I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was researching grad schools at the age of 20 and realized that if I wanted to make it in this business, I was going to need to work a lot harder. If I wanted to be successful, to truly make a name for myself, I needed to be so much further than I was in that moment. I needed to make sure I was someone—by the age of 25. And if I wasn’t, I needed to stop chasing a dream that clearly was not meant for me.
And here I am, just a couple of weeks shy of my 25th birthday, and I can honestly tell you that I am nowhere near being the person I had hoped I would become all of those years ago.
And that’s OK.
It’s that acceptance of where you have actually ended up in your life that can be the biggest hurdle to get over. If you’re a big dreamer like myself, we often imagine ourselves doing the most unbelievable of things and making our wildest dreams come true. And when you are one of these big dreamers, getting hit with your actual reality can hurt more than you have ever imagined.
You have this imaginary checklist constantly rattling around in your head, with each unchecked box seeming like another nail in your coffin. You watch friends and colleagues landing their dream jobs when you can’t even figure out what you dream is. You wonder how they can all know and all be so sure that each decision is the correct one, the one that will lead them to the place they have always wanted to be.
A lot of people will tell you that “no one has any idea what they are doing etc. etc.” In all honesty, I think some do; I think there is a small group among us who are just born knowing who it is they want to become and knowing the exact steps they have to take to get there. And what we cannot do is feel hatred or jealousy towards these people. We cannot be upset that their paths are laid out in front of them; no matter how easy someone else seems to have it, there is always a darkness to be found somewhere that we cannot see.
Just because your path may be a bit murky, does not mean that you are living your life wrong and those who have it all figured out are living life correctly. There is no shame in not knowing who you are; life is a journey that can be taken many ways. As long as you are trying, you are doing everything right.
I am not married. I am not in a serious relationship. I do not live on my own. I do not have a master’s degree.
I am not working on Broadway or film sets. I do not write for a major magazine.
I can barely afford my student loan payments.
And most days, I wonder how I am ever going to make it out of this hole I seem to have dug myself into.
But every day, I still get up, and I still try to keep pushing towards this elusive “dream,” even though I don’t even know what it is I am looking for. Before you spend so much time beating yourself up over everything you have not done, take the time to reflect on everything that you have done. Maybe your name isn’t in flashing lights, but you have a great job, which you love and the most supportive family and friends.
We need to stop being so focused on what we do not have and begin taking the time to recognize everything that is already around us. Instead of endlessly searching for something to make it all better, take a second to really stop and look around at all that you have already built around you. Sure, it might not be what you imagined yourself to have at this point in your life, but maybe what you thought you wanted was not actually what was best for you. Everything happens for a reason, even though that reason can often takes years to appear. Be certain that where you are right now is no mistake—a lot of things had to come together in the universe to settle you into this place you currently occupy; you are supposed to be here.
Now this isn’t to say that setting goals is a bad idea—striving towards something is important. You just cannot let any failures or redirects consume you. Just because you didn’t land that one dream job or marry the person you were sure was the one, does not mean that you have failed. All it means is that you worked hard towards a goal, but ultimately that goal was not meant for you. Something else, someone else will most definitely be meant for you. You just cannot resign yourself to a life of settling for what seems comfortable and okay because the larger, wilder things you have dreamed of did not work out. Always keep dreaming and reaching for the brightest stars—eventually one will be meant just for you.
Age is nothing but a number. It is not a marker of the beginning of the end or of failure. All it signifies is how far you have come and chances are that is pretty damn far.