Is it just me, or does life seem to either have us checking those standard life milestone boxes, or packing boxes to build a whole new life of our own doing? Like I did almost eight years ago when I moved from Scotland to Canada.
While my new life in the Pacific Northwest has been a, mostly, indescribable joy, I have struggled for most of it with the feeling that I was no longer checking those standard life milestone boxes. In fact I was regressing. The standard life milestones are those that look like – school, university, career, car, partner, marriage, kids – it’s so heteronormative, westernised and patriarchal.
When we were young we were fed stories of longevity – relationships, jobs, living locations. The generations before us seemed to “endure”. But that’s not the case anymore – I guess we figured out endurance wasn’t necessarily a sign of success. Societal norms have changed and, so too, have the life milestones previously expected of us. I think (hope?) we’re the last generation that will be brought up with those expectations.
More, and more, of us are finding ourselves with less, and less, of those boxes ticked. Or ticking them in a different order, yet there’s still a sense that you’re really “bucking the trend” if you’re not following those traditional checkboxes. Like somehow you’re so bold and brave to not be doing life the “right” way.
As I turned a year older back in May, I took stock of where I was in life, what the past year had held for me and what I hoped the future would bring. I also engaged in a number of conversations with friends and acquaintances about these damn life checkboxes. Does the pressure ever go away? Do you always just end up ticking them in some fashion even if not in the original way intended? And if you don’t tick them, do people ever let you live it down?
Friends with kids told me that the boxes double once you’ve brought offspring into the world. Not only are you dealing with your own boxes but you’re also now holding court for your kids’ – what percentile are they in as a baby? Are they gaining the right education? Did they get into the school they wanted? It seems like, just as you’ve ticked one of the (apparently) FUNDAMENTAL life boxes, the pressure in some regards increases! You have procreated and now this is what happens? That doesn’t sound fun.
Those friends without kids, who are married, told me that while close circles often (/mostly) accept you being child free, there are still those who insert themselves into your business to tell you that they know your business better than you do and that one day your business will change and you will in fact want to have kids. All the while, they’ve of course never clarified if it’s that you can’t or don’t want kids. Because people can be just that dumb.
There’s also people like me, single AND with no kids. Lordy, who do I think I am?! And for us it seems to be a deep resignation that we’ll be judged for being frivolous and selfish, instead of working towards those life success checkboxes. But who said frivolous and selfish was a bad thing??
And both groups without kids talked to the want of others to change our mind, to bring us round to the status quo. One of the conversations I had about being child free was with Dani over at the Grownup Hustle Podcast, and she recorded it for an episode of her beautifully diverse, life chats podcast- you can listen wherever you get your podcasts!
We go into a lot of depth about the challenges we’ve had in carving our own paths and the reactions and insinuations we’ve had to deal with as a result. We discuss people’s discomfort at seeing a life that doesn’t look like theirs reflected back at them. And personally, I think that’s what it comes down to – what’s familiar and what doesn’t make people question their own choices. As always, I loved my chat with Dani and I hope you will too!
Other friends, who haven’t taken “traditional” career routes talk to people asking when they’re going to get a real job, or those singletons being asked when they’ll settle down – as in check the box, and then unpack the box cause you’re going nowhere.
As a renter you’re always being asked when you’re going to buy a place, as if affording somewhere in Vancouver isn’t going to absolutely financially cripple most people. Or people who like to travel a lot and not set down roots are always being asked when they’ll “make a place home”.
So there clearly is still a sense of wanting to tie people to the checkboxes, maybe as a predictability indicator, as if it somehow makes a difference. Because people gallivanting around the world, packing and moving boxes on a whim to build a life they design and build, and generally foregoing a lot of the structure could be the downfall of our countries…
When in reality the only checkbox we should be striving to tick is the one labeled “find happiness”. Can we all agree on that one at least?