When we were sixteen, we thought adulting would be cool and easy. Think about it. No curfew, we can eat what we want, go where we want, do what we want and no adult is going to tell us otherwise. Then when we turned seventeen, we were both excited and scared. The reality of adulthood dawned on us. We were responsible for ourselves. Of course our teachers tried to make it clear that being an adult isn’t fun and games. You’re entering the “real world.” Another thing school did a great job of was setting up socially acceptable goals. You’re going to graduate high school, go through a four year college in exactly four years, graduate, and then find a job to start your career. Somewhere within that, you’d get married, have kids, accumulate enough wealth to get your kids into college, and then retired, grow old and die. This all seemed reasonable and doable. But it isn’t.
We learned pretty fast that these milestones set by our teachers and parents weren’t one hundred percent financially realistic or statistically probable for everyone. Some of us went to that four year college because we had enough money, whether it be a scholarship that could have not gotten because there were so many qualified candidates or because by sheer luck of the draw, we were born into a family that actually could afford to put all of their children through college. Some of us went even when we didn’t have the money and took out loans we still aren’t able to pay off. Some of us decided to not go to college altogether.
We all took different life paths that deviated from the very specific timeline we were expected to follow and we payed the price for it, whether it be from guilting ourselves for not being where we should be in life or from someone in our social circles guilting us for “not moving forward in life.”
The thing is, we all follow different life paths at different paces. We don’t have control over every road bump and life event that might pull us in a different direction. Sometimes things just happen. A person’s life can’t be measured by what they’ve done. If a person is in their forties and haven’t settled down and started a family, that doesn’t mean they haven’t lived a full life. If a person is thirty and still hasn’t chosen a career path, that doesn’t mean they’ve fallen behind. There is no correct way to live life, as long as you are happy and healthy. And no one can tell you that your life is lacking.
A lot of the time, when a person tells you that you are a failure in life or gets on your case for not being where they think you should be, they might actually be projecting their insecurities of their own failures. Your life path pace is absolutely none of their business and if they are, “saying it out of love,” there are better ways of handling the situation and talking about it, like asking about their goals or just being emotionally honest about why exactly they’re concerned instead of confronting them aggressively. For example, if you’re concerned about your partner not finding a stable job, instead of saying, “why can’t you just get a job already,” tell them, “I’m concerned about our financial security.”
I personally beat myself up over not completing things in accordance to the socially acceptable timeline. I haven’t completed my four year degree in four years and trying to complete it in four years has taken a financial and emotional toll that I wasn’t at all prepared for. I feel awful that I might have to take a semester off or maybe a year off. I compare my failure to my friends success but the thing is, I’m not my friends. My situation is vastly different than my friends. I worry a little about how there’s specific life things I still don’t know how to do. For example, I don’t know how to drive a car and a lot of the time, I feel kinda pathetic because my friends have to drive me everywhere. But the thing is, we all learn things at our own rate and experience things at our own rate and that’s okay! I am twenty- two and I still suck at budgeting and I still have yet to figure out how to keep my bank account above five-hundred. But these are things I’ll figure out eventually. I’m still learning and I’ll always still be learning.
Goal setting is a fantastic idea, but having to reset your five year plan to cope with what life throws at you doesn’t make you a failure. It’s just life. It’s okay to feel scared and frustrated and lost because adulting very frustrating and confusing and scary and you're allowed to feel that way without any sort of judgement. Talk to your friends. I can bet they are as equally scared and frustrated as you are.