Upon moving out of my first post-college apartment, I stumbled upon a storage file box labeled “College.” Being the curious creature that I am, I decided to take a trip down memory lane eager to read through some of my past assignments. How much had I really changed in those mere three to seven years? I came across a paper I completed during my freshman year. As a requirement for general education, all freshmen were to take a Seminar course which was basically a “how to be successful in college” class. This assignment challenged us to think critically about our futures and design a ten-year plan for our lives. As I read the goals I had set out for myself, I couldn’t help but to laugh and shake my head. I had such high hopes for myself and all that I believed I could achieve. And yet here I was sitting down in an empty apartment, pregnant with my second child merely 7 months after having my first. I had just resigned from a job that was miserable, and had made arrangements for my family to move in with my mother. My husband and I believed we needed a proper re-do, finally accepting the help I was convinced I would’ve never needed…that I should’ve never needed. College graduates… those who graduate with honors, weren’t supposed to move back in with Mom. They were supposed to go to graduate school and then start good careers that would guarantee them non-stop success, lots of money, and total happiness. That’s what the ten-year plan dictated anyway.
This is what really happened..
Did you notice the lack of pictures illustrating a successful Robin in a successful, fulfilling career? Yea, because that hasn’t happened….
The thing is though, assignments like these are bullshit. It’s good to have goals… to have things you want to achieve. But to etch some kind of unpredictable expectation into your psyche is a dangerous thing. In this age in which we are inundated with the crazy, sudden success stories that befalls young people, it can be easy to become obsessed with sticking to some sort of crazy timeline that puts all this unnecessary pressure to achieve certain goals by a certain age. If somehow we fail, then we are failures. It’s crazy when you think about it. There’s a preconceived notion if we don’t achieve a certain thing by a certain time, then we have failed in some way. This notion totally discredits God, or fate, or destiny or whatever you believe. As a Christian, I believe God holds the ultimate purpose for your life, in His hands. God’s timing is perfect. To trust that despite whatever you might be going through, to believe that He will pull you through it to ensure His plan for you is fulfilled, is paramount in our relationship with Him. Unnecessary timelines are an affront to your purpose and to His.
But life is crazy. You know this. When life happens, it happens hard and we are confronted all too often with our supposed short-comings. Thanks to social media it is hard to ignore all we have seemingly failed to do. We have it in our minds that by this age, we should be college graduates, by this age, we need to have a professional degree, by this age, we should have started our careers, by this age, we should be married, by this age, we need to own a home, and by this age, we need to have had at least one child. Anything beside that plan is inexcusable. Anything besides that means you have failed in some way. And if we are not careful, those feelings, powerful in and of themselves, can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, or complete nonchalance. Sometimes our path is not on the ordinary straight and narrow nor was it ever meant to be. There are curves and unexpected turns that take us in a totally different and unforeseen directions. I have plenty of friends who have appeared to have done everything right according to “the timeline.” They graduated college and graduate school one after the other, started successful careers, got married, bought homes, and had children. Their lives are perfect, with all the pieces fitting together like a beautiful puzzle… you know the kind that is eventually framed and hung on the wall and has been together for so long it eventually blends together so the individual lines separating the pieces are no longer visible. Then there are the rest of us. We graduate high school but may hold off on going to college, if we even get there at all. If we do go, we eventually graduate without any idea as to what to use their degree for and so we don’t. We may start a job before going to grad school because we are still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives. For some of us, the opportunity to go to college or finish our degrees was delayed due to a personal circumstance, be it money, the birth of a child, or some other familial obligation. Some of us move back home. Some of us move around. Some of us get married right away and start a family. Some of us jump from job to job because nothing seems to satisfy that quest for purpose. And so on and so forth. So to have a plan… to establish this timeline for ourselves, proves a waste because regardless of what we thought we’d do, there is always something or someone greater who knows your true purpose. Sometimes, it’s the off-beat path that gets us to where we need to be…what we are meant to be. Plenty of people found success well beyond 30… Oprah, Stan Lee, Vera Wang, Samuel L. Jackson, Julia Child, Betty White. Heck, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until she was 65! Don’t be discouraged… you are in good company!
I have yet to come across that assignment in recent years. If I did, I know it would be something to frame as a reminder that despite my deviation from being a certified and licensed therapist by 27, I am successful in that I am doing what I am meant to be doing RIGHT NOW. And with all I have experienced, I have found what I believe to be my true calling. My path might have seemed to others to be out of the ordinary of what was expected of a summa cum laude graduate and a member of a prestigious sorority. And it might have caused some confusion among members of my family, friends, and former teachers who just knew the President of Psi Chi National Honor Society was bound to be one the more noteworthy psychologists of this generation. My journey, albeit not consciously intentional, was intentionally mine and mine alone. God has always known what my true purpose was meant to be. It was only through this timeline I was able to know it too.
Know whatever you are doing now, you are doing it for a reason. Find the joy that is your life right now, so you can rejoice in what your life will become.
Find inspiration to move forward with your journey just the way it is by reading about these folks who weren’t “successful” until well after 30.