Updated: Jul 15
The timeline of life is something we have all been sold as the ‘correct’ way to live. You’re born, you go to school, maybe to university/get a trade, you get a ‘good’ job, you get married, you buy a house, you have 2.4 children, and you live happily ever after. We’re told anything deviating from this is considered a failure. That we are somehow falling behind, and our life is not good enough. In my generation (I’m 31) and younger we’ve also been told it’s not good enough to just have ‘a job’ it has to be a job we’re ‘passionate’ about. There is a constant pressure to 'do more'. What an absolute crock of shite.
Firstly, let’s look at passion. Passion comes from experiencing something and getting good at it. You can’t be passionate about something you’ve never tried. So, for the majority of us we graduate at 18 or 22 and we haven’t got the slightest clue what we’re passionate about. And, even if we have something we are passionate about we might not want it as a career.
When I was 15, I started working as a radio presenter, and I loved it. I made friends for life in that studio, and I worked there right through high school and into university. Am I a radio presenter now? No. Did I ever attempt to pursue it professionally? Also no. I love to dance and have been taking classes for most of my life. I’m still a bit crap. Does it matter? No. I’ve made tonnes of friends and had some wonderful experiences through dance. Do I want to be a professional? Absolutely not.
Why haven’t I pursued either of these passions as a career? Honestly, the amount of work and effort required to make a career out of radio presenting or dancing is huge. And for me it would take the joy out of it. It would turn something I love into a chore. I have a pal who’s an artist and has had a lot of success. In interviews he stated he’s keeping his day job because he doesn’t want his passion to turn into a chore. Just because we love something, doesn’t mean we have to try to commercialize it and make money from it. Maybe we make money another way and it allows us to fund our passion without any pressure, thereby preserving the joy. Sometimes a job is just a way to make some coin to pay for things we love to do without the pressure of commercial return. I don’t care if I look ridiculous when I dance, no one is paying me for it, I do it for me.
That’s not to say turning a passion into a career is wrong, but if you love to dance/paint/write and people keep asking when you’re going to quit your day job, it’s totally OK if you don’t want to. It’s perfectly OK to have a job that just pays the bills and leaves you enough free time to do things you love without having to worry about money.
Secondly career. I started working in sales because I applied for every single job from waitress to doctor when I arrived in New Zealand aged 23. I had no clue what I wanted as a career and sales was the first job I got offered, so I took it. And I developed a passion and love of selling and relationship management from there. The opportunities I’ve had, such as conferences in Vegas, moving country, fun events and making money have all come from falling sideways into something. I knew nothing about the different kinds of sales or what opportunities were available in that world until I tried it. I could have easily written it off as ‘not interested’ and missed out massively.
I developed an interest in psychology in my late twenties and that’s what spurred me on to study for my Graduate Diploma. Just because I grew to love sales and relationship management doesn’t mean I’m going to stay in it forever. The world moves so fast, there are jobs that will be available in 10 years that don’t even exist now. Being content doing something ‘for now’ is good enough. If you have no clue what you want to do that’s a brilliant position to be in. Pick literally anything and give it a year or two. It can take a little time to warm up to an industry/company/role. Just because something is hard, and we don’t ‘love’ it for the first few months doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful. There is an element of earning your stripes in all industries so often things get better the longer you’re doing them. If, after a year or two, it’s still not for you, that’s OK, move on to something else.
Thirdly, marriage. Seen as the ultimate goal, particularly for women. However, anyone can be in a relationship if they really want to, it’s the quality of the relationship that matters. The simple act of getting married means nothing if it’s not the right person. Getting into a relationship or marrying someone isn’t a box that needs to be checked on a CV of “life accomplishments”. It’s wonderful if you meet the right person and build a life with them but ticking a box that says “I’m married” won’t make you happy or make your life any better if it’s the wrong person. In fact, it will probably make you pretty miserable.
I’m married, and I love being married. But specifically, to my husband. What I mean by that is I had no desire to get married at all until I met him. And if God forbid something happened to him tomorrow, I wouldn’t be in a rush to marry someone else. See the difference? I love being married TO HIM. I had no desire to be married in general to just anyone. Marriage alone is no guarantee of relationship or personal satisfaction.
Finally, babies. I have no children, so I’ll quote my best pal here. This girl has always wanted to have kids, since forever. And she’s wonderful mother. And she says “Unless your desire to have kids is all consuming, and you feel like you might die if you don't have a child; don't have them. Because even if it is everything you have ever wanted since you were a child yourself, it will still be the most incredibly difficult and continually taxing thing you will ever do. Mums don't say this to other women because they think it sounds like they don't love their kids or regret becoming a mum. Which is so not the case. But being a mum literally means handing your personal freedoms away, to self-sacrifice, daily, for this small creature that needs you to keep it alive. It’s wild.”
We’ve discussed this often; a child is not another “life accomplishments” box to tick. They’re a human being, the next generation, so unless there is a burning desire to be a parent and pay the emotional, financial and physical toll that goes with it, choosing not to procreate is completely fine. Preferable even. Not everyone in the world is cut out to be a parent. Not everyone wants to be. And that is totally OK.
The pressure on everyone to conform to the ‘correct’ life path and timeline leads to a huge amount of mental health and social problems. People are happiest and healthiest when living life on their own timeline and in line with their own values and goals. Some might get married at 18, some at 50, some never. Some might have kids at 20, some at 37 and some never. Some might pursue a high-powered time-consuming career; some might just want a job that pays the bills. Some monetize their passions and turn them into careers and businesses, and some keep them just as passions. Some people stick in one line of work forever, and some chop and change every few years. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to life.
If you’re struggling to figure out what you want or what direction to take, a good place to start is to look at what you value. What brings you joy? For me, it’s time with my husband, friends and family. Career wise what that translates into is a job with regular hours (office work), that pays well (sales) so I can have free time and money to go do things with people I love.
There is no ‘correct’ timeline. Once it’s not hurting anyone or illegal, you do you. It’s nobody else’s business and being happy is never a failure.
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