Have you ever given special thought to the major milestones we look forward to? (No, I don’t mean natural milestones like hitting puberty or turning the big 21.) I’m talking the big ones, the man-made ones, which are pretty much goals set up for us by society that guide us toward “success” and “fulfillment.” But what if you’re not interested in one of these major milestones that society values and deems as necessary? What if you’re not interested in any of them?
This thought on these expected acheivements was sparked by a conversation between my younger sister (who is 21, engaged, and a recent college grad,) and I in which I asked a simple question: “How is so-and-so (her high school bff) doing?” In which she replied: “She’s becoming an adult, she’s really getting her life together, she just got engaged.”
I paused before asking “so getting married equates to getting your life together?” And then I thought to myself: “so if I never walk down the aisle, does that mean I wont be seen as a legitimate, fulfilled adult?”
It dawned on me that a lot of what we expect from ourselves, and a lot of what we look forward to accomplishing, are milestones that society has set up for us, and not necessarily goals that we’ve created on our own for ourselves. It then dawned on me that even before entering the world, while we are still in the womb, so much is already expected of us: we are to go through schooling (which I agree with) and graduate high school, and then move on to college (which isn’t for everyone) and then get a “good” career (what society views as good, of course) and then get married (which isn’t for everyone) and then later have kids (which, you guessed it, isn’t for everyone.) Once you’ve hit all of those major milestones, you are seen as being a truly fulfilled human being because you’ve checked off all the boxes that life said you needed to. It’s an interesting concept to think about, and one that really made me feel like I was put into a box; that I was limited. That if I don’t check off all of those boxes, I wont fulfill my humanly duties or purpose.
And then it made me wonder: Do I actually want to get married? Or do I want to because that’s just what humans do and what we’ve always done. Or because it’s what my family, and friends expect and want for me. Or because society deems it as the correct thing to do.
Do I want to be a mother? Or was I convinced that it’s something I want since I am a woman, and procreating is “the greatest contribution a woman can bring to the world.” Do I want to take on motherhood or did everyone around me trick me into thinking it since I was a little girl and received baby dolls on all my birthdays until I was 10, or because my first boyfriend said my children would be so lucky to inherit my beautiful curls, or because my parents look forward to being grandparents and having a mini me running around.
Will I still have value if I decide not to be mother? Will I still be seen as worthy if I decide not to commit myself to a man and say “I do?” If I decide not to check off one these “achievements,” will I be forever plagued with the question “well, don’t you feel like something is missing?” Or “aren’t you afraid of dying alone?”
And what about the topic of careers? Society places certain preference and honor towards some careers and deems them as “good” and prestigious: doctors, lawyers, etc. Whereas other careers are seen as mediocre, “okay,” where society just shrugs and says “well at least you’re doing something…I guess.”
When I first declared my major in English most people responded with a fake smile followed by “well that’s nice, but what are you going to do with that? Become a teacher?” (As if teachers don’t hold one of the most important jobs out there.) And I’d reply: “well, I love to write and create, and though I know the negative reputation that comes with seeking a creative life (ever hear the term “starving artist?”) I really just want to move toward what makes me feel alive.” In which, I’m sure you can picture the facial expressions on all their faces in your mind which read: “you poor thing. You dreamer who’s dream will crumble once reality gets a hold of you. Why wont you choose a more stable, and important career path, like.. a dentist?” But I truly wonder “why?”
Why do we continue to try and fit everyone into the same box? Why can’t a man become a 6th grade science teacher/part time photographer without others judging him for choosing the path less lucrative? Why are his parents disappointed that he threw his life away just because he didn’t become an engineer like they’d hope but instead decided to follow his true passions? Why can’t a woman be married to her career without everyone around her being disappointed that she never got to wear the pretty white dress? Why can’t her family accept that two dogs is enough for her and that children are just not apart of her plan? Why, instead of trying to fit everyone into this one limiting box, can’t we just encourage everyone to live a life where they feel fulfilled on their own terms (and not society’s terms.) A life devoted to growth, and love (especially self love,) and learning and momentum, but in our own way. Why don’t we place more value on the important things like mental health over “the hustle” and the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality. Why don’t we strive more toward emotional intelligence and empathy rather than toward the next major milestone?
Why do people ask me if I feel weird or behind because my little sister got engaged before me? Why do they try and console me (someone who needs no consolation) by saying “don’t worry, you’re next.” What if I don’t want to be next? What if I don’t want that at all?
Why did my ethics professor teach me that it is a sin for a woman to choose not to bear children? Why did he tell me that motherhood is my sole purpose on earth? Why did he make me feel that I’ll hold no value if I decide to never give birth?
I understand that to graduate college can be a good thing and opportunities can arise that otherwise would not have. I understand that beautiful things can happen between two people who commit themselves to one another. I understand that creating a life is a miracle. But I also understand that for some, these “goals” or “successes” don’t fit into their journeys. Success, we all talk about it, but for each of us it means something different. Her list of goals may be three pages long, whereas yours may be five. But just because motherhood isn’t on your list, doesn’t mean that her list is any better than yours. We’re all here to pursue something different. That is the beauty in humanity: diversity.
It troubled me because though we are all born into a life where we are expected of these things, still, we can never satisfy everybody. So why not satisfy ourselves? Why not make our own lists of goals and check off our own milestones? Why not go after the dream that may not make sense to other people? Why not seek the career that you so desire even if others don’t applaud you at first or even at all? What happens if you go through life, checking off all of society’s major milestones, and then you realize you’re not happy? Then what?
To go to college, to have kids, to get married, those aren’t means of “getting your life together.” Those are just paths that may or may not lead you to where you want to go and who you want to be. To be a fulfilled adult doesn’t mean to have the desire to be a husband, or to be called mommy, or to have a few degrees. To be a fulfilled adult means to have responsibility for yourself, and to commit yourself to honoring your journey. “Getting your life together” is keeping your life together through your health (especially mental) and your passions. Put yourself outside of the major milestone box, (if you so desire,) and don’t look back to see who’s trying to diminish your worth. After all, a wise person once said: “you do you, boo.”
Pursue the path that lights a fire in you, not the path that satisfies everyone else but you. And remember: your worth is not dependent on what you accomplish. Free yourself with the knowledge that you are free to be whoever you want to be, and that your worth isn’t determined by what you do.
Never let anyone make you feel like you are less than; worthy is who YOU are.