If you had asked me as a teenager where I'd be by age twenty-five, I would have told you that I'd be married with children, successful by anyone’s definition, and likely a filmmaker.
Today—I'm single, childless, and the last thing I filmed was shaky concert footage with my iPhone.
I’ll be twenty-six in a week.
Though my interests have changed dramatically since my teenage years (and my plans for myself by twenty-five were admittedly very ambitious), approaching thirty has me doing a lot of thinking about my life and how I measure on the success scale.
With social media keeping me on top of every status update-worthy accomplishment of my peers, it’s easy to feel left behind. My friends have beautiful families; many of them are engaged, married, or in long-term unions. Some own businesses or have recently been promoted at their respective corporate jobs. Others are furthering their education overseas. And there’s me—still single, still local, still figuring out my niche, and newly plagued with anxiety about life and finding my purpose. Not to mention dealing with the sheer awkwardness of dodging questions from family members who want to know when I'll settle down and start a family of my own. (My mom shared with me that during a recent phone call I made to her about needing help moving a heavy appliance, a family friend—overhearing our conversation—offered this nugget: “She needs to find a husband. Soon.”)
With a quarter of a century behind me, I've felt a tremendous amount of pressure lately to figure things out.
Should I be working harder for my next promotion or shifting my focus towards more creative pursuits?
Should I be less guarded and more open to letting love into my life?
Should I be making more? Doing more?
Should I be where (s)he is, if not further along?
When searching for a bit of encouragement on the web, I came across this wonderful tweet from singer-songwriter Erykah Badu:
As always, she was right; Life is not a race.
Instead of comparing my life to others, I should be embracing my unique journey while redefining success on my own terms.
Our culture teaches us to measure success by the amount of commas in our bank accounts and by how quickly we can climb the corporate ladder, but I’m not motivated by those pursuits. Of course, I’m not against those things — I just think our definitions of success should be broadened to also include spiritual wealth, personal fulfillment, impact. In fact, I believe there can be as many definitions of success as there are people hoping to attain it.
When crafting my ideal life narrative for Rosetta Thurman’s “31 Days to Reset Your Life” course, I was forced to examine which aspects of life I find most important. Ironically, marriage, children, and a high-paying 9 to 5 didn’t make the cut. My ideal life is one in which my work is meaningful and rooted in a strong sense of community. I’m financially stable, healthy, traveling, and doing it with the support of a spiritual community and a small (but solid) group of soul-friends. Anything else is the proverbial icing on the cake
I may not be living my ideal life yet, but identifying what it looks like is one of the first steps towards manifestation.
I'm also learning that it's okay to not have it all figured out. Even people who seem to have it all together doubt themselves. Even they aren't safe from the criticism of eavesdropping friends and meddlesome (albeit well-meaning) family members.
The next time I find myself comparing my accomplishments to someone else’s (because let’s face it, it will happen)—I hope to remember that life is not a race, but a journey. Its divine timing should be trusted.
Word to Badu.
Jai Danielle is a writer of personal essays and creative non-fiction. Her work focuses primarily on race, sexuality, intersectional feminism, and pop culture. Catch her tweeting at @JaiDanielle.