Where Are We Meant To Be?

August 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

I was at a party recently where one of the attendees was turning 30. He told a group of us he wasn’t where he’d imagined being at that age in terms of achievements, but that he’d come to terms with it.

It was pleasing to hear this fellow had found perspective, especially since he’d just landed a new job and has a lovely girlfriend. He has lots to look forward to.

This is not an uncommon scenario. Whether it’s our own expectations or those of others, there are threshold ages at which certain achievements are supposed to have occurred. I realized long ago there is no set time for things to happen. We should avoid comparisons between generations.

I remember once sitting with a guy on his 30th birthday. He got totally wasted feeling he’d accomplished little worthwhile in his life. He’d somehow overlooked that he was a part owner of a business and had been married in the previous couple of years.

Needless to say, when I reached that age, I was waiting for the sky to fall. It didn’t. Nor did it when I reached age 50.

When I turn 53 on Aug. 28, I will be at a baseball game in Seattle while on vacation. No chance of the blues on that day, either, unless there are some musicians playing one of my favourite genres of music.

Goal-setting is a great tool toward reaching objectives but we can get so consumed with what are “supposed to do” by a certain milestone, we forget to enjoy the journey.

I told an outgoing colleague that I was writing this blog. I just had to include her reaction.

Lucy Ramirez began as a City of Grande Prairie Municipal Intern and left last week as the Education Co-ordinator in the Environmental Sustainability department. I had always found Lucy to be mature beyond her years and admire her for doing things in her own unique ways.

When I learned she’s going to pursue further education to transition to a career in planning, I was not surprised. Lucy has always been her own person.

“Age 30 is the right time for me to be returning to school,” she proclaimed in our parting chat.

Lucy will go as far as her ambition takes her, following her own cues as to the right time to do things.

Our current Municipal Intern Divine Ndemeye had some great food for thought when I told her what I am writing about.
“I wonder if the pressure or excitement, in some instances, is our own choices or if it’s purely societal expectations,” she says.

She notes where people are at by certain ages can be influenced by family, religious or cultural traditions.

“So I suspect that those emphasis put on certain ages are just ways for all of us to feel validated in society and not necessarily always to ourselves,” she added.

“We all know the questions and comments that we get asked at some point in life:

  • “When are you going to settle down?”
  • “You should think about buying a house”
  • “Your clock is ticking”

“All those are associated with a time constraint or some ‘deadline’ to be met. Individual deadlines and targets aren’t usually as expressed as the societal ones. Most people speak of external pressure to be ‘somewhere’ in their life, according to whatever age they are.”

Emilie Lepage, a friend in Quebec City going to medical school to be a doctor, says it’s true how a lot of us have a mindset that at a certain age we should be somewhere in our lives.

“For myself, I imagine being 30 and starting to feel comfortable with my work and hopefully with a man I love, starting a family. But who knows? I can’t predict my future.”

She says it’s most important to focus on happiness and being open to various experiences, including the potential to travel.

“I just don’t have any set goals in where I want to be. I want to see what life has in store for me.”

I was initially inspired to write this piece when Alina, a Canucks fan in Vancouver who follows me on Twitter, shared with me her thoughts in June about graduating from high school and what might lie ahead.

Her outlook is refreshing. I hope others look at what they are doing as worthwhile and not be totally consumed by timelines set by themselves or others.

I’m reminded of the lyrics from Garden Party, a 1972 song by Ricky Nelson: “Ya can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.”

Check out Alina’s story:
“So I just threw my graduation cap in the air yesterday, and watched as people who I have known since my childhood leave the auditorium to every corner of the world –California, Hong Kong, Toronto, France, and even Russia.

It’s a weird feeling; it never really hit me until I was sitting in the car heading home from the night. Everyone is going down their own separate paths, with each their own aspirations and dreams without the security of a group of people who were essentially like their second family.

“What does my future have in place for me? I really don’t know. Signing up for courses at university, I did know ‘Yeah, I love science’ and that somehow I will manage to incorporate that in my life.

However, university is just another step in education, and since I was a child I was already aware that “Yeah, I’m going to go to university!” and would even answer the home phone calls with “Hi, Dr. Alina here’.

“I think I’ve come to realize that I spend a plethora of my time on textbook knowledge and not enough on true life knowledge – about what it means to challenge yourself, test yourself, do more for people who are always by your side and for people you know that need it.

“When in life am I going to need to know who Arthur Miller’s father was? I mean, it’s interesting to know about the lives of others but maybe – just maybe – I should be spending a little more time on my own?

I want to look back and tell myself that “hey, I actually did go zip lining” even though the thought of being high up in the air puts my brain at unease.

