When I was in third grade, I took an after school calligraphy class. Like most things I did, I took it very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the teacher pulled my mom aside one day to make sure that my parents weren't putting some kind of crazy pressure on me at home. My mom reassured her that I was simply an intense kid with a penchant for perfectionism and that I'd been like that for as long as she could remember. It's been a while since my elementary school extracurricular activities (which also involved a troll doll sewing class) and admittedly, not much has changed. At 31, I'm still just as hard on myself, but the difference is that I now realize the fault in doing so.
From an early age, there are various societal pressures that seep into everything we do - from declaring your major in college and finding your first job, to deciding when to get married and have kids. They're inevitable questions that we have to answer countless times, but they end up impacting certain timelines we set for ourselves. After two years of marriage, we've just recently started talking about possibly making our family a bit bigger (and I don't mean adding a fourth cat). I'm not one of those women who always knew she wanted kids and I almost felt guilty for not being sure. But that's the other thing I've come to understand, there's nothing wrong with not having everything figured out. Sometimes there's comfort in being open to new situations that you simultaneously find terrifying.
I've never been one to associate goals with specific ages and the older I get, the more I realize how arbitrary all of those timelines really are. Instead of dwelling on the things I "should" have done by a certain age, I've been trying to shift my perspective to celebrate where I am at that moment. Part of that comes with maturity and a stronger sense of self, but I've found that living in the present means I'm enjoying more of my life.
I receive a lot of emails from people who are unsure of their future and dissatisfied with their current situation. I typically can't offer personally tailored advice, having such a small glimpse into their lives, but I share the same things that I tell myself when I'm feeling adrift (which happens often): work on being the best version of yourself, be surrounded by people you love, be kind to others, and live in the present. Focusing on those things helps me pay attention to what's truly important.