Once upon a time, I was an ambitious college girl with my life planned out in a neat little schedule of events. I would of course find a good job right out of school. I would have my master’s degree by the time I was 25. I was going to buy a brownstone in Brooklyn by the time I was 27. I was going to earn my Ph.D. by the time I was 30. Somewhere in there, I was going to get married and have some more kids and do it the right way. And then I graduated. And reality took that little schedule, drop-kicked it, put it in a headlock and made it cry for mercy.
As time went on and things on my To-Do in Life List weren’t getting crossed off by deadline, I pushed them back because, hey I was still young. Then my 30th birthday showed up, all uninvited and what not, and I was so emotional. I got salty whenever someone teased me about it, which meant I spent a good amount of time with my mouth poked out and my butt on my back because between my uncles, cousins, mother, and aunts, I’m surrounded by folks who like to make their fair share of jokey jokes. It wasn’t for vanity reasons. I come from good genes. My mom, my grandmother, everybody aged beautifully, so I wasn’t worried about getting wrinkled and gray before my time. I struggled with being disappointed in myself because I felt like I didn’t have anything to show for 30 years of life.
Depending on what you’re talking about, 30 really isn’t that big of a number. Thirty dollars isn’t an exorbitant amount of money, 30 people at an event isn’t overwhelming and unless they’re holding on for the bathroom or their first meal after a hunger strike, a 30-minute wait wouldn’t hurt anyone. But 30 years is a whole other story. And I felt like a failure because I hadn’t accomplished any of the things I said I was going to accomplish in that time. I felt like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be in life. I needed to define what 30 looked like and I felt behind in my own life timeline.
Factor in the added pressure I put on myself because I’m the first person in my family to go to college. My mom, my grandparents, everyone in my family, really, has worked in a factory of some sort, so I was the golden child, groomed to get an education and use my mind and not my hands to make a living. Every generation should do a little better than the one before it—especially with a college degree—but as far as I could tell, I really wasn’t living any larger than they were when they were the big 3-0. I was waiting to become this Great African-American success story and I wasn’t doing anything spectacular at all.
I think a lot of women struggle with the life timeline. I know it’s a hot topic of discussion among my circle friends, where we thought we’d be at this age and where we actually are. We’re all waiting on marriage and babies. Some of us have advanced degrees, some are in the process of finishing them. Only one of us has a house. But we’re all looking forward to something or another that we thought we’d have by now in order to make our lives complete. We’ve set up expectations of when something should happen, when things should pop off. But, much to our chagrin sometimes, God has his own calendar and his own deadlines, and our lamenting 30 wasn’t rushing him in the least little bit.
Two years after hitting that milestone age, I’m learning to be mindful that my success isn’t going to be mapped out according to years or ages, but when God can best use me. I might not have been ready to be a good wife at 25 and I might’ve wasted my money on a Ph.D. at 28 because I wasn’t mature enough to put it to work. There’s a point when you fight for your goals and there’s a point where you have to ask yourself if you’re fighting too hard for something because it’s just not the right season. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals, even possible dates for when you’d like to have them achieved. You just can’t be so rigid about them that you focus on the accomplishment more than the journey that it takes to get there—though I may need someone to remind me of that every now and then. Be determined, but don’t be defined by your age or your own personal deadlines.
You’ve got time.