My niece shared this article, 26, Unmarried, and Childless yesterday and judging by the responses from her friends and peers, and the comments in the post itself, I had a little something I’d like to say to my friends in their 20s and 30s.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that people ask you “What is next?” They are excited to hear about when you plan to get married and have kids. And we know they only have the best of intentions in mind, but I’m still surprised. Because it puts pressure on you; it pushes you towards a way that should be. I mean, haven’t we (older yet not so wiser) learned yet?
When I was 26, I was unmarried and childless without a career just like Amanda, the author of the article and like many others out there. I was waiting tables in fine dining restaurants, making good money, and living life. Was I worried because my friends were starting careers, getting married, and having kids? You bet.
I remember going to their weddings and their parties during that time feeling alone and judged. I remember feeling jealous of how seemingly happy they were. Meanwhile, I was happy, I just didn’t know it sometimes. I had a simple and flexible life that allowed me to explore, travel, and read. I went to Europe and I pushed my limits doing things like mountain biking and long distance cycling tours. But most of all, I learned to enjoy doing things on my own. I got to be completely selfish with my time and that is a time to cherish.
Now I’m 46, in a marriage and a career that fills me with everything I need.
Looking back, I wish I hadn’t worried so much about what should be.
I was having fun. Why did I have to ruin it worrying about this idea of falling behind? So here’s a thought: Let’s worry about what you want to do; not what you should be. I know you feel “behind” when you get questioned by friends and family. Behind WHAT? Who exactly says you’re supposed to follow a certain path?
I finally put my expensive college education “to use” when I turned 30 if you want to define putting it to use as getting a job, putting on a suit, and commuting to a cubicle downtown alongside throngs of others with vacant stares on the way to their own cubicles; all of us dreaming about what we’ll do this weekend. Even that period of my life led me to the next stage.
Nothing is wasted. Every opportunity, every stage in life is a lesson and an adventure that forms us: Gets us ready for what really should be.
In terms of professional experience, I may be technically behind. But it doesn’t matter. Because I’ve done a lot of things those friends I was jealous of decades ago never got to do. And I chat with them from time to time and hear things like, “I wish someone had told me on the morning of my wedding that I didn’t have to go through with it. I wish they’d said, I’ll take care of it all for you; you can just walk out that door.”
Friends tell me they wish someone had told them about all the possibilities that lay in front of them – you can trade stocks, you can be a chef, you can be a graphic designer, you can start your own online business, you can go live in the mountains of Idaho.
Let me be clear, I’m not at all opposed to career, marriage and kids in your 20s. If that’s what you want to do. I’m opposed to people following a path, taking a next step because that is what is done. When you do it for those reasons, you settle in love and find yourself down a path wondering how the hell you ended up there. I see it everywhere around me.
So let me be that voice that says you don’t have to go through with it: You decide what should be and when. There is plenty of time.