“Life isn’t a race. Everyone goes at their own pace.”
I never found either of those phrases comforting. To me, they seemed like something to say for the sake of making someone who’s behind feel better. After all, why would anyone say those things to someone who’s ahead? It’s like telling someone whose life is going great at the moment that everything will be okay. They don’t need to hear that because everything already is okay for them.
If life were a race, it’d be an extremely complicated one.
The “right” way to live life is supposed to be finish high school at 18, finish college at 22, start a career, get married, buy a house in the suburbs (why is it always suburbs?), have kids before 30, retire at 65, and… that’s it.
Of course, nothing is wrong with that path of life, but there are too many people in the world to expect that to be everyone’s path in life. “No one size fits all”, especially when it comes to how to live. Even if you did everything in the “script”, you might not do it at the “normal” age. Some people finish high school at 16 (in fact, in European countries, 16 is the normal age to finish high school), some people start college at 20, some people start 18 and finish at 26, some people have kids in their 30s (one of my co-workers had her son at 39), you get the idea.
I’ve always been in a late bloomer in the script. Heck, you could say my script was in reverse because I loved adult shows and looked after children as a child, and I’d set myself on fire before I ever relived my childhood (another part of the “script”; you’re supposed to want to go back to childhood because it was more carefree). I finished high school at 19, dropped out of community college at 20, met my boyfriend at 21 (well, three months before I would be 21), got a soul-sucking job at 22 (that I was naïvely happy about because it was my first job), went to trade school at 24, graduated two months before I’d turn 25. That’s the end so far. My script is all screwed up, and really, it’s writing itself. If things go well, I can add “got my driver’s license at 25” to it. But judging by the “normal” life script, I am very late! I’m supposed to have a ring on my finger by now, and be walking down the aisle in a few months! Or maybe I’m supposed to be buying the house. Did I mention I hate rings, weddings, and am neutral to being a homeowner? Wait, can you build a career in four years? Isn’t that assuming you find a job immediately out of college? How do you fit “marriage, house, child” into four years? I guess, technically speaking, it’s possible, but that’d be way too fast for me.
The perhaps-not-so-ironic thing is I’ve never felt bad about being late. I used to for a while, but I usually got over it because I got something good out of it.
- I graduated high school a year late because I was forced to transfer school districts. I had the chance to skip 11th grade, but I didn’t feel ready. If I did, I would’ve never met my best friend, who I’ve said more than once is the only good I got out of high school. We met in September 2011, meaning we’ve been friends for 7 1/2 years! That means so much more to me than graduating “on time”. And in the end, nobody cares what age I was when I finished high school. Just that I did.
- I only went to community college because my family wouldn’t stop pressuring me. Had I stuck it out, I would’ve either flunked out anyway, or had a degree I didn’t care about. I was much more focused in trade school because I wanted to be there and I’d been away from school for a few years, which got rid of the burnout from my previous 14 years of schooling (now, I have retail burnout!).
- Probably the only thing I’ve done “on time” is meet my boyfriend, but I don’t think there’s any “right” age to meet the person you marry (though the idea seems to be you’d meet them in college; there are people who attend college solely for that reason). However, we are not getting married any time soon. In fact, it’ll be a while before we’ve even under the same roof, let alone walking down the metaphorical (or literal) aisle. I couldn’t care less about that. My view on marriage has always been I’m open to it, but it’s not necessary for me to be happy.
- My license. I’m currently studying for the written test, and practicing with free tests online, but whatever age I get it, it’s still a license. The reason I didn’t get it earlier is I failed driver’s ed in high school and my family couldn’t afford a car anyway, so I saw it as pointless. However, taking the “adult road” means I don’t have as many restrictions because I’m over 21. That makes me glad I waited.
- My “career” started in retail, and I quickly discovered I don’t want it to be a career! But it’s still work experience, something I can put on a resume, and it got me through school, so I don’t regret it. Whenever I get an IT-related job, I will definitely be late on the “start a career” checkpoint. But it’ll still be a career. Just got to find it.
Maybe the better thing to do would be teaching teenagers it’s okay to have an “abnormal” path in life, and that everyone’s path in life won’t be the same. In the end, what age you check a box off, so to speak, really only matters to you. Yes, I wish some things happened earlier – I wish I’d gotten my license at 21 so I’d have it now, and I wish I’d met my boyfriend in our teens so we’d have more time together – but I’m not upset they happened, or are happening, at the times they did. It’s not worth being upset about. Any person it does matter to isn’t someone I want part of my life. The last thing I need help with is comparing myself.
Besides, my end goal in life is to have a life I’m happy with. That includes my boyfriend by my side, whether he’s still my boyfriend or my husband by that point, us living happily under the same roof, never worrying about money, and having jobs we enjoy and don’t drudge through. As much as I’d like it as soon as possible, I’ll go slowly if it means it’s built stronger and lasts longer.