Separation is something I have a hard time dealing with.
For as long as I can remember, success in life was defined by having a good full-time job, a house, kids, a husband, and yearly vacations. If I had all these things by the time I was 30, I would have made it. That's what we're told after all, isn't it?
We begin deciding what our future career will be when we are as young as 15 years old in high school, then post-secondary education so we can actually get the job, and the rest falls into place after that. Having these things mean you are successful because you’ve followed the path that societally is most acceptable, so that’s what I dedicated my life to working towards.
When 20 rolled around, my mental health began to take a decline. I’d battle with the demons of depression, anxiety and self-image issues for most of the early part of this decade, and as a result, struggled finishing my diploma and finding a job in my field. These years, for the most part, I consider write-offs because of how debilitating my illness was.
25 came quickly and I was just graduating from my fourth attempt at post-secondary education, I told myself it was okay. I still had five years to get it done, right? I’d spend the next few years of my life catching up with all the things I missed out on in my early twenties (like travelling and finding a career) and things would fall into place no problem.
As 30 approached, I wasn’t there yet. While I had a good job and a boyfriend that loved me and had stuck by my side throughout those tumultuous early years of my 20s, we were both still very far off from buying a house and starting a family. I went through a serious identity crisis as I approached this big milestone, and often had thoughts of deep inadequacy. I also felt the inevitable pressure from friends and family about when we were going to have children. “When we have a house and are married!” I would joke with them. But inside, I wanted to say, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to have children.” It’s much easier to say the latter.
This was a tough time in my life. It felt as if I was constantly bombarded with reminders of my failure to launch, so to speak. It felt like no matter how many steps ahead my (now) fiancée and I would get, something always seemed to happen that would toss us five more back.
Now I want to stop here and make a point to say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with following a path that leads to this ideal norm of success. In fact, it’s amazing! But just because someone isn’t able to get there for one reason or another, doesn’t mean they aren’t ‘normal’ or ‘successful’.
What even is normal?
This leads me to ask: what is normal, anyway? Who defines it? Society? It seems strange to think that in a country with a population of over 36 million that we’d all be able to fit into that standard mould. Ultimately, one would assume that with such a large population, there would be many different definitions of normal.
If your normal is having the house, car, family and job, that’s awesome. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong if you decide to invest in a camper van and live a nomadic lifestyle, or about forgoing a family to focus on your career. Absolutely nothing wrong with travelling the globe and settling down at 40, or with any other life outside of the standard middle-class ideal.
That’s the beauty of life; it’s messy, difficult, awful and sometimes unbearable. But at the same time, it’s spontaneous, amazing and wonderful.
It got me thinking a lot about what ‘success’ and ‘normal’ means to me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the societal norm isn’t necessarily what I want. My messy, beautiful story is what makes me unique and special, and for the first time in my life, I’m becoming proud of who I am and what I have accomplished.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that life doesn’t have to be the way we are told it should. When I finally embraced this, it all suddenly became so much more exciting. I can do whatever I want to and be whoever I want to be. Slowly, my feelings of inadequacy are fading; the pressure to have children soon is lifting, as is the pressure to buy a house sooner than later. I feel like I’m beginning to break the mould.
I just turned 31 this week and as of right now, here’s my normal: I bought my first car when I turned 30. I got engaged when I was 30 and will be married at 31. At this moment, kids aren’t even a thought in my mind. Sometimes, I dream about buying that camper van and traveling across the country for a year taking odd jobs to get by. A house was looking possible for a while but after a major setback, it’s now on the back burner (thankfully my parents are around to help me out until we can make it happen.)
I spend my downtime immersing myself in good sci-fi TV shows. The rest of my time is spent working at a job I love and advocating for a cause near and dear to my heart through Sarnia Speaks. I take medication for depression and it saved my life. I’m struggling with disordered eating and self-esteem issues, but I’m fighting back against a lifetime of diets and harmful thoughts one day at a time.
What I’m trying to say in this essay is this: fuck normal. Define it for yourself by following your own path. Focus on the accomplishments you have, not the ones you have yet to have. Take risks and be that messy, quirky, amazing person that you are. While it might take time, know that you are a unique, one of a kind human being, and that is so amazingly special. Remove the pressure you feel to fit the mould, and look at life as a landscape of endless possibility.