Society segments our growth into stages.
We are supposed to achieve set milestones, and have age-defining experiences, before a stage is over, or it’s too late. And when we haven’t, we tend to punish ourselves with feelings of shame or regret.
If we don’t take up an instrument or a sport as a child, then we’ve missed out on learning something enriching.
If we don’t date or have sex before young adulthood has passed, we’ll never find anyone.
No marriage, no kids, no house by 30? We’re over the hill and done.
We form these ideas from the shows we watch and the feeds we follow. We piece together images of what “figured out” looks like from the details we cherry-pick from our peers. We hear it from our parents.
Every stage is riddled with expectations. What these expectations fail to consider are the unique blueprints that make up our lives. The combinations of cultures, personalities, interests, abilities, and communities are infinite.
Maybe we don’t need a spouse and children before we’ve left our 20s— maybe we need friendships, and mentors. Can’t it be okay if we never find a career or passion? What if our dreams exist outside the confines of the workplace?
Our houses cannot be built along the same timeline, on the exact same land.
“Figuring it out” doesn’t account for diversity in growth.
At 31, I have been single my entire life. I graduated from college in five and a half years with a degree I’ve never used. I quit graduate school. I still don’t know if I want to travel the world, or settle down, or find someone.
I don’t know what having life figured out looks like anymore. I’ve passed most of the stages with nothing to show the world that I followed directions. But that disillusionment is where I found the space to exhale. If I couldn’t meet expectations time after time, then it only made sense to abandon them. After all, they were assigned to us without our consideration.
I gave up trying to ally my current self with my expected self. My current self sees obstacles to overcome and lessons to learn that my expected self cannot see.
How can I have an expected future when my present isn’t setting me up for it? How was I expected to be married by 30 when I’m still learning to understand what I need from others? Why should I own a car and a house by 35 when the financial means are outside of my reach? My current self is not ready. My current self may find those things unnecessary.
I, instead, shifted my focus to what I need now, for a life that’s just as important as the one ahead of me. I chose to focus on evolving day by day, meeting my unique needs, that aren’t a side story in a prewritten plot.
Everything that comes before and after is just as important as the ring or the degree. Even without those things, figuring it out shouldn’t trap our meaning into a handful of moments. It shouldn’t discount the richness of our lives and experiences.
We grow and change and make important decisions on our own timelines. We come from different pasts that shape our present readiness and willingness.
Evolving acknowledges that growth is dynamic and constant.
Evolving happens in the present. It’s not passively waiting for an inevitable life event, or anticipating one that may or may not happen when we think it should. Evolving is an active process by which we build from where we are, to where we want to be, not where we’re told to be.
Evolving does not back away from setbacks. It knows that the world is capable of leaching water where we planted seeds. And that we sometimes uproot what we’ve planted ourselves. It realizes that the end of a relationship or a job is not the end, but a stop along the way. We keep going.
Evolving understands that people change, and that even if we do claim those milestones, we might choose to take a new direction in life. It accounts for future changes we may never have imagined. Changes that are as valid as the dreams we once had.
Evolving is as unique a process as it is for the diversity of life on our planet.
When I chose to evolve instead of “figure it out,” I claimed my life as a valid experience. I was not an abject failure of a 31 year old. I re-read past expectations as “not ready for who I was” instead of “things I should have done.”
The human experience is as varied as art. Neither to be calculated nor measured along the same system. Release the expectation that we have to acquire achievements at certain levels. Evolve from where you are and into the life you want to lead.