Updated: Mar 8, 2021
With social media growing, expectations for ourselves and our own life paths are in high demand because we have been programmed to be in constant competition with one another, “keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak”. In turn, we begin setting unrealistic deadlines for ourselves, putting immense pressure on ourselves to meet those “deadlines”. Consequently, stress and anxiety start to build up, depression seeps in (and more), and our overall mental health is compromised.
I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a long time now. One reason I am passionate about this subject is because I relate to it ALL too well. Another reason is because I hear of it time and again, whether it is in therapy, with friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. This is a concept we can all relate to in some way, shape, or form.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines timeline as “a schedule of events and procedures.” Sounds simple enough, right? Why do we put such weight on the timelines of our lives? Deadline is defined as, “a date or time by which something must be done.”
The following are some examples of what I hear when talking to others about their lives and personal timelines (not excluding myself on some of these):
"I have to graduate college by the time I’m 21 years old."
"Everyone else my age is having a baby, so it’s only right that I do too."
"I should be married by the time I’m 25 years old."
"I need to buy a house by the time I’m 35."
"I have to retire by age 66."
"I can’t accomplish this until I do that."
"I’m at the age where I should be getting married. It’s just the next step."
The problem with all of these is that they are external expectations and are not based on our inner needs and our own personal situations. So, why do we constantly feel the need to put ourselves on a timeline? Who advised us to do so? When did we learn that this was the norm? Some things can be chalked up to biological factors like giving birth, even though we can question those parameters now as well, with much more technology available.
I think it’s definitely beneficial to set goals and have things we want to work toward; however, when setting those goals, it is important to ask ourselves:
How much weight are we putting on the deadlines we are setting for ourselves?
If we don’t meet that particular goal by a certain age, then what?
Are we a failure?
Should we just quit?
Is there any point in trying for the next goal?
What I’ve observed is that by having these restrictions, we hinder our progress and accomplishments. Just because we get married later in life, doesn’t mean it isn’t a pretty amazing accomplishment! If we end up graduating college in our 40s, does that mean it a lesser achievement? Absolutely not! Earning a degree is a huge triumph regardless of age! Would you tell someone on their 35th birthday that they are a failure because they don’t own their own home by now? I certainly hope not! Comparing our lives to the lives of others tends to hinder or impede our own progress with consequences that can affect us negatively, especially pertaining to our mental health.
When we compare/compete, we get stuck in the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s or even begin to resent the people that have met those goals of one’s own personal desires. Comparing can also lead to doing things we aren’t quite ready for, (i.e. settling and getting married because “it’s just time.”) Not only do we have different personally oriented deadlines, it is also completely okay to have different goals and accomplishments, in general. Marriage isn’t for everyone, neither is having children *gasp*! We can set whatever goals are right for us and meet them in a timeframe that we set for ourselves.
Good news is, we can meet those goals too!
Let’s start taking back control in our lives!
How do we start doing that, you ask......ahh…million-dollar question…?
It boils down to adjusting our expectations and looking at them from our own lens and NO ONE ELSE’s.
I think that the best place to start is by checking in and being honest with ourselves.
Often times when I’m contemplating a loaded question like this, I like to journal. I just ramble on and on, through my pen. If I get off topic, it’s okay, I see where it takes me. Many times, I’ve answered the more complicated questions I’ve struggled with through journaling.
Here is a list of questions that can help you address some of your own difficult life questions:
What is my gut telling me to do?
Is this right for ME?
When I think about doing that, do I have a good feeling or an ‘off’ feeling?
Who am I doing this for?
Why do I feel the need to do this?
What is my end goal in all of this?
Did someone tell me I HAVE to do this? If so, who? What is the motive?
What do you think their reasoning is for wanting it this way?
What am I afraid of in making this decision? Is there anything holding me back?
Is fear holding me back or is it something else?
What steps do I need to take to make this happen?
The intent of this blog is not to crush your dreams or to assert that you should stop making goals for yourself, in fact, quite the opposite, actually. My point is that we all accomplish things in our lives, at our own pace. Big or small, accomplishments should be celebrated!! Regardless of whether you even meet some of the said “deadlines,” you should still be celebrated! You are pushing through life… and life is hard! Congratulations to you NOW and in the future!
We are all unique in our way and have had different upbringings. We also have different thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes. So why should the time we choose to grow personally be any different?