2. letting go of the milestone mentality

You know how women used to stress about turning 30? And then 40? And then, suddenly, the temperature in the room changed, and everyone was like, “Just wait until you get out of your 20s. Things get so much better”?

These are people who have let go of what I’m calling the Milestone Mentality. They are people who look ahead with optimism, rather than looking back with regret.

I’ve been thinking a lot about turning 30 this year. It’s not that I’m afraid of it, per se, but that I’m quickly approaching October wondering where March-July went. Whereas it felt like everything was going smoothly, suddenly too many things are up in the air. I don’t know where I’m going to be or how I’ll be able to celebrate or with whom. I don’t know what I’ll be doing for work on the day I turn 30 – whether it will be something I love or something I can’t wait to get away from. And I hate that. Because deep down, I was really looking forward to turning 30 and having it all figured out. Just a month ago, I honestly felt like I had it all figured out.

But that’s the Milestone Mentality. That’s the kind of letdown it prematurely prepares us for. The idea that we “thought we shouldn’t be here by now” or “it wasn’t supposed to go this way.”

When we’re young, this vein of thought races us through life’s marked accomplishments. At 16, we learn to drive. At 18, we graduate from college. At 21, we can drink. By 22 or 23, we’re hopefully establishing ourselves in the working world. But then, from there, it seems like everything becomes about disappointment. We expect to be married by a certain age. We expect to have children, to be earning a stable salary, to have our student loans paid off, to buy a home. We start comparing our lives’ achievements with those around us. And in most scenarios, we end up brushing off our own successes to focus more on our supposed failures.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Deep down, we know the reasons why we haven’t dated around, or why we’ve chosen to focus on our career, or why we lost our job months before turning 30. Oftentimes, it’s not our fault. Or, it’s been a result of choosing what we personally value over what society says we should.

This past week, I spent a lot of time sitting on the banks of the Ohio River, reflecting on the childhood I spent there and ruminating on where and who I am now. Little Baby Heather didn’t know what was in store, and Teenage Heather had big dreams that brought her to a city that changed the course of her life in more ways than one. Just because About-to-turn-30 Heather isn’t doing what she came to Nashville to do doesn’t mean that things went awry. Just like that river flows into new channels and cities and states doesn’t mean that it’s gone off-course. When we’re in the flow of our lives, we’ll find we’re exactly where we’re meant to be – even if it doesn’t feel very simple or good in the moment.

I’m not (as of this post) an unemployed millennial because I’m aimless or unmotivated. I’m in these tattered shoes because of COVID. You may not have a house yet because you’re working on paying off your student loans while you launch your dream business. And that’s great! You’re on a different trajectory than what you may have intended 5 or 10 years ago…but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed. And that certainly doesn’t mean you are any less than your high school classmates who got predictable jobs, married their sweethearts, and have 3 kids already (which is totally fine, as well).

Turning 30, turning 40, turning 60…..there are no rules about where or who we should be by this time. It’s all just a lie we’ve told ourselves. So, why not let it go? Why not own our unique and dangerous paths? So long as the deepest part of you is satisfied or at least conscious of what you’re striving towards, then you’ve got the hard stuff figured out. A marriage license, a hefty salary, a brand new car….there’s no deadline on any of it.

I know some of you are out there wondering why you haven’t found love yet, or why you can’t seem to climb the ladder as fast as others. I know some of you are probably wondering what your purpose is, when things will all work out, what you should do next. And I feel you. I feel you so hard. But you’re not alone. All those people out there with their perfect-looking lives have their struggles, too. And perhaps, you’re even happier than they are.

So whatever it is you do, whatever you’re shooting towards, I just hope it makes you happy. Scratch that – I hope it makes you joyful. Because when we move forward in joy, we recognize that the tough won’t last forever. And heck, even if it does, we’ll get through it. We’re going to age – and grow – no matter what…..the least we can do is not let it be the one thing that defines us.

Just joining in? Read the last two posts + keep up with all the facets of Simple + Good at the What IS Simple + Good page!