did I feel quite ready to, I felt like I had somehow failed at life, despite all my other great accomplishments. The pressure to keep up was blinding me from seeing all the good I had in my life and all the growth I've done in my three decades.
It was then that I realized I could either use my precious energy to feel bad about being "behind" or I could surrender to my life and give myself permission to release the timelines. The latter obviously feels way better and lighter.
So, how exactly did I release the timelines? I kept my focus on what was already thriving in my life in the present. Often, when we're so focused on reaching the next goal, whatever that may be, we miss so much of the juicy goodness available to us in the here and now. Focus on living your best life now and allow your life to unfold naturally.
And whenever the fear and pressure of being behind in life popped up—and it did, a lot—I remind myself that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now. I am right on time and I am not limited by time or age.
Get Clear on What You Actually Want, and Write Your Own Rules
Once I cleared the societal conditioning, I then took some time to decide what I actually wanted in my life and what felt right and most authentic for me. As a writer, I love to do this type of introspection in a journal so I can just brain dump all my thoughts and feelings and gain some clarity, but chatting with someone you trust can work too. The key is to create some time and space in your calendar to sit down and really think through this.
Here's what I journaled on: If societal norms weren't a thing, what would I do? Not what my parents want me to do or what my friends are doing or most people do, but rather what feels correct for me at this point in my life? What would make me the happiest? What would be the most ease-filled way to do things? And do I even want to reach these life milestones, or have I just been programmed to think I do?
Since these big life milestones also involve my fiancé, we also went through these prompts together to ensure we were both on the same page. Turns out, he was way more freed of these society imposed timelines than I was. For instance, in my mind, it made "more sense" to get married first, then buy a house, then start a family. For him, the order didn't matter at all, which made me realize I was creating so much pressure by trying to stick to this picture-perfect life road map.
That leads me to today. We're working towards all of our goals (baby! house! wedding!) simultaneously and have no clue which will manifest first—and I kind of love that. Old me would freak out at the thought of not having a highly detailed life plan mapped out. But, the new me is loving the freedom of just flowing with life and allowing it to surprise and delight me. At my core, I know the timing of each thing will be exactly right for us, because history has proven that things always align for our highest good.
Remember, we get one life and it's meant for it to be lived in our highest and best, not what's "correct" according to social conditioning. Going against the grain doesn't make your journey less than, far from it. It makes your path much richer, joyful and fruitful. And it may even inspire other people to do the same. The takeaway: Do things your way on your own time, and do them unapologetically.