Many people are raised with an expectation of what life is supposed to be. They have an idea of what they should be doing by a certain age, and it can be difficult to choose a different path. While it's good to set clear goals and have dreams, there are some things you can't control. Feeling inadequate or unsuccessful because you haven't magically made these things happen can lead to unhappiness. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to distinguish between true goals and unreasonable expectations from others and yourself.
The first step is pinpointing the unrealized expectations that are leading to your disappointment. There are many milestones you may have assumed you'd reach by this point in your life:
- Finish your degree
- Have a meaningful job
- Make a certain amount of money
- Own a house
- Get married
- Have children
- Have a solid retirement plan
Make a list of the things you believe you should have accomplished by now. Are these actual goals you would like to achieve, or are they just things you associate with success but don't really want? Is this something someone else wants your life to be or something you want for yourself? These questions may whittle down your list.
Look at the items that remain on the list. Presumably these are hopes you have that are not reality yet. Give yourself space to feel the disappointment. For example, if you are in your 40s and want to be married but can't seem to find that special someone, there may be a very real grief associated with all the years you have been alone. Don't deny these feelings. It's ok to mourn the loss of the life you thought you would have.
You may also feel embarrassed that you have not yet found someone. This is especially likely if most of the friends your age are married and have children. Culture may further complicate how you feel. Questions from well-meaning family about your relationship status can make your longing even more pronounced. However, fight the urge to believe that there's something wrong with you. Many people find love later in life; it's nothing to feel ashamed of.
If there is something you believe you should have already accomplished and truly want, there's no time like the present to get started. You can create solid, achievable goals at any point in life. Focus on what you can control. For example, you can't make employers who are offering your dream job interview and hire you. You can, however, tighten up your resume and apply for as many jobs as it takes to finally find the one that is the right fit. You and your partner may not be able to have children on your own, but you can apply to be foster parents or start the adoption process.
Once you have a clear picture of what you want, break the long-term goal down into smaller steps and put them on a timeline. The path to buying your dream house starts with making room in the budget to save up for a down payment. Starting your own business begins with putting together a workable business plan. The sooner you start to execute small goals, the faster you are likely to get to your ultimate destination.
There's no one way to live a good life. By distinguishing between what you actually want and the things you believe you should want, you can get a clearer idea of what a happy life looks like for you. Then all you have to do is create a plan to actually make it happen.