As I boldly enter the last year of my 20s, Rep. Maxine Waters’ famous statement “I am reclaiming my time” has become a mantra for me in the battle against the timeline. The timeline, for those who are not already living under the weight of it, is a hypothetical measurement of when people should be reaching different life stages. College at 18, start your dream career at 21, get engaged by 25, be married by 28, pop out your first baby by 30. That is not me, but you get it.
Despite all the advances in gender equality, “the timeline” is mostly seen as a measurement for women to uphold. Even when I know it’s not realistic for life to happen in perfect sync with my friends, it can be especially hard not to see life as a ticking time bomb when faced with close comparisons.
For me, my older sister is the prototype. She has always served as a pacer to model my own life after. From the minor influences of when I should get my ears pierced to the major choices like college, she does it first and I follow close behind. So naturally, when my sister took a more traditionally timed path—fell in love, got engaged, bought a house, and had babies all before 30—I thought that was next for me too.
Surprise! Turns out, unlike choosing to brave the ear piercer, a lot of those life moments are not in my immediate control. Now in my late 20s, it has become glaringly obvious to both me and my loving but persistent immigrant family that I am not on the same timeline as my sister. When my life is placed under a lens by people I care about, it can feel like a shortcoming and lead to a spiral of second guessing minuscule life choices like, “Maybe if I was brave enough to speak to that cute stranger on the train, I’d be married with a dog and six-bedroom house by now.” A girl can dream. But on the flip side, it can also be gratifying to know that this path I am on, while different, has been uniquely curated for me by me. And for anyone else working through this natural roadblock, here are ways that I am reclaiming my timeline:
Learning to appreciate the path that I am on
While I haven’t found my one true love yet, I have found myself. I’ve found myself lucky enough to have lived in different cities around the country before deciding on one I love. I have found myself learning new skills I may have otherwise put off to a significant other (I hung my own floating shelves!). By living life on my own terms, I’ve found myself better able to define what it means to be me—different from my sister, my mom, my aunts, and other women in my circle but still whole.
Take some time to realize all the things you have accomplished. There is nothing wrong with being your own hype woman, especially if you feel a little misunderstood. Next time you sleep in without a crying baby, use those newly acquired mindfulness skills to be truly grateful for this current phase of your life. And in the future, if you find yourself somewhere different, you can look back and think: Yeah, that was great too.
Quieting outside pressures
While family and friends may mean well, it is my life, and the more time I spend defending or justifying it, the less time I spend really living it. I am aware my life looks different from what was expected, and I am working on coming to terms with the fact that it may never look that way, so please keep your unconstructive comments to yourself.
I’m talking about that Auntie, that instagram account, or that coworker. If it makes you feel bad by comparison, shut it down. No, you do not need to freeze your eggs or go on Match.com right this second. Allow your positive inner voice to be louder than anyone else’s.
Finding women who are on similar wavelengths
By finding women on more similar journeys, it has become easier to embrace where I am in life. We celebrate and understand each other’s accomplishments no matter how different. Hearing varying ideas of what success looks like—a promotion, a new pet, investing in a hobby—has helped broaden my idea of what could make me happy as well. Understanding there is no one right path for everyone takes the focus off what is expected and brings it to what is actually happening. Please know I love my sister, my married friends, my friends with kids, my friends who are homeowners, etc., but sometimes, I need to be with people who actually understand the heinousness of online dating, the desire to over-decorate a rental, and the joy of starfishing in bed.
If you find yourself on a different page from your inner circle, it may be time to switch things up! DM that super fun and bold person you follow, suggest a happy hour to the girl you always connect with at pilates, or join a cause that is geared toward your current interests. You’ll have plenty of fresh topics and news to contribute next time you’re confronted with questions from grandma.
I know first hand that quieting deeply ingrained societal pressures is work and feels and looks different from one day to the next. Some days, it may feel effortless and freeing to strike out on your own, while other days, a wave of vulnerability may wash over. And that’s OK too! It’s all part of reclaiming your timeline, reframing what phases of life mean, and meeting yourself exactly where you are.