Does anyone else remember that board game, ‘The Game of Life’? If you never played it, your counter was a little person you stuck in a plastic car that you moved along a winding road, which symbolised life. You picked up other people along the way like a spouse, and kids to go in the back of the car, as you built a career, managed your finances, bought property etc. I remember one of my school friends having the game at her house and I loved it. Here’s the thing though – it was all well and good as a board game, but do you ever feel like you’re being rushed along a mapped out course in real life?
It seems to me like there can be a lot of pressure in our twenties and thirties to reach society’s milestones – aka buying a house, getting married and having children, not to mention all the pressure to progress in our careers and be ‘successful’! Firstly, I think we really need to consider whether we actually want all of these things. Because we’re told so often and for so much of our lives that this is what you do – and it doesn’t make it right for everybody.
Take buying a house for example – in Britain there seems to be a huge societal expectation that you should get on the property ladder and this is not the same in all countries. Here, rent is seen as wasted money, and it’s all about saving enough for a deposit so that you can have your own place. Personally yes, I would like to become a homeowner and it’s something Aaron and I are aiming towards, but it can be a long old slog to save enough and many of us can’t achieve it without at least some kind of financial help. Sometimes it can seem that we’re in such a rush to get there that we don’t fully enjoy the present and the freedom of our lives now. I really think renting is underrated – it offers so much flexibility and whilst there’s agency fees to pay, you’re not the one forking out if the boiler goes on the blink.
Then there’s marriage. If you regularly read my blogs or follow me on any form of social media, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of weekends going off on my jollies to hen do’s and weddings. I don’t know why, but for some reason a lot just fell together this year (next year I’m not actually going to any) and I feel so lucky to have got to spend so many happy days in 2018 with my very best friends. But whilst I love a good wedding, I know that for some people, wedding season can bring up a lot of emotions. For some who have recently experienced heartbreak or are unhappily single, it can be quite painful – as happy as they are for their friends. For some, whether single or in a couple, the whole concept can feel terrifying! Of course they’re overjoyed for the happy couple but the idea of marriage in their own life might seem odd or overwhelming and because other people are getting married it can start to feel like a pressure, which when you think about it is really not cool. I’ve noticed that pretty much since Aaron and I got to two years together, people like to ask “what about you two?” This doesn’t actually bother me as again, marriage is something I personally have always wanted and dreamed of, but for couples who don’t want to get married or just don’t want to talk about it, it’s not great that they have to keep being faced with this question. I’d like to point out here that I’m definitely not exempt, and need to keep an eye out that I don’t become part of the pressure police because it’s easily done!
When it comes to having children, this isn’t something I can really comment on much – having not got to that stage or knowing many friends who have them – but I suspect that the same thing might happen with the questioning once at a certain life stage. There seems to be an expectation that every woman should want to procreate – if not now then in the future – (I won’t get into the gender double standards here!) and there’s not much space for the idea that some people might just not want to, which is of course totally okay – wouldn’t life be boring if we all felt the same? I know one friend mentioned to me recently that she wasn’t sure about having children since the world is so overpopulated as it is, which I thought was an incredibly deep, considered way of looking at it. For the people who do want to, we come back to the societal pressure making us feel like we should rush towards it. What if we can’t see any possibility of it happening anytime soon? Or what if we just don’t want it to happen anytime soon? Of course, this one is a little different because there’s a biological factor involved too, and I don’t think I could possibly do justice to the extremely complex mix of emotions around this not having been at that point myself, so I won’t try to. All I want to say is that the older I get, the more I’m realising that things don’t necessarily follow the pattern we plan in our heads, and that worrying about something before we’ve even there is pointless (spoken like a true hypocrite but I’m trying!). The thought I always come back to is that my mum had me when she was 38 and my sister at 40, so even with polycystic ovaries on my mind, at 28 why burn up anxious energy on the subject.
As I said at the start of this blog, on top of all society’s milestones we also have career-related pressure to contend with. The “what do you do?” question can be one of the single worst things about meeting new people! But rather than all the usual factors we use to define our job, like the industry we’re in, the role we do, the amount we’ve progressed, how long we’ve been there, our salary etc, I think the single most important question we can ask ourselves is “am I happy?”. Don’t get me wrong, every job comes with its stresses and not so great elements, but if on balance what we do just makes us miserable, is it really worth it? I feel like a lot of us have given up on the idea that a job can make us feel good and that is a sad thing. I realised earlier this year that both the role and the industry I was in weren’t making me at all happy, and that I had to do something about it. More on this to follow in another blog, but I’d like to encourage you here that even if you haven’t felt like this in years, there are always paths out and vocations out there that can make your heart SING! Truly.
In summary, the two main points I want to make are firstly, when it comes to things like buying a house, getting married, having children or working in a certain type of job, weigh up if these are things you genuinely want, and not a pressure you’ve felt grow because other people are doing it or because it feels like the done thing. And secondly, even if you do want all of these things, remember that YOU are in charge of your counter. No-one else gets to push you around this board of life, and whilst we don’t get to control all the outcomes, let’s be mindful that this life ain’t a race. As I said in a previous blog about the notion of having it all together, we’re all being brave however we’re muddling through. There’s no set way to live and if we don’t feel like we’re going at our own pace, it can pave the way for burnout. Take a minute today to just breathe, and remember what they say on the motorway – don’t forget to take breaks.