The best pieces of music build up to the crescendo—the highest point, the loudest sound in a song. And that’s kind of our twenties. It’s the time we’ve spent our whole lives waiting for. Past the early childhood and the teenage years, we can now embrace all that life has to offer without any serious responsibilities (or so we think).
College is sinister in the way that it reinforces this crescendo-the idea of our twenties being the highlight of our lives. This idea that entering college is where life begins but the real difficulties are delayed until afterwards. The harmful part of this analogy is that it assumes that everyone’s piece of music is the same. As if everyone were just in different keys playing the same notes. If I’ve learned anything from my college experience, it’s that your composition will not look like anyone else’s. It won’t be what you witnessed on a tv show or what your parents told you about.
Some compositions are faster than others, moving along with quarter notes and half notes instead of whole notes. Others start soft and gradual increase in volume, but others still begin with a burst of song and then tiptoe to a faded end.
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The pressure to have reached certain milestones is intense. To have found the perfect job and to be employed by the time you graduate. Or in UVA’s case, before you graduate. To have had a myriad of romantic experiences. To have gone on lavish trips across the globe. And these are only a few of the unsaid, insistent milestones we should have achieved.
I’ve had none of these.
No job (yet). No romantic experiences. No lavish trip (yet).
The temptation is to spend our lives rushing to reach these milestones, to collect these accolades like coins and stamps. It’s paradoxical to me. We’re so young. There’s so much life to live and yet there’s this enormous pressure to do all these things. To have gotten to do certain things by a certain age. As if what we accomplish or experience later in life doesn’t have as much weight as right now.
Hurrying towards these milestones can be so harmful. We can charge into a job we hate, a relationship that’s toxic, or fail to enjoy the place right in front of us. In our attempt to zoom to and through these experiences, we let our defenses fall and our desire to verify go in favor of a check off a list. Scrambling towards the next thing means we just will accept what meets basic criteria without actually asking if this is what is best for us. A milestone becomes a set of experiences you collect, not a series of formative moments shaping your character.
And rushing has its appeal.
After all, we live in the world of FOMO. In the world of always wanting what someone else has (because we can access it 24/7), rushing to hit a milestone means you’re never out of the loop. You’re never the one out of tune with your friends, influencers, or society at large. But sometimes what we’re missing out on is not something we even want in the first place.
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It’s wild how many times I’ve only wanted something because I just saw someone else have it. Maybe it was a cool dress that I’d never wear but looked cool on her. Or maybe it’s going to that party, even though you don’t drink. Hoping on a place to a random country, even when you’ve never desired to go there. I swear social media makes us want things we don’t even really want. (Which is a WHOLE blog post in itself, but I digress)
Why are we so eager to stumble into things we may not even want?
We so easily fear the timing of our lives. We fear the sound of our composition because it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. The story has an extra chapter or two. The timing of our lives are not these neat rigid structures, but they’re malleable. We can choose whatever is next and it doesn’t have to be a job. We don’t have to be in a relationship. Perhaps we decide to heal first instead and love the people in our lives better. We don’t need to hop on planes. Maybe we’re homebodies or we need to learn to love the place we’re in and stay rooted.
Our lives are not less important if we don’t date before we’re in our twenties or finish our degrees by twenty two. The sum of the experiences you have or haven’t had do not define your worth.
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There’s nothing wrong with the milestones in and of themselves. They are good things. But the moment we start to measure these milestones against the markers in our lives, we’ll always feel like we got it wrong. But that doesn’t mean that we ignore these milestones altogether. It’s actually a good thing to name a milestone we had hoped to reach but didn’t.
Feeling sad or expressing disappointment for what hasn’t occurred can feel like such a taboo. While I don’t think that these milestones are the way to having the best twenties, I do think there are things we hope for. And sometimes what we hope for just doesn’t happen. So take some time to be sad. Sulk on the couch. Listen to sad music. Cry. Journal. Eat ice cream (to be fair, I eat ice cream whether or not I’m sad). Lie in bed. Call a friend. Sit in silence. Just feel sad.
You don’t have to brush past the feeling of not having what you want. Especially if you’re watching friends in your life get closer to the milestone than you are (and trust me, this can suck). Name how hard this is. Don’t swallow your feelings. But at the very least, admit to yourself the sadness you feel and how difficult it is to not reach the milestone when you thought you would have.
Timing is a funny thing. Trust it.
And it’s going to feel impossible after you’ve been sitting with your hard feelings. But embrace it. Embrace the life you have. You may not have checked off the milestones you wanted to. You may feel far behind where you’re “supposed” to be. Yet embracing the life in front of you regardless of your milestones is the best way to live. Fully present to the current moment at all that it offers. The ordinary in the age of milestones.
What are some milestones you are letting go of? What are some milestones you are choosing to move towards? Let me know in the comments down below!