All I know about my future is that I do not want a cookie cutter life. I do not want to graduate high school, then graduate from university, then get a boring job sitting at a desk all day with ugly grey walls swallowing me up followed by getting married and having two kids as well as a dog named Rufus in a home surrounded by a white picket fence.

“It may be the American dream, but if there is one thing I know it’s that it’s definitely not my dream. You only get one chance. Why not leave a meaningful – even if small – mark on the planet?”

Alina has her eyes on being a biologist, a haematologist or a genetics researcher. She will shine at whatever she sets out to do – and whenever she does it.


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§ 2 Responses to Where Are We Meant To Be?

  • Wendy Peters says:

    Great post David! I remember dealing with all of my ideas of where I “should be” or where I thought I was “supposed to be” in my life a few years ago… and how thankful I am for that!

    Out went any notions that I should be following in the footsteps of many of my peers with the house and the secure job and the kids pitter pattering around. In came a flood of adventure that’s more suited to how I’ve often pictured my life would be.

    It’s true, we’ve only really got one shot at this life, best to make the most of it… whether it’s a should or a should not, it’s all stuff we’re just making up anyway, it might as well be things we actually want/care about! 🙂

  • Erin Stashko says:

    In this blog, David, you reflected upon usual societal expectations when you wrote, “Whether it’s our own expectations or those of others, there are threshold ages at which certain achievements are supposed to have occurred.” Luckily, you long ago recognized that there is no set time for events to transpire.

    I love this statement you made: “We should avoid comparisons between generations.” This ties in to your realization that there should be no set timeline. While it’s tempting to compare expectations through each generation, it makes no sense if everyone has their own agenda. Cookie cutter molds, be gone!

    Many of your blogs tie into the poignant mantra that I aim for in my daily life: ‘Be Here Now.’ You voiced that we can get so consumed with what we’re ‘supposed to do’ by a certain milestone in our lives, that we forget to enjoy the journey.

    You spoke of friends who have been successful in reaching milestones as they wish to. Your one friend went back to school at age 30, declaring it was the right time for her. Her self-confidence in knowing it was the right age is indicative of her personality and her level of comfort in knowing who she is and when to proceed with any life goals. It’s clear it’s on her own time, as well it should be.

    Your Municipal Intern, Divine Ndemeye, had great points of consideration for the reasons behind why people feel pressured into meeting milestones in a timely (societal-induced) fashion. She listed: pressure, excitement, our own choices and purely societal expectations, and included influences by family, religion or cultural traditions as factors that also create an impact.

    I think it was clever that she took it one step further and considered that we emphasize goals at certain ages as a way for us to feel validated in society (this is the most important point she brought to the table) but not necessarily validated to ourselves.In other words, we could try to do what society expects, but even if we did accomplish all those goals in time, we would still not necessarily feel great about our own lives. Which, leads me back to your friend, who, when turning 30, felt badly about how his life had gone, despite meeting certain (expected) milestones.

    The questions you posed, (“When will you settle down, buy a home, have kids, your clock is ticking…?”) tend to have deadlines, as you mentioned. Vague, yet nagging notions of feeling that we should be ‘somewhere’ in life linger, when considering external pressure from societal expectations. When revisiting individual deadlines and goals, they are typically not societal-specific, so one feels they have more leeway on personal goals. Want to write a book? (individual goal), you can do that anytime. Have kids? (societal timeline expectation), people look at you like you have two heads if you don’t get pregnant by a certain age.

    You wrote this sentiment to your readers: “I hope others look at what they are doing as worthwhile and not be totally consumed by timelines set by themselves or others.”

    This reminds me of my dad, who went back to ‘school’ in 1987, the summer of my high school graduation. He went to University to find a career he felt a calling for, while I went to work at a job I found fulfilling for over 2 decades. It was ‘mixed up’ regarding timing, in terms of societal values, but each of us did exactly what we desired. We lived the “Be Here Now’ mantra and enjoyed the entire ride. What a ride it was!

    You brought up lyrics from Garden Party, a 1972 song by Ricky Nelson: “Ya can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.” Amen to that. This is reminiscent to me of how people can so quick to judge others and even more hasty to dole out advice. Unless they have walked the proverbial mile in their shoes, they really do not understand what the ‘best’ course of action is to take.

    I’m curious to find out how your friend Alina enjoyed her ‘ride’ after high school – she wanted to be a biologist, a haematologist or a genetics researcher, and I have no doubt she can do all of that, from her sage words. My guess? She had several alternative paths and routes along the way that were advantageous to her personal growth and goals.

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