Ever since I became a teenager, I have been waiting. First, I was waiting for the next year of high school, because my parents kept promising next year would be better. Then, in university, I spent a year waiting for my father to die, for him to fully succumb to a brain tumour. Then eventually my Bachelor degree was completed and I still had no idea what I wanted to do, so I started waiting for a purpose, then for my PhD to be finished, and now I’m looking for a purpose again, or still, depending on how you look at it, while also waiting for a time when I am finally reunited with my partner and living in my own place. I’m starting to realise something though. I can’t postpone everything while I wait for life to start. It’s already happening.
The indubitable Terry Pratchett, through the character of Death, once stated “It is said your life flashes before your eyes before you die. This is true. It is called living.” Life is short, in the grand scheme of things, and any moments spent waiting is a moment not spent doing things. So, assuming I’m not the only person who’s ever had this feeling, why do we wait?
Everyone has goals they want to attain, personal and societal. We are told when the ‘normal’ ages are to have friends and start relationships, to move out of our parents’ house, to start a career, to establish ourselves. And once upon a time, this was easy. The career we were going into, it was the career of our parents. The person we married was probably from the same village, someone we had known growing up, maybe even someone our parents had picked out for us. Now, there are no guidelines. There are no rules. If you want to write a book and publish it, there’s self-publising. If you want to start a business, you can easily do it online. There are teenagers making lots of money by building apps, and there are people close to pension age reinventing themselves and discovering new talents. Contrarily, if you want to stay in the same job for your entire career, that’s now almost impossible.
What all of this uncertainty means is that there is no longer a defining point in one’s life where one can say ‘This is it, now I’ve really started.’ The goalposts keep getting moved. As soon as you’re done with school, you need to start making money. When you’ve got a job, you need a house. Once you’ve got a partner, you immediately start to feel pressured to get married and/or a child. And even when you’ve got all those things, there is always another goal ahead. Where does it end?
I don’t know how many other twenty-somethings out there feel like they’re still waiting for their lives to start. Maybe it’s just a symptom of not feeling satisfied with what you have, maybe it can actually push you to do/be better. Whatever the underlying doubt or fear or societal guilt is, I know it can’t be healthy in the long term. While some stress is good, when it prevents you from doing things and/or becomes chronic, your body starts to suffer. As a psychologist, I could diagnose myself with a form of anxiety. And like other forms of anxiety, it takes time to get over feeling constricted, to trust things will be able to work out again. So ironically, people who feel like they’re stuck need to wait it out, try to relax and work slowly to change their unhelpful thought patterns. Meanwhile, life keeps happening, so we’d better try to enjoy it.
Maybe now that I’ve been able to vent these thoughts, it’s time for me to embrace the waiting and all of the uncertainty that comes with it, and just live, doing the things that I am able to do within the constraints of my ‘incomplete’ state of being, and not worry about the rest. Of course on the other hand, I like striving for more, and fantasising about the wonderful things to come. If I completely accept things as they are, I will never complete a novel or find a good job. So like everything else in life, balance is the key.