Conventional Timelines Are Dead — Don’t Feel Badly That Your Life Isn’t What You Expected

If you could talk to your 12-year-old self right now, would she be horrified that you don’t hold a senior position at work, aren’t married with two kids, and haven’t visited at least ten of the countries on her bucket list? It’s easy to get caught up in the when and how things are “supposed” to happen when you’re young and inexperienced. In reality, weighing yourself down with arbitrary deadlines is no way to live. Everything will happen how it’s meant to, so cut yourself a little slack if 12-year-old you saw the future a little differently than it has turned out.

Priorities change.

Maybe you were on track to graduate college and get started in your chosen field to immediately start working your way up, but suddenly you realized your chosen field didn’t exactly have a lot of openings. Suddenly you have to go back to school, but you’ve also met a great guy who you want to get serious with. My point is, you’re juggling multiple priorities at any given time. Sometimes one thing has to be put on hold, and sometimes the path toward your goals isn’t as straightforward as you thought it was going to be.

It’s okay to want some traditional things, but not others.

If you’ve always wanted kids, but never wanted to get married, you’re in luck because one doesn’t have to come before the other anymore. You can have kids without being married and not have to feel like some kind of outsider. Also, staying home with the kids doesn’t have to be the career suicide it used to be. Basically, if you don’t worry about doing things the way you’re “supposed” to, you’ll have more time to create the life you want, no matter how wacky it might seem to the more conservative among us.

You can’t control everything.

Even if you know exactly what you want, there are a lot of other factors at play that could derail your plans. Other people aren’t on the same timeline as you, so the guys you date might not have the same sense of urgency as you do. Also, chances are you’ll go through a few jobs before you find somewhere to settle down for the long haul. You could do everything right and still not meet every one of your goals by the time you want to meet them. Luckily, you aren’t going to spontaneously combust if you miss a self-imposed deadline.

Comparing yourself to others is a bad idea.

Traditional timelines are based on what the general public is doing. You think you have to get married, buy a house, have kids and live happily ever after — in that order — because that’s what your parents did and that’s what you see some of your friends doing. But their life isn’t an example of how you should live yours. You need to follow your own path.

Hitting the right milestones isn’t guaranteed to make you happy.

Even if you follow a meticulously set-out path where you do everything right and never falter, there’s still a pretty good chance you won’t be satisfied. You might miss out on making mistakes and being spontaneous along the way because all you cared about was being perfect. Happiness can be fickle, but being flexible and open to change can only help you figure out what you really want.

Timelines are old-fashioned anyway.

Your grandmother would probably be shocked if you told her you wanted to have kids before getting married or travel the world before establishing your career, but the fact is, there aren’t any rules anymore. Well, except one: you do you.

Unexpected opportunities can change your life.

You could be on a stable career path and all of a sudden get the opportunity of a lifetime to work abroad. Maybe it wasn’t part of your plan and maybe it’s going to throw your love life into complete turmoil, but you know you can’t turn it down. Suddenly your life has taken a detour, and you have no idea where it’s going, but that can actually be a huge blessing if you choose to focus on the positive.

Even the best laid plans will change.

Whether you choose to make adjustments or they are made for you, not many things go exactly as planned. The best skill you can learn is how to adapt. Not every change has to completely derail everything. You just have to know how to roll with the punches, and you and your timeline will be just fine.

Knowing what you want is only the first step.

Figuring out your end goal is important, and if you have that part down, you’re way ahead of a lot of other people. The beauty of knowing where you want to end up is that there are probably plenty of different ways to get there. The best route might not be clear right away, but it will all start to make sense with every step you take.

There’s no deadline for happiness.

Everyone’s ultimate goal is just to be happy, regardless of what that means to them. You might turn 30 and still have a long way to go to meet your goals. You might hit 40 and have picked up a few new goals along the way. But happiness isn’t a destination you reach — it’s something you constantly have to work to maintain. You’re responsible for your own journey, and there’s no timeline in the world that’s guaranteed to result in happiness.

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