I was reading Jezebel the other day and came across a post about women and goal setting, based on an article from The Sunday Times. It discussed how common it is for women to set goals for themselves based on their ages, things like, ‘I’ll be married by the time I’m 25’ or ‘I’ll have children by 30’ or ‘I’ll be a partner in the law firm by 35.’ This article said basically that this was very common and this sort of goal setting was more about women comparing themselves to their peers and feeling pressure to meet the same milestones at the same time. It’s another ‘look how women sabotage themselves’ article, but it made me think about my own life and what sort of time-frame goals I’ve made for myself.
I’m coming up to thirty on my next birthday (in May, which is getting closer and closer by the day) which is a big ‘milestone’ birthday. Thirty is sort of the end of the time of being young, especially for women. When I was twenty, thirty seemed to far away. This is sort of random, but ten years ago I’d just started to collect all the state quarters, which were just starting to be released. For all you non-American readers, for the past ten years the US Mint has been releasing quarters with a specially designed obverse side for each state. They were released five every year, starting with the first states and then going along chronologically until all 50 were released. My mom bought me one of those big maps with little inserts for every coin so that I could collect them all. I started collecting them in 1999 and the last one was released this year. I vividly remember standing there with that map and thinking, wow, I’ll be thirty when this whole thing is complete. I will have done SO MUCH by the time I’m thirty.
So yes, of course, of course, I had things I’d planned to do by the time I hit thirty. When you’re twenty, you have this big list of things that you’ll have done by thirty because, DUH, thirty is REALLY FREAKING OLD. I figured I’d have the time to circumnavigate the globe practically, I had that much time. I wanted to live abroad, get a good job, date a bunch of guys on my ‘guys to date list.’ And sadly no, this wasn’t a list of names, it was a list of types of guys. You know, ‘guy in a band’ and ‘guy with a motorcycle’ and ‘guy with lots of tattoos.’ It’s so ridiculous to think about this now, as if you could collect guys like you would pick a bouquet of flowers. ‘Uh oh, can’t date another guy with tattoos, I already have two of those…’ Also, I dated a guy with a motorcycle and it DID NOT make him cool. He just looked like a dork on a motorcycle. Seriously guys, if you work at Intel? DO NOT get a motorcycle. You’re not fooling anyone.
I think that sort of goal-setting is very common when you’re young. When I was 20 I had definite plans for what would happen when I was 25 and 30. Of course that was shot all to hell when I turned 25 and had accomplished NOTHING on that arbitrary list. I was living at home, was working at an accountant’s office (a field which I had no interest in), had never had a long-term relationship, was still attempting to get onto the masters course I wanted (rejected the first time), had no savings and no idea what I was doing with my life. 25 turned into a prime opportunity to panic. I thought that I’d have my life all figured out by 25 and in reality, I was as much of a mess at 25 as I was when I was 20. This was NOT how it was supposed to go.
So I had my freakout and then I got all my shit back together and moved forward. I decided that it was ok if I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, as long as I have a plan for the next year or two. To be honest, I still don’t really know what I’m doing with my life. But I can say with absolute conviction that I am a much, MUCH happier person now than I was when I was 20 or 25. I’m happier with who I am and I’m ok with the things I haven’t accomplished yet. I know that if they’re really important to me, I’ll make them happen. If they don’t happen, then they weren’t supposed to and I can still be a contented person without them happening. One of the things I had really wanted to do for my 30th birthday was to go to Nepal and to travel up to Everest base camp with the expedition group. That hasn’t exactly happened, but it’s still a goal I have and I know I’ll get there someday. I think for me, the one pleasant surprise about turning 30 is that I’ve let go of that need to have hit all my goals on that arbitrary list that I made when I was 20. I know now that it’s really not all that important.
So what was that list? There are a few I remember. At 20, I definitely thought I’d be married by the time I was 30. Doing the ‘ole ‘reverse baby chronology’ thing, I also thought at 20 that I’d be thinking about having babies. Not necessarily having them, but I thought that I’d start having kids around 30. And since I wanted to have babies around 30ish and I wanted to be married for a few years before then and I wanted to be engaged for a year before THAT and I wanted to have been with the guy for a year before THAT, that all means that I would have met said hypothetical baby-daddy around the age of 25-26. Which at 20 sounds totally reasonable. Obviously, that did not happen. I met a LOT of guys that I would never in a million years have children with, so I guess that’s still moving in the right direction. I’m eliminating possibilities, right? Of course I’m also unsure now that I even want to have children, but that’s a whole different blog post.
At 20 I thought I’d definitely have a career. I thought I’d have figured out exactly what I wanted to do and I’d be well on my way to doing it. That…hasn’t exactly happened either. I finished my masters degree and I am now a social worker, but I can’t honestly say that this is definitely my career. I like it for now, but I don’t think I’ll necessarily be a social worker forever. I’ve only been doing this job for two years, but I’m still already thinking about what else I can do next, where else this job can go. I guess insecurity is exactly where I am in my job because I honestly don’t know what sort of career trajectory I want to have just yet. Which at one point is terribly scary (and is one reason I don’t like thinking about this too much) but is also sort of freeing. Yes, I don’t honestly know what I want for my career and yes, I DID spend a lot of time and money getting a degree that I may not always use, but the world is also wide open to me. I still could go and do just about anything. Well, not ANYTHING. That whole Forensic Anthropologist thing is probably not going to pan out. But I could still do quite a lot of stuff.
Now, for the one thing I HAVE done! I’m currently living in Scotland, which was my absolute heart’s desire when in my early twenties. I yearned for it, I longed for it, I thought never in a million years could my life be as exciting living in the U.S. as it could be in Scotland. The only way I can really describe the feeling is to say it was like being homesick for a country that wasn’t actually my home. The funny thing is that in my early twenties, I never considered that I’d ever want to move back to the U.S. I figured I’d move to Scotland, meet my gorgeous Scottish husband and never come home. Now that I’m ten years wiser (and have dated a few Scottish guys) I see things differently. I know that Scottish guys aren’t really for me and that being close to my family is much more important than I anticipated it being. I’ve had adventures and done some amazing things. But after five years of that, I want some stability.
Now that 30 is looming, I’m trying really hard not to give in and start making goal lists for 35. I’m not saying to myself, ‘ok, you’re not married by 30, that’s ok, you’ll DEFINITELY be married by 35!’ It is really really hard not to do this, not to set these goals and not to judge yourself by what other people have done. The article I read said this was a ‘female thing’ but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I think all people set themselves time-sensitive goals. Maybe women are more likely to judge their own accomplishments by how their friends have done accomplishing the same thing, but the article seems based on anecdotal information. All I know is that I can thankfully say that as I’ve gotten older, that obsession with meeting deadlines has diminished. These days I can say to myself, yes, ok, I might be married by 35. But I might not. And that’s ok too.
Don’t get me wrong, comparisons still happen. I can’t help but feel a little bit left behind as all my friends get married and I’m nowhere near to that happening. Even though I know it’s not a big deal and that everybody has their own timeframe, a part of me wonders what I’m doing wrong. However I think that feeling is mainly about losing a friendship than about wanting a husband. It’s hard when people’s lives change and they grow apart, but I don’t think anyone else is better than I am because she’s done things differently in her life. Now that I’m seeing 30 get closer and closer, I’m just happy that I’ve had the opportunities to do what I’ve been able to do, even if it is a little bit different than what I expected.