Beware False Impressions: Milestones and a Natural Rhythm

When I was eighteen, I was under the impression that everything that was going to happen to define my life would pretty much have settled down by twenty-five. By “define my life,” I guess what I mean is that I expected to have drawn a little check mark on the fridge next to a list of major “milestones” in life, such as graduating college, establishing a long-term career, getting married, having kids, etc. Much to my surprise at twenty-five, I had only one check mark next to my imaginary list, the one that is actually only stored in my head, and that was “getting married.”

For me, this begs a certain question—where do we get these impressions?

According to Josh Freedman of Forbes, “The vast majority of students don’t graduate on time… In fact, most students don’t graduate at all. For new first-time, full-time students in the class of 2009 at four-year institutions, only 39% completed a degree in four years.” You can view his full article, which offers many additional, interesting details and infographics, here.

In another interesting exploration of age, Hilary Osborne offers this thought-provoking information on both age and career in her article for the Guardian: “By 35, those questioned said they expected people to have reached milestones like buying a house, finding a partner and having a first child, but have several years to go before reaching the peak of their career…” Again, the full article offers a variety of other impressive information, and I encourage you to check it out here.

Even the impression that my marriage happened at the average time isn’t accurate. In the Huffington Post, writer Kelsey Borresen opens an article about the benefits of getting married young with the shocking statistic that “The average age for Americans getting married has reached a historic high — 27 for women and 29 for men — a jump from the 1990 average marrying age of 23 for women and 26 for men.” After knocking socks off people from around the world, people operating under the same false impressions as my own, she details five reasons getting married this late is a good thing.

Knowing that my impressions are inaccurate, it forces me to give careful consideration to the books, people, and cultural norms that led me to believe I would have checked off important milestones such as graduating college and establishing a career by age twenty-five. As I think it over openly and honestly, I realize no one ever said when I would accomplish all of these things. Many books and people encouraged me to strive for these milestones. Often, people made it clear that there wasn’t much of a life out there for you if you did not strive for and check off these types of milestones. No one said, “Hey you—this is going to be done by twenty-five,” though.

If my impressions have led to any type of disappointment—which in some areas, disappointment does lurk—it is my own fault.

The actual life I lead is more in line with the numbers that back it up. After a ten-year struggle to be responsible enough to finish a college degree, I do have a Bachelor’s in English. Though I haven’t established a “long-term career” that is either in line with my passions or in line with my degree field (I am lucky enough that my career will be in line with both), I am making serious strides in launching that career. That’s just it, though. I am launching it. Until now, my focus has been secure, long-term jobs with the ability to earn promotions and raises. There is nothing wrong with this, but at this rate, launching my “real” career at age twenty-eight (next month) puts me in line to reach that “career peak” Osborne was discussing in the Guardian, which arrives around age thirty-five.

My whole point is this—there is a natural rhythm to life as far as I can tell. Right now, the knowledge and experience I have tells me that the natural rhythm seems to really hit in your late 20s, not your early 20s.

Here’s the rub. If at eighteen I felt the natural rhythm would hit by twenty-five, and at twenty-eight, I am promoting a natural rhythm in the late 20s, it would seem the natural rhythm itself may be fluid. To be even more direct, I may just be wrong again. However, I do know that I didn’t feel the rhythm at eighteen like I feel the rhythm now. Can a feeling being entered as evidence? My blog, my rules.

There is no actual list on my fridge displaying my achievement—or failure—to complete certain milestones. The list does run long in my head, though. I am sure everyone has a list and each list varies in major ways. We all have impressions that shape how we expect life to turn out, along with how quickly and when we plan to draw a little check next to each milestone on our list. In fact, the very nature of achieving such milestones makes our list shorter, which means at some point, we’ve got to tack new goals onto the page. Just don’t be surprised if your impressions are wrong. If you think on it, don’t be surprised if your impressions are a creation entirely your own.

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