“When you’re 22, you should have completed your first degree.”
“You’re too young to get married, but old enough to own a car.”
“By the age of 30, you should be a homeowner, with a loving spouse and at least two children.”
“You cannot start an undergraduate course at university when you’re in your thirties, it’s time to grow up and accept your life as it is.”
If you’ve ever heard any of the abovementioned statements, you’ll know what it’s like to live in an ageist society, where an individual’s age should supposedly determine their social status in life and how self-actualised they’re meant to be. While there are those – like myself – who believe that age is a relative ideal that should be viewed as separate from an individual’s achievements, romantic statuses and financial goals, there are many people who consider there to be a natural order of how people should live their lives based on how old they are.
Being a young woman in my mid-twenties, I too have often found myself being pressurised to conform to societal ideals of where I should be socially and even financially, based on my age. People often ask me, when I will buy myself a car, or when I will ‘settle down with a beautiful home’, or, and this one is my favourite, when I’ll be having children. All the aforementioned inquiries require nuanced answers, or better yet, no response at all.
I have often wanted to tell people to mind their own business when they’d ask about my personal life and why I have not achieved certain goals that they seemingly set for my life, but at the end of the day, I continue making excuses for myself, telling them how I’ll ‘start a family once I have completed my post-graduate studies’. I am ashamed of myself for not being brave enough to stand my ground, and, most of all, I am ashamed of being ashamed of where I’m at in my life.
Almighty Allah has blessed me innumerably. I am a journalist and freelance content writer. I have graduated twice, and I am currently completing my master’s degree. I help my family financially, as much as I can, and try and live an honest, God-fearing life. However, as soon as I am cornered into answering questions about diverse aspects of my life, such as when I will start driving, or when I’ll settle down and start a family, I become a bumbling, mumbling nervous wreck.
I often have mini panic attacks, because where I’m at in my life is not on par with my own expectations of where I wanted to be, or where society expects me to be.
Whenever I have a birthday coming up, my anxiety seems to be insurmountable. I have even started keeping my exact birth date a secret from people, because I hate the attention this day affords me, and the endless questions people have about my life.
Recently, I have attempted to devise a couple of coping mechanisms that help me to deal with anxiety regarding my age. I’ll share these tips with you, because they seem to be working really well for me, but if you have any tips and tricks of your own, do feel free to share them with me in the comments section of this blog.
These are my tips and tricks for coping with anxiety about my age:
- Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude
It’s easy to start bashing yourself when Nosey Nellies ask too many questions about your life and why you haven’t ticked certain boxes on your ‘life list’, but there’s really no need to feel bad about yourself. Always try and show gratitude for what you have. As a Muslim, being grateful to Allah is ingrained in my daily life, but when people, particularly older people, point out my shortcomings, I feel embarrassed about my lack of achievements. I’ve even, on occasion, sat down with my mother, telling her how sorry I am that I haven’t given her any grandkids yet, or renovated our home. In those moments, she always reassures me of my place in the world.
I am grateful for my family, my health, my employment, and for so many other blessings I have been afforded that others would love to have. It’s good to dream big, but showing gratitude for what you have presently is a vital act of mindfulness.
- We all have our own destinies
You don’t have to conform to societal standards of what happiness should be at different stages of your life. Achieve your dreams, love wholeheartedly, travel, study, work, and try new things along the way. Life is way too short to be melancholy, longing to have the lives of others.
A friend of mine had a baby at 18 and married at 19. Her marriage unfortunately crumbled shortly after and she remarried last year. She is 29 and happier than she’s ever been with her new family. Another friend of mine worked for years before deciding that she wanted to pursue tertiary education, and today she is a qualified lawyer completing her articles. Another friend of mine is 38, with a doctoral degree and a great job, but he has no desire to get married or ever have kids. A close friend of mine, who is also my rival at university, is an editor, who’s been married for years without any kids and is quite contented to have a little family with her husband and dogs.
My point is the pages of your book are wide open! If opportunities present themselves, grab them! Don’t be afraid to respectfully tell people to back off when they make too many inquiries about your age and achievements. You don’t need to pressurise yourself for anyone’s amusement. Be kind to yourself.
- Everything happens in its own time
I know this sounds like a cliché but, I’ve come to realise that everything in life happens at its own pace. There is no need to obtain your degree by a certain age, or to get married before the age of thirty. Too many people live their lives for others and forget about their own happiness. Would you rather get married before the age of 25, or use that time to build your dreams and work on yourself so that when you eventually tie the knot, you can present the best, most self-actualised version of yourself to your partner? Your life is a gift and every day and year that is added to your short period on earth is a blessing to be cherished.
I know that age is a really contentious issue, and many of us want to achieve so many things at as young an age as possible, but believe me, patience is one of the greatest virtues you’ll ever possess. Don’t become despondent when you see your peers getting married, moving into new houses, or obtaining their degrees before you. Your time will come, don’t be discouraged. Most importantly, never limit your dreams because you think you’re too old, or even too young, to achieve them. Silence the noise of doubt in your mind, and as the Nike logo says, ‘Just do it’.
Read about one writer’s opinion on being patient with the changes in your life, here.
Tell us: Do you think society places too much pressure on young people? Why or why not?