We all have goals and plans for ourselves. For many of us, those can be pretty specific, with anticipated people, places, jobs, and years thrown into the mix. I myself had numerous goals and milestones I expected to reach at certain points in my life. But, like so many others, I was often left shocked and even disappointed when my life didn’t work out according to plan.
As I get older, I often find myself wondering when I’ll finally achieve this dream or reach that goal. An internal clock is telling me I’m going to be too late to achieve these dreams if they don’t come true soon. But despite of all these milestones I feel like I’m missing, I have to remind myself not to be so hard on myself. Expectations don’t always match reality, and that’s okay.
If you’re still feeling anxious about the goals you’ve fallen behind on, know that you’re not alone. Here’s how you can come to terms with the missed milestones looming in the back of your mind.
Expectation vs. Reality
All throughout my school years, I was the studious, quiet type who cared more about getting good grades than dating or having lots of friends. As such, I developed a pretty clear idea of how my life would unfold: I’d finish high school and go straight to college. I’d earn my bachelor’s degree by the age of 22, then earn a master’s degree by age 24. After graduation, I’d get a job within a few months, then work my way up the career ladder. Professional success was what I aimed for, and I expected love would come later in life – perhaps in my late 20s or sometime in my 30s.
At first, my expectations were pretty accurate. I did earn my bachelor’s degree when I was 22, and I did go straight to graduate school after that. It was a one-year master’s program that took me all the way to Spain, and it came with an unexpected twist: I met my future husband. We married a few years later when I was just 25. That was a lot earlier than I’d anticipated!
But reality had some other surprises for me, too. After graduating in 2013, I didn’t get a job in my chosen career right away. In fact, it wasn’t until 2016 that I got my big break… and that didn’t turn out so well. I resigned six months later, feeling like a failure, and wondering how my career goals had gotten so far off track. The dissonance between my expectations and the reality that was unfolding left me in a quarter-life crisis. Who was I? Why wasn’t life turning out at all how I’d planned it?
There is No Right Path…
Everyone has different expectations and goals. For some people, life does go more or less to plan. For the rest of us, we deal with the unexpected, regain our footing, and reassess our plans and goals.
Some people prioritize career over personal life milestones. That’s who I thought I was, and I was ready for a life focused on my job first and relationships second. For other people, love and family take center stage. They look for love, want to get married, and plan to have kids earlier than later. A lot of people want both. Many people want something completely different.
Some of us get married by the age of 20, like my mom did. Some don’t get married until their late 40s, like my uncle did. Others never marry at all – and that’s perfectly fine. It’s alarming for me to realize that my mom was already done having kids by the time she was my age; I’m not even ready to think about children yet! While neither of my parents finished college, my super-smart sister is working towards her PhD.
We’re all on different paths, and there’s no point in comparing your life to anyone else. Don’t judge yourself based on what others are doing.
… So Don’t Worry About Missed Milestones
Regardless of what we want or expect, learning to accept the path we’re actually on is important. You can’t spend all your time comparing yourself to everyone else, or to the person you thought you’d be by now. Just because you haven’t reached your personal milestone of owning a home by the time you’re 28 doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Just because you want to have kids and can’t see that happening anytime soon doesn’t mean you’ll never reach that milestone. It might happen later or differently from how you expected, but that’s fine. No matter how much you plan, some things just come out of nowhere or don’t materialize when and how you predicted.
It’s okay if things aren’t happening on your planned schedule – or at all! You’re not a failure! And don’t forget: You still never know how it’ll all unfold. Your milestones may come late, or they may come in unexpected forms. Embrace the life you have. But while this is logical and it’s easy for me to say, it’s still a little harder to truly accept it. It’s an ongoing struggle that I’m still processing. I have to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t worry about missed milestones, and you may need to do that, too.
That said, if there is something that you really care about, consider what you can do about it to make it a reality. Regardless of everything that’s up to chance, you do have some agency and control. See where you can steer your life to better meet your goals. But also remember that for things that are out of your control – like falling in love with The One or getting your dream job by the end of this year – you don’t have to sweat it. Things will happen in their sweet time and work themselves out.
The Game of Life
When life is going in different directions, take a step back and focus on the good. Instead of stressing about my career goals and the milestones I haven’t yet reached, I try to be thankful for what I already have: a great husband, a cute cat, and a happy life overall. The ambitious worker in me still wants to see the career woman I’ve always envisioned, but I’m also accepting that maybe my career will take a different path.
Your milestones don’t have to be set in stone, contradictory as that may sound. You might achieve Goal X when you’re 25 or when you’re 35. Goal X may turn into Goal Y over time, and that’s okay. Don’t feel like a failure if you haven’t reached certain milestones. You’ve probably already accomplished a lot of things – if not the “right” things – and you can be thankful for those while you keep working towards your dreams.
Many of us feel pressure to achieve goals and become someone ASAP, but some ambitions may be unrealistic, especially given today’s social and economic climate. Instead, always be ready to adjust your expectations and take on new, unexpected adventures. Part of life’s charm is how chance leads you into new territory, so explore it freely. You’ll find your milestones along the way if you keep an open mind and continue to discover new opportunities.
Petite2Queen provides virtual mentoring to young women in life, at work, and in sales. Follow us for more practical advice you can put to use to improve your life and career.
Amanda Whitbeck is Vice President of Operations at Petite2Queen. Since earning her master’s degree in Global Entertainment & Music Business from Berklee College of Music, Amanda has played key roles facilitating growth at start-ups. She’s also worked in diverse sectors of the music industry, from live events promotion to entertainment journalism. She brings her expertise in music business, writing, and website development to Petite2Queen.