I once stumbled across a post that I saved and shared on social media because it spoke so personally to me:
“Just because you took longer than others, doesn’t mean you failed. Remember that.”
I don’t know who wrote it or where it came from, but I would wholeheartedly give credit to its origin. This was one of those quotes that struck so deep it was like a punch in the stomach. A punch that I very much needed. From high school, I did not do things like my smart, overachieving, well-to-do group of friends. I graduated a year early, took college classes during the summer, did not participate in National Honor Society or other honorable student organizations, went to community college instead of a four-year university directly after graduating, and so forth. Certain motivations like avoiding unbearable student tuition debts as much as possible made me choose this kind of path, as well as circumstances like breaking my back which led me to start online classes out of sheer boredom. There’s also the factor of spending most of my time doing internships practically every semester for the past four years. Needless to say, I have done things a little differently from my peers; from most people my age, I think.
From the moment I graduated high school I have struggled with doubt, regret, jealousy, comparison, shame. I just turned 22, and many other 22-year-olds I know are nearly finished with their Bachelor’s, whereas I am just now, not even yet, on my way towards that same goal. Yes, I have made progress with an Associate’s that gets me a little ahead of the four years, with doing internships that have proven valuable experience and connection. It’s still hard not to think about how I will likely be 25 or 26 when I do get that Bachelor’s, as apposed to old friends already having it before their 21st birthday.
Everyone in my life who is in the loop of my life has repeatedly told me, “Why do you think this? You are only such-and-such years old! You’re still young! You are doing fine! Chill out!” And I imagine those who are older than me are probably rolling their eyes in their mind as they say this. If I step out of my body and rationally observe myself, I have the exact same reaction. Why, indeed? I really do need to chill out.
It all boiled down to personal expectations. I live in this subconscious mindset of age-induced deadlines, of assumed projected standards from others, of living up to a subjective definition of success, according to society.
This idea is “being behind” as if life is some kind of race to compete in is totally, completely, stupidly false. I know this. Doesn’t mean I’ve successfully overcome it, but I’m working on that.
Why is it false?
There are different paths to the same goal.
Your path is different from your peers.
Age is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with achieving dreams.
Your age does not define you or your level of success.
“Success” is a vague term that can have a million definitions according to the individual.
Doing things for the sake of accomplishing certain societal standards is a major waste of energy and passion.
More often than not, the expectations you imagine are from outside pressures are actually your own placed upon yourself.
There is no designated deadline based on timeline, age, or order of goals that says “you failed.”
Accomplishment differs between careers. What makes someone a doctor will be a very different list of goals from what makes someone a filmmaker or an entrepreneur or a childcare provider.
Value of time and energy also differs between careers. It may be more worth it for a musician to spend their time networking while an aspiring vet will spend their time in school.