Why Age-Accomplishment Lists Suck
The Inception of The List
When I graduated from college, I had a mental checklist of how my life should go. It read something like this: By the time I turn 25, I will:
- Get married
- Have my first child
- Buy a house
- Establish my career path
- One other item I can’t remember
I don’t recall when I composed this list, or why I gave myself the deadline of my 25th birthday. I can’t even really tell you why I chose to acheive the items on the list. What I remember from that time in my life is the impression that by the time a person turns 25, their life should be established. I thought that, at 25, a person should have a family, a house, know what they wanted from life and be firmly entrenched in the achievement of those desires. After all, my mom was married, had me and had a house by the time she was 25. Well… you can probably guess what happened when I turned 25. I thought I was a big failure.
During the year that I turned 24, I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job, and started law school. So when I turned 25 and realized that I wasn’t living up to The List, I had slight heart palpitations. Here were all these things I set out to accomplish, and the deadline had come and I wasn’t anywhere near completion. Did that mean that I was going down the wrong path? Did that mean that I had nothing to show for my 25 years on Earth? What did not completing The List mean, anyway?
Its 5 years later and I can look back on The List and really understand what not checking those items off truly meant. Honestly, it just meant that I didn’t reach them. Thats the only thing it means. Its not a value judgment on myself or my worthiness, and there was no reason to beat myself up about it. More importantly, though, my desires had changed. Thats not to say that I don’t desire to get married, have children or buy a house. But at that time in my life I was still growing into the woman that I am now. I was still exploring life, exploring my notions of love and determining how I really wanted my life to be, instead of relying on a perception I had in my head. And hindsight really is 20/20, because now that I’m far removed from that time, I can truly say that I’m glad I didn’t accomplish any of the items I had listed.
Throw Away Your List
From discussions I’ve had with friends, it seems like alot of people are carrying this life accomplishment list around in their minds. We’ve all gotten the notion that by a certain age, we should accomplish certain things. I’m not saying thats a bad thing. What is bad is that we beat ourselves up if that list is not completed by the deadline we set. If this is you, I say so what if you don’t accomplish the list? Now keep in mind that I’ve been there, and being on the other side of this list deadline, I fully understand that its not the accomplishment that matters so much as knowing what it is you want. Because desires change. You may want a house when you’re 24, but at 27 you may want to go to grad school and feel that, because of the mortgage, you can’t leave your job to attend school full time. Or, your theories on marriage and commitment may change drastically between the time you compose the list and when your deadline arrives.
So whats more important to you: a) achieving your life goals by a certain age, or b) really getting to know yourself, your desires and striving for goals that fit you better as time goes on? (Pick B, pick B!)
Adhering your actions to this list is also a limiting way to live. It doesn’t allow you to stop and enjoy the moment because you are always looking toward the future. And whats the point of all the blood, sweat and tears if you aren’t enjoying life? Constantly looking ahead disconnects you from the blessings of everyday life and creates an attitude of lack instead of a mindset of abundance. You won’t be thankful for your great apartment, your charming boyfriend or your single state if you’re consumed by a looming deadline. Whats more, you don’t allow spontaneity and exploration. You don’t step off the path you started out of fear that detours will get you off course. Another way to look at it is that detours are ways to gauge if you’re still traveling down the right path, or whether you should make any turns.
How To Survive Without The List
So once you’ve tossed the list, what do you do next? First, start out by determining whether you really wanted those items on the list. If so, then great, just fill in the details and allow yourself some flexibility, breathing room, and the opportunity to explore life and enjoy the present. You’ll get there and reach your goals, but you don’t have to beat yourself up along the way. But if you choose to pursue other goals, then start with establishing what those new goals are. Really take some time to come up with goals for your life that you’re passionate about and reflect who you really are. Its pointless to strive for goals that only serve to keep up appearances, to compete with others and that are ultimately hollow for you.
Ultimately this is your life. You can conduct it how you see fit. No one is keeping tabs but you. So don’t subject yourself to undue pressue by establishing rigid deadlines. Your own opinion of yourself and your progress is the one that counts the most.
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