July 20, 2014

Why Age Benchmarks are Bulls#*t. ~ Stephanie Johnson


Remember being 18? Our lives stretched out before our eyes; seemingly endless possibilities awaited us.

Life consisted of studying, working, partying and dating ridiculous people who, at the time, seemed perfect for us. Yet there was always an unspoken expectation that this would end and we would “settle down” so to speak.

You know, get a good job, buy a house (getting ourselves into a huge spiral of debt in the process), have a family and stop doing wild and crazy things. We are told we need to “live it up” in our 20s, so that we “get it out of our system.”

Call me crazy, but I never want to get “living it up” out of my system.

We all have an age benchmark for when we think or want this to happen. For me that age was 30. I envisaged that I would have an adventurous life in my 20s and somehow, magically, grow up, settle down and live a much more stable (read boring) life. I’m not quite sure what gave me this idea, maybe it was societal expectations, or maybe based on the idea of the biological clock, but it seemed like that was the thing to do.

You allow yourself some time to be free before a certain age benchmark and from then on, you settle into a more simple, mature life, your life as a real adult.

Now, at the age of 29, I am starting to reflect on my 20s.

I have realised that I was completely wrong. Not about wanting to have wild and crazy 20s, but about wanting that to end. Sure, there are some share house situations that don’t need to be repeated and I will probably steer clear of Thai Full Moon Parties in the future, but I still want a life of adventure.

Far from “settling down,” as the benchmark of 30 approaches, I am contemplating moving abroad, changing my career and starting a business simultaneously.

As children, we are all brought up being told that we are children, immature and carefree, but that this time of our lives will end, we will “grow up.”

Increasingly this process involves a more settled, organised, mature and in many ways, boring life. We give ourselves an age, a time limit that we have to have achieved this by. This is reinforced by everyone. As a collective, we believe and perpetrate this myth.

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “you’ll want to settle down once you meet someone,” or “you’ll stop travelling once you find a job you love,” or my personal favourite, “once you have kids this will all change.”

Will it? Does it have to?

In these modern times of infinite possibilities, of travel, adventure and endless opportunities, should we be made to feel like we have to choose a more conventional path?

There is nothing wrong with having children and a steady job, don’t get me wrong. However, I don’t feel like it is something that should be expected, taken as gospel that it is how we should live. We should never stop wanting to “live it up,” irrespective of our age. We should encourage all people to dream big, whatever their age.

There are no rules except the ones we impose on ourselves.

I remember when I was at college, there was an elderly lady who had never finished school. When her husband passed away, she decided to go to university.

At the age of 84, she began finished high school and began university. She graduated at the age of 92 with a PHD in English Literature. I always found this to be such an inspirational story, a story of a woman who refused to let age benchmarks rule her life.

I feel like, as a society, we need to be more open to and encouraging of the plethora of opportunities that await us. We need to be mindful of the ways in which we, often subtly and without meaning to, judge those who choose a different and non-conventional path.

Child free people (compared with childless, child free is seen as a choice) are often judged as selfish or cold. If you are single past a certain age there tends to be a certain stigma attached, when often people are single by choice.

As I approach my next decade, I still want a wildly exciting life, filled with exotic places, meeting new and interesting people and trying new careers, jobs and hobbies. I am removing my benchmark age of 30 completely. I want my whole life to be an adventure. I encourage everyone to at least consider the possibilities of this.

Consider what you could achieve in a lifetime if you didn’t have to “settle down.”

Now realise that you can do it.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

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Stephanie Johnson