Backwards Down the Number Line
You decide what it contains / …how long it goes, but this remains: / the only rule is it begins, “Happy!” Happy, oh my friend.*
So, I begin the this entry with a song title and lyrics. I’m speaking metaphorically about my life through the words of others. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where I am in my life right now. In the immediate moment, it’s a Saturday night and I’m sitting at home in front of my computer, which says a lot about me in and of itself. Expanding a little wider, I’m in the weekend between two weeks of orientation at my new job. (I’ll be providing direct care to patients at a local children’s hospital!) I’ve also just finished summer classes so I’m on an academic break until late August. On an even larger scale, I am on the precipice of an almost-three-year-long journey that I plan to complete with the objective of receiving my RN and BSN. And then, I’ll live happily ever after…or something like that.
Okay, but seriously…that’s what I’m doing, and that’s what I’m planning. And for the moment, that’s how I’m defining myself. But what does that say about me? It says that I’m willing to start all over again on a new career/academic path, even though I already have a BS in Geology. It says that I’m flexible enough to be able to take this time to dive back into school. It means that I was insecure about myself when I didn’t have a life plan, and this is helping to restore that security and sense of self. Why do I feel it’s necessary to define myself by what I’m doing with my career? That could be a whole separate entry. This time, though, I want to focus on timing.
Another big thing which people seem to use as part of a definition of themselves is age. Age represents or accounts for many things, including health, socialization, and stages of life. For instance, you might be shocked if you met a recent college graduate who was pregnant and found out that she was 15. You might be slightly less shocked if she turned out to be 35. But if she were 25, you’d probably think that sounds about right. That may be a somewhat convoluted example, but I’m trying to illustrate the point that there is a certain socially excepted timing of life events that correlates somewhat with age. And though many people don’t say it aloud, there are many expectations, stereotypes, and stigmas that are associated with ages and stages from childhood all the way to the twilight years.
Even as I find myself aware of these social expectations, I am just as guilty as the next person for bowing to them. And I put myself under the highest level of scrutiny. I justify so many things by saying, “It’s okay, I’m in my 20s. Now is the time to make mistakes and huge lifestyle changes.” While that is a great sentiment that I still fully support, it unwittingly implies that other ages in life are NOT the right time for mistakes and lifestyle changes. And here’s where I scrutinize myself…because I know that I would feel like a failure if I were in the exact same position I am in now, only 10 years older. And that’ ridiculous. What’s magical about your 20s in terms of making mistakes? Life is complicated and I think I know enough about it now to safely predict that I’m never going to figure it out. So why am I putting the pressure on myself to push towards a mistake-free life? It’s just not possible.
Delving further down the societal rabbit hole, what’s so important about getting married and having kids in your 20s? I mean, sure, there’s a certain biological component/ticking clock, but if that were the only factor, I think more women would have children in their teens. I imagine that younger women can recover from pregnancy more easily and have more energy to chase their toddlers. But yet, there’s no push to get girls in reproductive mode that early in this day and age. That being said, the pressure to have kids whilst your age begins with the number two is intense and primarily driven by society. It’s almost too much to handle as social media bombards me with engagements, weddings, and baby showers, whether real** or imagined (for instance, wedding boards on Pinterest of girls who are currently single).
So, having admitted that I only don’t feel like a failure right now because of my age, I worry about how this will impact me in the future. Will I be okay with myself when I still don’t have life figured out at 35 (or 50, or 83)? Will I feel like I lost the game of life if I never get married? Will I continue to define myself by what I do instead of who I am? Or will I recognize that life is an individual journey that is far from a strictly linear progression, and remain open to changes and opportunities at any age?
I think what it boils down to for me is that I thrive when I am working toward something. Life up until 23 was about 95% driven by a desire to graduate from college. During that time, if I failed at everything else, it was okay, because I was still moving towards the end goal. Then when life took a sudden turn for me just a few months after graduating, I had nothing concrete to drive towards, and I floundered. Now, I’m back on a path that may or may not be right for me, but it’s the path that I’ve chosen and given considerable thought. I think the only hang-up I still have is trying to correlate my path with that of my peers and/or societal stereotypes. And I need to stop doing that. I’ll close symbolically with a quote from Mean Girls, “Stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen!”
*No idea if I got the punctuation of those lyrics right, but it represents my interpretation of their meaning.
**As a side note, if you are one of my friends who is recently engaged, married, or a new parent, please know that I couldn’t be happier for you and in no way mean to condemn your choice of lifestyle or blame you for bowing to societal pressure. I have no idea why life led you to where you are right now, but I only hope the timing is right and wonderful and perfect for you. The timing of these things does not feel right for me right now, for whatever reason.