Back in my 20s and into my early 30s, I put marriage and babies on a pedestal — a pedestal with a timeline that would determine my self-worth and happiness. At the same time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, who I was, or what I deserved.
So I did what so many of us do and mapped it all out. I would get married by 28 and have my first baby by 30 — and had we spoken back in my mid 20s, I would have told you my life would basically be over if those things didn’t happen exactly as I planned. Moving to Chicago, growing my personal blog, launching The Everygirl, meeting my future husband on Tinder, and getting married after my 35th birthday were not part of my plan.
Let’s go back to my early 20s and how I came to the decision to move halfway across the country to a city where I didn’t know anyone. I had no sense of what I wanted to do career-wise, and my personal life wasn’t much better. Most of my high school friends and I had grown apart. I started dating a guy who ended up being a verbally abusive sociopath, and a mix of fear and low self-esteem kept me in a horrible, dead-end relationship for the majority of my 20s. Looking back, I feel so sad for that young woman who felt trapped — who didn’t realize she deserved so, so much more.
There was a ticking clock counting the days, months, years until my self-imposed deadline. And looking back, I wanted those major life events for all the wrong reasons. I was looking for something — anything — to define who I was.
I needed a change, and after traveling to Chicago in 2009, I decided to leave Los Angeles for the Midwest in August 2010. I still wasn’t strong enough to walk away from my ex and dragged things on for almost two more years, but I had gotten a taste of what it felt like to be happy and knew in my heart that he had to go.
Then it happened. The summer of 2012, he called to say he needed space. We hadn’t seen each other since Christmas and I lived 2,000 miles away, so I told him to take his space forever, and we never spoke again. It was one of those Kate Winslet as Iris Simpkins “square peg round hole” gumption moments.
I was free.
I was about to turn 30 and was single for the first time in my adult life just as Tinder launched. Great timing, right? Dating was exhausting. There were quite a few three month stints, and, until a year ago, nothing really stuck. I’d go from feeling happy on my own to completely exhausted back to lonely, to happy again.
That same year, my business partner Alaina Kaczmarski and I launched The Everygirl and my goals started to change. I was focused on seeing our company grow and started to think more and more about where I wanted my life to go. Alaina and I spent the first two years working on The Everygirl unpaid and working full-time graphic design jobs to pay the bills. Stress levels were high, and I eventually ended up with shingles (which I didn’t know could happen to anyone that wasn’t 75) — a lesson to slow down and give myself a break. Sometimes, something really does have to give, and that’s okay. Once we went full-time, I started to find the balance I had been searching for and started discovering what worked for me.
To stick with the things-never-happening-when-I-thought-they-should theme I’d been unintentionally cultivating, I didn’t make it to Paris for my 30th birthday, but one month after turning 31, I traveled to Paris, London, and Rome for the first time. That first trip to Europe changed me — I went from feeling like my life would be over by 30 if I couldn’t attain the things I thought I wanted — the things I was certain would bring the fulfillment I was seeking — to realizing it was just beginning.
I’ve been in Chicago for seven years, and in that time have traveled, made the most incredible group of friends, and started a new business. The girl who didn’t travel for a decade (extreme fear of flying) has traveled to Argentina, Iceland, France, Italy, Denmark, and Portugal. Passing my deadlines started to matter less and less, and it turns out my life was pretty full without them.
I met my fiance in May 2015, three years after my self-imposed deadline. I’ll be 35 next month, and I’m getting married less than a month later — something I really struggled with after we got engaged earlier this year. After trying so hard to make our wedding happen before my birthday, I just had to let it go and realize how pointless these timelines are, but it’s still a struggle. I was still putting limits on myself — deciding what my life should look like at 30 and 35, even after I’d found the happiness I was seeking. I’m in such a good place and 35 does scare the sh*t out of me, but nothing else worked out the way I planned time-wise, and I need to realize how it’s all more than okay.
The real lesson here is that the my-life-is-going-to-be-over-if-I’m-not-married-with-kids-by-30 deadline passed and I’m still here. Life is anything but perfect, and I’d be lying if I said I never worry about timelines anymore, but I recognize how far I’ve come and try to take each day at a time.
So think about what’s most important to you. Take a class, start a travel fund, or rescue a dog. Start that side business you’ve been dreaming of. Figure out what you love and go after it. You might not have everything you want right now, but that’s okay. It’s more than okay. Stop comparing yourself — success is success at any age or time in your life. There’s no universal measurement or timeline, so stop using other people’s benchmarks as the arbiter of your own success. Don’t toss aside your hopes and dreams. Don’t let something you might not have (yet) take away your happiness.
There’s no one thing that will guarantee you the perfect, Insta-worthy life. The sooner you realize the journey is one of the most vital, changeling, necessary parts of life, the more time you have to enjoy it.