N.B. This post was written for The Davi Magazine, but I thought I’d share it on my personal website too.
I THINK it first dawned on me that I was getting old when I was at a friend’s wedding. The fact that she was saying her vows didn’t faze me, but a simple passing comment from another guest did. As he regaled us with anecdotes of training in the British Army, he encouraged us all to join – before pointing out to a 32-year-old listener that 28 was the oldest you could be to apply.
28?! With exceptions, he said. I was three months off 28 at the time, and, having bought a house six months previously and run my first marathon just three weeks before, I panicked. Could the next 15 months be my last chance to enrol in the Army?
Let’s be clear here: I have no intention of joining the Army. I never had any intention, but in that fleeting moment, I was crestfallen at the thought that, even if I’d wanted to, time was running out.
A goal-led life?
Somewhere between your mid-twenties and early thirties, you suddenly become acutely aware of what everybody else around you is doing. Of course, this has been exacerbated tenfold by the advent of social media, thrusting filtered holiday snaps into our faces with cynical hashtags that boil the blood of bitter geriatrics like me. But coupled with that, despite these enlightened times, we still feel compelled to set ourselves “life goals”. These are set to arbitrary benchmarks like age, which make us look back on ourselves with disappointment if we fail to attain them within some unrealistic timeframe.
I’m going to blow your mind with some figures now. In 1950s-America, the average age for women to get married was 20 years and four months. When I was that age, I was two years into a degree and selling handbags for beer money – how about you? By 2015, the average age rose to 27 years for women and 29 for men, while in the UK women are now 28 and 10 months, and men 30. When you consider that 350,000 of us were graduating from university in 2009, compared to <20,000 of us in 1954, it’s refreshing to see our priorities shifting.
But it doesn’t stop there. Thanks to the astronomical hike in tuition fees in 2012, today’s Millennials, or, dare I say it, Generation Zs, are increasingly finding alternatives to higher education. This makes way for a whole host of other life goals to take its place – some realistic, like travel – and some less so, like becoming a millionaire Instagram influencer. As I scroll mindlessly through my Twitter feed, I do find myself asking if perhaps our generation are simply putting too much pressure on themselves.
Despite what some might think, today’s young adults are facing more challenges than ever before. In 1960, the average age to own one’s first home was 23. Today, that age has risen to 30, which actually sounds relatively low when you consider that 7.8 million of us have no savings whatsoever.
Frivolous spending isn’t the reason either – in fact, research from BMO Global Asset Management revealed that 68 per cent of us planned to save money in 2018, with 35 per cent of those willing to change personal habits to do so. No more avocado on toast, eh kids?
However, despite these noble intentions, 18 to 35-year-olds are faced with a huge number of obstacles to meeting “traditional” life goals, including paying essential bills (61 per cent), lack of earnings (41 per cent) and debt (39 per cent). The alternative? Give up hope of ever being a homeowner and set your sights on something else instead, like developing your career, travelling, and/or staying fit and healthy.
Living in the moment
Some interesting findings from the Nielsen Generational Lifestyle Survey 2015 revealed that 35 to 65-year-old participants were far more interested in spending time with family than their 15 to 34-year-old counterparts, while Generation Z topped the charts or equalled their older peers for nearly every other life goal, including making a lot of money, having a fulfilling job and even the aforementioned “traditional” goals.
It seems to me that these youngsters simply want it all. Of course, I applaud anybody with high ambitions – take for example, my good friend Chloe, who, at just 20 years old, already runs a successful travel blog and aspires to be a full-time travel writer, New York resident and global jetsetter. She’s one of the most hardworking people I know and very inspirational indeed.
But to Chloe, and to every other 15 to 35-year-old out there, I beg them to heed my warning: aim high, but please, take your time! Too often we are bombarded with tiresome “life is short” slogans, making us set goals and pile pressure on to reach another one before we’ve even basked in the achievement of the last.
I speak from experience, somewhat regrettably.
When I was 25 I set myself a goal of losing weight for my sister’s wedding. I reached a goal, and then became obsessed with the scales, moving the goalposts to unattainable standards. Thankfully by 26 I snapped out of it, but it wasn’t long before another goal was set – to finish my NCTJ Level 3 Diploma. I spent months mastering the art of Teeline shorthand before passing that summer. Two months later, I set up a freelance writing service, and set about chasing new clients while holding down a full-time job.
At 27 and newly-engaged, I decided to enter a marathon. Three months later I bought a house. Six months later I ran. I got a tattoo. I signed up for another marathon. I bought a car. I ran London.
Before I knew it, three years had passed and I felt like I hadn’t taken a breath. Perhaps one of the most sobering moments was when, in a last-ditch effort to cure a running injury, I saw a spiritual healer. He told me that perhaps I’d been setting myself all these goals to repress mental pain, and instead it would be better to just let it out.
Work to your own schedule
Of course, I feel so incredibly privileged for all the opportunities I’ve had since I was 25, but did I really enjoy them, or were they just stepping stones to my next goals? Marathon metaphors are so cliché, but they really are fitting when it comes to life goals: it’s all very well dreaming of the finish line, but why not enjoy the moment while you’re there?
A wonderful article I found on LinkedIn not so long ago summed it up nicely. “For most of us, goals are outcomes. Until you’ve achieved them though, you can’t know if the goals will improve your life.” The article talks about how, ultimately, we all want to be happy – but sometimes, in our constant striving for this, we let go of what matters to us most.
If you’re a goal-setter, whether it’s travelling the world or getting your dream job, I say, good for you. But I would urge you all to take your time. Life is short, but it’s also the longest thing you’ll ever do. Set your goal, work towards it and achieve it – but then, enjoy it. Dame Judi Dench didn’t hit the big time until she was 61, and I’m pretty sure she’s enjoying herself now.
And if you don’t have a goal, don’t feel bad about that either. John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” It’s okay to focus on life once in a while too.