Surviving a milestone-obsessed culture

Can't we celebrate successes at our own pace?

I expected I'd be a published author by twenty-three. This was a 'milestone' my fifteen-year-old self had set, thinking eight years would be more than enough time. 

Age vs accomplishments 

Our culture celebrates milestones. The internal loathing and disgust we harbour towards our quotidian lives lead us to direct our energy towards celebrating the extraordinary over the ordinary. 

So many of us spend time on LinkedIn and Instagram, mindlessly comparing ourselves to others. We compare work successes on the former, feverishly calculating the year of graduation to the latest milestone listed. 

On Instagram, we see our friends and acquaintances hit life's milestones at breakneck speed.

Engagements, marriage, children, moving abroad, higher studies — all the pictures have perfect lighting, at least three filters, and innate talent to make bad about the stage of life you're in. 

With everyone and their mother running a startup, there's a new trend of milestones that I've been noticing on LinkedIn. The hustle culture paired with our desperation to succeed by a certain age has resulted in near-daily announcements of milestones. The desire to land on a 30-under-30 list is palpable and every single day that passes without hitting a milestone is another day someone else does. 

Tick-tock, your time's up

For women, the timeline to achieve certain goals is predetermined. The prime years you need to establish your career are the best years to have children. Yet, for all the equality the world is pushing, childcare is still primarily a woman's job. 

Companies discriminate against women of a certain age, expecting them to get married and take time off for maternity leave. An absurd notion because they should offer every employee parental leave. A child is not just a woman's responsibility, and dads don't "babysit" their own children. For those who want to be mothers, the window of opportunity (read: fertility) is limited. This biological clock often affects a lot of women's milestones and how they go about achieving them. 

Sharing vs comparing

I've done my fair share of boasting about my milestones on social media, we all have. It's impossible to escape the societal pressure to celebrate your milestones. Have you seen a LinkedIn post about failure that didn't share some newfound nonsense about learning and succeeding from failures? 

As I've grown older, I've realized there's a difference between sharing something with loved ones and posting about something to make yourself feel superior. The world is a rat race, and our ingrained, milestone-obsessed culture is why we run that race. 

Share

Miles-to-NO1

For most of my life, I've placed inadvertent pressure on myself to succeed young. I saw the praise and the attention people gave those who succeeded earlier than expected. I wanted that praise; I liked those "Oh my, you're so young and have already accomplished so much!" compliments.

Of course, the last eighteen months have derailed everyone's train. The pandemic has effectively robbed plenty of people of the opportunities and time they would have used to continue to their next milestone. For the first time, we're all aware of the chase to achieve milestones. 

Now that we know, some of us recognize the milestone culture for what it fuels: feelings of failure, comparison, and jealousy. It feeds into a scarcity mindset that changes how you do things. 

Here's an example: 

Whether you go for higher education at twenty-one or forty-one, the celebrations and perceptions should be the same. Unfortunately, that's not how society thinks, and that's a real shame.

The most annoying thing about the milestone culture is that it never ends. You can do everything right, and there's always another goal to achieve, another win to add to your list. When we compete with others and compare our achievements, there's a looming sense of failure because everyone has unique privileges that propel them higher or lower than others. 

For the longest time, I thought I had to accomplish specific goals by a specific age. Whether it was publishing a book or finding my perfect job — I had to do it all by the time I was 24 (neither of those has happened yet). 

Now, I take it easy. Mainly because I don't even know all the things I want to achieve yet. I've done things and hit "milestones" I didn't even expect to — I had to manually add them to my bucket list and tick them off. 

There are always going to be milestones, and we're going to keep growing older. If we give in to despair, then we'd be robbing ourselves of other opportunities to succeed. Tunnel vision on a single milestone or two doesn't allow you to see the broad expanse of different goals and milestones you can hit. Some of those milestones don't even look like milestones — but you never know!

Milestones aren't all bad — they keep us going, they keep us on track. When it's difficult to find motivation, hitting a milestone can be the reason to continue putting in the effort. But it's important to recognize how much of a negative impact they can have on us — we need to take a step back and rest. What's the point of hitting a milestone if you don't celebrate it properly and instead, move right on to the next one? 

There are more than enough people in the world who can and will continue to run the rat race, so you can simply focus on doing what makes you happy and hitting milestones at your own pace. 

March to the beat of your own drum. 

That's the only way to survive our milestone-obsessed culture, the one that charts your accomplishments according to your age. 


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