Throwing Out the Timeline and Embracing Force Majeure
I dislike the word 'timeline.'
Deadlines are different. They can be useful. I appreciate how they force me out of my perfectionist-fueled procrastination. But timelines I sometimes struggle to get onboard with.
As someone navigating the early stages of thirty, and very much still reeling from the intense lessons of their twenties, the word haunts me. And worse, everyone seems far more obsessed with their timeline than ever before. I suppose I find it reductionist. It's not a set timeframe to achieve a current task, it's a whole track of signposts laid out ahead dictating exactly at which point you need to hit every milestone. Career by 24, married by 27, house by 30, children by 32, promotions, achievements, landmarks, on and on.
Am I really supposed to have travelled to several countries by 30? Why is this my socially accepted mark of maturity and wisdom?
When we speak of a timeline, we've essentially boiled down our existence to a few core moments that we must experience or else consider our time here a failure. I find that to be a most uninspiring way to live.
And don't get me wrong. I've been there and to a degree, I still am. I'm erring on 32 and my career has just truly began, I don't own a house, me and partner are not engaged, and my ovaries are practically stamping its feet and shaking its watch in exasperation. All across social media, I'm consuming images of those my age and younger hitting those beats with minimal effort, as if their timeline is a dance floor they were born to float across. I mean, my job is literally providing content for to-be-weds and parents-to-be. Meanwhile, my close friends are just hitting their mid-twenties and are already feeling so far behind in their timelines that they've lost sight of them completely. They feel they have failed before they've ever fully started.
It kills me.
Because here's the reality. There is no objective timeline. It's not a manual you receive at birth, it is a direction dictated by those who have already embarked on their journey long before you. The success your parents may or may not have received has established in their minds a winning formula that they have passed down to you so you don't have to face the hardship of figuring it out. Yes. As pressuring as it may feel, your parents' ideals for you are made with love.
And for those without the family influence to contend with, society does a fine job of setting goals for you in their place. It just connvenient that the timeline desired of you just happens to fit in seamlessly with profitable industries—weddings, maternity, property, diet, need I say more?
It's not to say it doesn't feel painful or confusing when everyone about you seems to have such strong direction. Its incredibly frustrating to not know what you want to do or to get where you need to be because of personal, financial, or even physical reasons. My mom is a big believer in "what's for you won't pass you," and I have to say, as I get older, I'm inclined to feel the same. As my own desired timeline has been shattered over and over again, I realise that it was never mine to begin with. I might even go a step further and say, there wasn't one to begin with. Life could end tomorrow with very little regard to the plans I had in place.
It's a heavy thought but it's quite true.
Your life is fluid. It can change. In fact it is open to doing precisely that. Your existence is not a rigid timetable and your future cannot—and will not—be dictated by someone else's past.
There's a contractual term that often pops up in photography called force majeure, and it refers to the unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from completing the assigned task. It's designed to cover any unpredictable force of nature or accident impossible to expect, such as a car crash or a tornado.
Your life is going to be filled with these. Illness, storms, heck even pandemics are all possibilities that can put any fast track to a screeching halt regardless of who you are. It's already happened.
Its why I have decided to pursue my future with a force majeure clause, and permit myself the leeway and compassion for events that are beyond my control. The only timeline I have is what has been. Of course I have personal goals and achievements I wish for—that's a core part of the human experience—but I no longer have a strict number placed upon it. I didn't graduate from college until after entering my career and I didn't do that until age 31. I probably won't be able to buy a house until 40 and the pitter patter of feet is on hold thanks to heavy plod of paws. Does that now mean I have failed at living?
The point of this all is to say: don't waste the life you have worried about the one you feel you should have. If you really want something, I mean yearn for to your very soul, it will happen. It will. It just won't come wrapped up neatly in a bow once the clock strikes the desired hour.
And maybe it's just the case that, like me, you have a little more work to do before you can appreciate it or permit yourself to have it. And trust me, it will make unwrapping it all the sweeter.