When I was young, I used to tell my parents, ‘there is probably more to life than studying, getting a job, getting married, settling down, and dying. Watch me, I’ll do something different.’ Ah, the sweet naivety of youth.
I’m at that stage in life, that when any adult comes in contact with me, the same question always comes forth, shrieking violently like a pressure cooker whistle.
“When will you get married?”
Forget my birthday. My mother gets asked the same question on her own birthday.
Depending on “where you are” in life, the question varies.
“When will you finally date someone?”
“When are you buying a house?”
“When will you bless us with grandkids?”
“When will you get a car?”
To many people in the world, life is a journey with roughly the same milestones, expected to occur in a certain sequence, at a certain time. Like checkpoints in races, where if you do not make it to the next checkpoint within the designated time, you lose the race. Except for the odd rebel, we all have this ingrained in our heads to different extents. The stronger these notions are, the more rigid your expectations become. As the inevitable gulf between reality and expectations grows, the more stressed you will be in life.
This notion of milestones is a gross over-simplification of life. Not only are we all unimaginably different, but the circumstances in each of our lives are mindbogglingly diverse. We’re a bunch of bees buzzing around in a giant jar, and expecting us to fly in a straight line is just bizarre.
It’s not that these events aren’t important. But such is the scale of importance we place on them, that the path between two milestones becomes almost irrelevant.
For instance, consider a woman completing her post graduation. The word marriage explodes in capital letters all around her the second she receives her degree, and the noise doesn’t subside until she hears wedding bells. Each day she doesn’t get to this next milestone, expectations weigh her down. The moment she ties the knot, the next milestone comes calling.
It’s not that these events are not important. They are. It’ s just that, life counts down our days the same, whether we get to a milestone or not.
Perhaps you might feel everyone you know has reached a certain stage, and it’s only you who can’t seem to catch up.
You are not ahead, and you are not behind. You just are.
And I’m not just talking to you. I’m talking to myself too. These notions of how a person’s life should be, or is supposed to be, have been deeply ingrained in my bones, something I’m realising only now. For years, I’ve felt incapable and inadequate in so many aspects, because of the difference in my path from others, who are rapidly ticking off those milestones themselves.
I will repeat: You are not ahead, and you are not behind. You just are.
A ten year old kid once went to the carnival with his class. He’d been looking forward to it for a long time now, especially that roller coaster his brother never stopped talking about. Him, and all his friends. Today he would know.
The queue was long, but there was no chance he would miss this for anything. When his turn finally came, the conductor stopped him. He was an inch shorter than the minimum height requirement of 5 ft. He insisted, but the conductor didn’t budge. He started to cry.
The accompanying teacher saw this unfold, and took the kid for a walk around the carnival. They came by a deserted swing, and the teacher beckoned the kid to the swing. He got on it indifferently. But then he started to swing. The tears were soon a forgotten memory, caressed away by the wind.
We’ve been that kid, even as adults. These milestones, or life events, whatever you call them, are essentially like that roller coaster. We hype them up, get in queue, and are heartbroken if we don’t make it; all the while forgetting, that there are other rides in the carnival.
Maybe you’ll reach nine of your ten milestones. Maybe you won’t reach the next one in ten years. Either way, hoping desperately to get to the next one, is like standing at that roller coaster, waiting to get taller.
Stop waiting. There’s plenty of other things to do, before our VISA on this planet expires.