Finish high school, go to college, secure a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, achieve success — then, and only then, you’ll have a fulfilled and joyful life.
Despite how much has changed and evolved over the years, there is still a basic life-timeline that many of us hold ourselves and others to; the premise of it being that “by the time you reach ‘x’ years old, you should have your shit together” (“your shit” being a job, spouse, home, kids, and success). For Emma Watson, “x” was 30 years old.
In an interview with British Vogue, Watson discussed the anxiety she started to feel as the milestone birthday approached. She said that she had “all these ideas” of what she thought her life should look like at this age and, as it’s turned out, it isn’t what she pictured at all.
“I was like, ‘Why does everyone make such a big fuss about turning 30? This is not a big deal’… Cut to 29, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I feel so stressed and anxious. And I realize it’s because there is suddenly this bloody influx of subliminal messaging around. If you have not built a home, if you do not have a husband, if you do not have a baby, and you are turning 30, and you’re not in some incredibly secure, stable place in your career, or you’re still figuring things out… There’s just this incredible amount of anxiety.”
It’s crazy that someone as successful and grounded as Emma Watson would feel the same insane pressure that so many of us common-folk feel to stick to the traditional life road map. Who would look at her life and feel pity for her? Who would see all that she’s achieved professionally, personally, and philanthropically and assume she doesn’t have her shit together?
Watson’s anxiety isn’t unique, of course. It’s a result of the decades-old narrative of what a “happy” life looks like combined with self-inflicted “should” statements. As soon as a person assigns the word “should” in front of something (whether it be a simple task or major life milestone), they have created a goal in their mind, and they will feel like a failure if they don’t reach it.
This anxiety isn’t selective to just one stage of life, either. You can have the house, successful career, and loving partner but feel less-than because you don’t have a baby — either by choice or circumstance. Likewise, you can have everything on the list and still feel totally unfulfilled and miserable, and find yourself wondering what went wrong in life to lead you to this point.
Just like “one size fits all” clothing is a lie, so is the traditional “life road map.” It’s a concept that leads to comparison, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy, depression, and just about any other negative emotion you can dream up. Essentially, it delivers the exact opposite of what it promises. Not to mention, conforming to this elusive timeline often leads people down a path that doesn’t actually work for them, resulting in divorce, deep regret, or a life full of general unhappiness.
Unfortunately, this tends to be a lesson everyone has to learn for themselves. It’s always when life plans blow up that you look at things differently, and learn to appreciate things as they are instead of mourning what they “should” have been.
Even so, instead of just waiting for the next generation to get to their own “life blow-up” point, we can start to change the narrative through our own stories. By openly celebrating the messy moments that happen out of the “right” chronological order, we can prove that life doesn’t have to happen a certain way for it to be happy.
Finish high school, have a baby, get a job, go to trade school, get a better job, travel, meet someone, have a second baby with them, live in a separate house, change careers. Who cares how it’s done, fulfillment looks different for everyone.
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Feature photo: British Vogue / YouTube