• Keshia Sophia Roelofs

Throwing Out the Timeline and Embracing Force Majeure

I dislike the word 'timeline.'

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 about timelines than ever before. It feels inescapable and oddly debilitating, just an endless race track of signposts you need to hit within a set time limit; 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? Should I have two kids, a career, abs, and a wedding anniversary under my belt by now? Why is this my socially accepted mark of maturity and wisdom?

Milestones hit when you least expect them

To speak of a timeline is to essentially boil your existence down to a few core moments that must be experienced lest you be considered a failure. I find that to be a most uninspiring way to live.

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 only just began, I don't own a house, my partner and I are not engaged, and my ovaries are practically stamping their feet in exasperation. All across social media, I'm consuming images of women my age and younger hitting those beats with minimal effort, as if their timeline is a dance floor they were born to float across. Never mind that my job is literally providing content for to-be-weds and parents-to-be. Meanwhile, close friends who are only hitting their mid-twenties are already feel so far behind in their timelines that they've lost sight of themselves completely. They believe they have failed before they've even started to live. It kills me.

The reality is 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's a tad convenient that the timeline desired of you just happens to fit in seamlessly with profitable industries—weddings, maternity, property, dieting, 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. It's 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 for 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 contracts called force majeure—an unforeseeable circumstances that prevents one from completing an assigned task. It's designed to cover any unpredictable force of nature or accident impossible to expect, like 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.

It's 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 strive for—that's a core part of the human experience—but I no longer have a strict number placed upon it. How can I when my timeline is not so much a line as a Jackson Pollock paint. I may have graduated college but I did so two years after my degree finished, when already in a career and just before turning 32. I probably won't be able to buy a house until 40 and the pitter-patter of feet is on hold thanks to the heavy plod of German Shepherd paws. The signposts may have been jumbled but failure is the last adjective I would ever place upon myself.

The point of this all is to say: don't waste the life you have worrying 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 self-work to do before you can appreciate it or, dare I say, permit yourself to have it.

But trust me, once you do, it will make unwrapping it all the sweeter.