How many times have you had a family member at Christmas pester you about bringing home a boy/girlfriend? She’ll nudge you in the arm and whisper “So, you got anybody back at school you’re thinking about getting serious with? You know it’s about that time.”
Or, you’ve heard a girl in her late 20s worry about her biological clock or be told that she best get to having babies soon. Social norms and expectations follow us everywhere, especially down South where I grew up and currently attend college. We’re taught from an early age about all kinds of manners and standards. Kids are taught what’s gentlemanlike and ladylike, what is appropriate to wear to this social event or that one, what is acceptable to talk about and what is prohibited to strictly behind doors. We know the rules. We also know what people think of others that don’t always follow these norms. It is a lot of pressure as a young adult.
Assessing all of these rules and considering the many ways the world wants you to act is immensely confusing at times. Not to diss manners, they serve their purpose and I'm grateful to have them. But I think that as we age we are introduced to so many different situations that weren’t always covered at home, or in some places structured and attended — etiquette class and all those social norms can be overwhelming. Responding to others appropriately is difficult, even harder is dealing with the way others view and respond to your actions because, in reality, everyone is taught a little differently.
Twenty to 30 is a rough place. We're supposed to be doing this whole figuring-ourselves-out thing. "Figuring ourselves out." That's a broad statement, huh? Yeah, it's a broad task, and I believe the hardest part is the pressure to get ourselves together as quickly as possible. We constantly feel like we're in a time crunch, and one of the biggest battles us growing adults face is the one against the social clock.
Professionally defined as the “conscious or unconscious consensus that dictates when events should occur,” social timelines can differ among societies but, in all, are the outside pressure to complete a life task in a certain time span. We internally stress and judge ourselves for not living up to these expectations set by family or society. Majorly, we don't even realize we're doing it. As humans, one of the focuses of our lives is to fit in, not necessarily to blend, but to find our niche. It is our internal desire to belong. We want to have a city, a friend group, a workplace in which we can identify and mesh well with. Even those who boast about being an “outcast” typically find other “outcasts” to socialize and agree with. This social clock (and its pressures) is just another hindrance to our ability to find the perfect place in society.
And, it is furthering our divide. Those who have accomplished a specific item off of life’s checklist in the correct age range are deemed well-adjusted, while those who work slowly are considered lagging. In addition to the everyday tasks of trying not to offend people, trying to look presentable in public, trying to foster social relationships, trying to be politically correct, trying to be kind, and trying to be smart we all have to try to be timely, too. We work quickly to find that perfect degree so we can graduate on time and land that perfect job. We search for that perfect soulmate in our early 20s so that we can get married and start that picket fence family — as if our generation doesn’t have enough on our plate and our fair share of judgemental finger pointing.
I bring all of this up to say that it’s crap.
It doesn't matter. It’s ridiculous to have to worry about a metaphorical timeframe. I’d say it is part of why some of the older members of this planet are a bit unhappy. We’re rushed into things. We’re pressured to marry someone because they’re “good” and the time is right. We’re pressured into taking a job offer right after college because it’s appropriate. We aren’t encouraged to travel, or to ponder, or to learn things that can’t be taught in a classroom. Substance isn’t valued — standards and traditions are.
So what do we do about it? We stop letting it bother us, and we stop allowing these constraints to consume us. We continue to value traditions and respect where we came from, but remember that there is room for new in our lives. We quit searching for the perfect spouse and search for ourselves. We volunteer to help others and not to get service hours for our resume. We stop planning our lives and we live them. The best things in life take time to grow and flourish, and we are worth investing our time in.
Invite powerful thinking into your life and refrain from doing something simply because it's the norm. Whether it is traveling, reading, relaxing or going to church, find what helps you feel solid in who you are as a person. Make these activities part of your schedule. If you can't finish your college education in four years, that's OK. If you don't want to get married or have children until you're 30 (or at all) it is OK. Take your time and spend it the way you see fit, not the way society thinks you should be spending it. One of the most encouraging things for me is to look for testimonies of successful people. For example, the founder of Amazon was working at McDonald's in his 20s, Tina Fey was working at a local YMCA, and J.K Rowling and Mark Cuban had both recently lost jobs.
What all four of those people have in common is that, in time, life worked out in their favor. It didn't just happen, they had to put forth an effort. They also had to be willing to put in the time. Stress incites more stress. Relax, breath deep and stop watching the clock before time is up and you've missed everything.