The expectations of where you 'should' be versus where you are. These two things are not against each other but rather one of the same. The stigma, expectations or pressure of being anywhere else has had us all, at some point, to some extent, clutched in its claws.
In a week I'll be twenty-two.
I'm living with my parents, working part-time and casually in jobs I enjoy but do not see myself doing forever.
I have no real responsibilities or commitments.
There are days I let myself see this as failure. Where I think of all the things I haven't achieved. When I look around at all the people my age or younger who's futures are set up or have already begun with careers, houses, babies…
But how can you fail at something you have never attempted?
There are more days I see it as a clean slate, a sense of freedom, an opportunity to be or do whatever I set my mind to.
When Mitch and I talk about travelling and working around Australia I know that it's possible for me to up and leave without putting anything on hold, letting anyone down or giving anything up!
You might be thinking "twenty-two? is she kidding?" I know I'm mad young, but obviously not young enough to avoid this sense of guilt that I'm "behind" or wasting these young years.
There's this unspoken expectation that society and ourselves create.
I'm not sure about you, but I've grown up thinking there's a way life goes, like flat pack furniture, a step by step process.
You study, start a career, buy a house, get married, have a family, get a bigger house and so on. You check items off the checklist.
I think that idea always lingers inside us and rears it's ugly head when fuelled by the fear of letting other's down, of not amounting to much, our thoughts of ourselves, and pleasing the people in our lives.
But what is it all for? And at what age, at what point, does it end?
What happens when you finish the Uni course, get the career, the house, the kids?
I was discussing this topic with a close friend over dinner. I admire her for buying a house, while she sits in it wishing she had a bigger one and tells me of another friend sits in her bigger house wishing it was renovated.
It doesn't matter what we do have, we seem to always overlook it and feel like we need or want more.
Do we even really WANT the things we feel guilty or inadequate for not having or not 'achieving' yet? Are we even ready for them?
It seems to me the human race is always racing and it's the thought of being left behind, being viewed as unsuccessful that bothers us more than the actual absence of these things.
Slowly that wiring of my mind is starting to unravel.
Some people study young, some old or some don't.
Some people work in the same job forever, some change multiple times.
Some marry once, some more and some never do.
Some people have kids young, some have them older and others never have them.
There is no right or wrong in any of this.
Life isn't flat pack furniture and there's no instruction manual or checklist.
Some of us, the lucky ones, know what they want and what they are going to do to get it.
Others, we might feel stuck but we're just a little lost, in the best kind of way. We'll dip our toe into something and realise it's not for us, sometimes we won't realise until we're neck deep. And that's okay too. Life is a little bit of trial and error.
We're all on our own paths. And nobodies, no matter how it seems, is straightforward. They all twist and turn and loop around, at different times and in different ways.
As long as we're all moving forward just a little, then we're all doing pretty well.
We worry that 'time is ticking' but it's always ticking, for everyone, at every age. And it could stop ticking tomorrow, or when you're 100 years old. Either way, do you want your time on earth to be spent worried about a metaphorical ticking clock and what you don't have? Or do you just want to enjoy all that you do?
Do you want to spend your life focused on what you haven't achieved? Or just take a moment to appreciate yourself for all that you have? Often we've achieved more than we give ourselves credit for.
Life's fleeting and it moves fast. Every day passes and we feel like nothing is different.
But the days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, and we don't even realise that really... nothing is the same.
When I look at the photos from my twenty-first birthday I'm confronted by how much 365 days can do. I've met my best friend, fallen in love and grown closer to him than I ever could have imagined, become family to people I didn't even know back then and they've become family to me. I've started two new jobs, grown into a more secure, comfortable and confident person, learnt a lot and lived experiences, both good and bad that have changed me and the way I think. (And that's only a brief summary.)
In some ways, life has its own little plan for us too. Some things, I think, are meant to be. Like the timing of which we meet people and little last-minute decisions that turn out to change our whole lives.
I think life pushes us in certain directions for a reason, even if it's just to learn something or prepare us for something else.
By no means am I saying it's not important to work hard and achieve great things.
Work hard... but stay in your lane.
Instead of looking at where other people are around you, look at where YOU were a year ago and how far YOU'VE come whether it's in a job, a relationship, fitness, financially, as a person, life experiences or any other area of life.
I think you'll be surprised.
When I remove the stigmas, the expectations and the pressure. Right now, I am happy right where I am.
While I obviously don't want to stay in the same spot forever, I do want to enjoy it while I'm here. I want to relish living with my parents, seeing them every day, sharing shoes, clothes, jewellery and makeup with my mum, being woken by my chirpy and chatty dad every morning before he leaves for work (whether I have to be up or not) and having things like toothpaste and toilet paper bought for me.
I want to take advantage of being able to make spur of the moment, spontaneous decisions with my friends without a ripple effect.
And just soak up every fun and exciting thing that comes with a "relatively new" relationship, like getting to experience everything for the first time together, and that feeling we get when we see each other after a night or two apart, and it's about to get soppy if I keep going...
The point is, I know that, at the moment, all my jigsaw pieces are in place. And there are so many more I'm yet to come across.
You never know when you could find just one piece that might change your whole puzzle.
When I think about my future, I know it's limitless.
I'm feeling twenty-two.
So, the next time a voice inside my head says, "you're getting old, it's time to sort yourself out" or an older person says to me "by your age I had..." I'll remember that I am young, life is short and their path is not mine.
Right now, where I should be is exactly where I am.
My next big step could unexpectedly be just around the corner. And, so could yours.