MENTAL HEALTH CORNER: How age-accomplishment expectations are leading to less gratitude

By Julia Rhea

Yesterday, while idly scrolling on social media, I came across a tweet that read: “Constantly putting an age deadline on accomplishments is killing our youth.”  After reading the tweet, I sat puzzled at the harsh statement. I would wager that for most of us growing up, we were told about the societal norms of reaching certain milestones at particular ages to ensure you’re on the right track in life. I’m sure everyone has heard of predetermined ages placed on life’s milestones such as when you are expected to graduate from college, marry, have children and solidify your career.  We may not know who came up with these age-accomplishment expectations, but the more I reread that tweet in my head, the less sense it made for any of us to live our lives based on a predetermined formula.  I see several issues with presuming and imposing the same life timelines for everyone:  

  • Life timelines never incorporate the reality that things happen. Life is never a straight shot. Regardless of how much we prepare ourselves for each chapter of our lives, we may not be prepared for the random events, tragedies, and redirections life sends our way. We don’t typically plan for the rejection letters, the sad moments, or the times when we doubt ourselves, but all of those moments help lead us to the path we are destined to walk.  If it takes you a year or three to recover emotionally, physically or spiritually from a bad time, don’t rush that process.
  • Life timelines can cause unnecessary stress and self-anguish when we feel we are running behind. Increased exposure to social media has allowed us to believe that we are the only ones who did not lose that holiday weight by the beginning of summer, or that we are somehow deserving of less because we did not reach that honors GPA, or that we should have been employed by now.  In other words, we feel left behind. The truth is that it is impossible for any one of us to be left behind on our own individual journey.  We all will reach our goals on our own time. Life is not a race!
  • Life timelines make us less grateful for the things we have in life. If you’re constantly wishing you had more time to meet deadlines, chances are you’re not appreciating the little things as much as you should. Experts agree that when you highlight your flaws, you open the window to remain self-critical. Even on your worst day, write a list of things to be grateful for and don’t forget about the minor things, like your dog Spike or the encouraging text you received from your significant other. The little things in life deserve just as much credit as the big accomplishments in your life.

In short, we must stop putting ourselves on a strict timeline as to when we should have certain things accomplished in life. How can we admire the beautiful scenery of life when we’re constantly saying, “Are we there yet?” Don’t be so tough on yourself, you owe it to yourself to enjoy life amidst the hard work.