From the professor’s desk …
I sometimes hear my students make statements like, “I want to be married by 25, be done having kids by 30, start my own business by 35, and retire by 50.” Some of them have timelines for when they will buy a home, or climb to the top of their careers.
And that’s great. Goals are great.
But life doesn’t always go according to plan.
My response, when I hear such plans, is “Good luck with that. I hope it all turns out the way you want.” But I’ve lived long enough to know that life doesn’t always follow our arbitrary timelines. Relationships end, opportunities change, pandemics sweep the world. I truly believe that resilience is the key to living well, and we have to be able to absorb the blows that come our way, and keep standing back up.
My life has been a strange paradox of being early to some things and late to others. I am the baby of the family, and started school when I was four (and my senior year of high school at 16, and my senior year of college at 20), so I was used to being the youngest person in the room. When I began my career, I was often the youngest person in my workplace. Gradually, that began to change.
I was in my 40s when I started my Ph.D. program, and found myself the oldest student in my cohort. Now, when I stand before my students, I’m usually the oldest person in the room. I’m the “old lady,” the person from their parents’ generation (or sometimes even grandparents’!)
The other day I read a saying on Twitter: “The process is the preparation.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Life’s milestones happen when we’re ready, and we’re all ready at different times (if we’re not ready, we can force it, but it won’t go well). I wouldn’t have been ready to be a college professor in my 20s, but now, in my 50s, I’m confident I have important things to share with young people.
Sometimes “failure” is a sign that we weren’t ready for a particular life experience. We must learn to “fail forward,” extracting the lesson and going on with new wisdom.
If you have been labeled a “late bloomer” (because of someone else’s arbitrary timeline for your life), remember that the process is the preparation. Perhaps your brother was ready to start a family, or your sister prepared to start a business, or your neighbor reached a point in life where they built a new home, and they all reached these “milestones” sooner than you. It doesn’t mean you’re “behind.” You are behind in nothing in your own journey.
Set goals, but be attuned to life’s unfolding. When you are truly ready, you will recognize the opportunity to move forward.