We are all familiar with the conventional ‘markers’ of success and accomplishment that marks the journey from ‘cradle to grave’ – things like going to college, leaving home, getting your first pay check, buying your first home, getting married, becoming a parent, and retiring.
However, our society in the 21st Century differs dramatically from 20, 30, 40 years ago. Less people are choosing marriage, parenthood or a formal education. Many will never be able to afford to buy their own home, and retirement is no longer the guaranteed cushion it once was. How do we measure our success and progress without these once standard markers?
Life truly is a journey and each of these experiences along the way give our lives meaning and purpose. Very often, these life milestones can play a major role in defining our life values and help us to carve out our place in the world.
Let us take a look at some of these important milestones in life and the lessons they can teach us:
For most of us, leaving home can be a bittersweet occasion. On the one hand, we feel excited to be free of the rules and restrictions that our parents set. How many remember the well coined phrase, “As long as you live under my roof you will obey my rules”. When we do make the break, there comes with it a degree of trepidation as we are unsure of our ability to survive without home comforts and security that comes from living at home.
When the reality of leaving home sets in, it presents us with the opportunity to learn the valuable lessons of hard work (make my own bed, dishes, cooking, washing my own clothes), managing my own money (I have to pay heat and light ), and appreciation for our parents and family.
2. Getting Your First Payslip
The exhilaration of getting your first payslip from your first real job is incredibly exciting. It is not necessarily about the amount which maybe tiny by other people’s standards, and most likely will be the smallest you will ever open, it is yours. You worked for it, earned it, and get to cash and spend it however you like. No other paycheck, no matter how large, will fill you with
such pride and accomplishment. Comes with this, is the stark realisation of just how much everything costs.
However, earning our own money can teach us responsibility, budgeting, cash flow and debt management. Earning and spending our own money can also show us a great deal about what we value in life.
3. Gaining Self-Awareness and Independence
This is a big one and often comes in stages rather than a lightning bolt of sudden understanding.
It comes in those moments when we begin to dream of things we would like to achieve, interests and passions that are different from what is expected of us by our parents and society. When we become aware of a value or belief that doesn’t match those of our peers, and that we didn’t know existed within us; or when we realize suddenly that we care less about what we look like or what clothes we are wearing, and more about who we are and how we feel.
For those of us lucky enough, we will come to this self-awareness in our twenties. But for some, it comes later in life as a result of a painful event (losing a job, losing a loved one, divorce, illness or injury), as a sudden realisation that they are not living the life they want, or as an urge to reinvent themselves in some significant way (mid-life crisis).
Self-awareness is a never-ending journey as it relates to our experience in life and when we can bring our attention to this area, we stand to make better life decisions.
4. Realising Your Parents are Real People
For many, it may come as quite a shock to realize that those people whose sole purpose you believed to be taking care of you, suddenly reveal themselves to be actual, whole individuals with hopes, dreams and fears of their own.
For some, it can be quite disconcerting to see their parents in this new light. We tend to put our parents on a pedestal and view them as perfect or even invincible. When we become adults ourselves and we see our parents making mistakes, failing, or experiencing illness, it can shake our very core and make us feel suddenly vulnerable and far too ‘grown up’ .
There may be a valuable lesson for when we realise that our parents were not simply put on this planet to care for and cater for our every needs and that they have their lives of their own very complex and private lives that don’t involve us at all. This can teach us appreciation for all that they have done for us and remind us to do for them in return.
5. Travel and Experiencing a Different Culture
Travelling outside of our home country is often our first experience with an entirely different culture. For some this comes as part of a student exchange programme in the teenage years or during the summer months of third level college.
For others it can come about as a result of moving to a big city from a small town, which is very often the Irish scenario. Perhaps or spending time with a family of a different ethnic or religious background from ours that we meet through education or work.
However, we first experience a way of life that is significantly different from our own, we are forever changed by it if we remain open to it. We gain perspective and appreciation for our own culture and environment, develop understanding, tolerance, and compassion for those different from ourselves, and become inspired by new possibilities for how to live our lives.
6. Dealing with the Death of a Loved One
This is something we must all face at one time or another in our lives, and the first time is always particularly challenging and life-altering.
Whether it’s the loss of a beloved family pet in the childhood years, or the deeper grief of losing a spouse, parent, child in our adult years, our first brush with death on this level can be extremely traumatic as we contemplate the larger questions of our own mortality, the transience of life, and accepting the unknown.
7. Failing and Surviving Disappointment
Experiencing a momentous failure is a life-changer for almost everyone.
The unwanted ending of a relationship or marriage, losing a job we loved, not getting into our chosen university course, or failing to make the cut in our chosen field of the sports or entertainment can be devastating.
When we are forced to accept an outcome, we did not want or choose in spite of our best efforts, it can feel as though we ourselves are not good enough.
Everyone has got to go through this one for the first time. And it can be extremely unpleasant for those raised to believe they are only destined for happiness and success.
When we first learn this through some significant disappointment – not getting that job we wanted, or not making the team, or not catching the eye of the person we adore – it can feel as though the whole world is suddenly against us, and that nothing can be counted on.
Experiencing disappointment is life’s way of teaching us to go with the flow and roll with the punches instead of expecting perfection or trying to control everything and everyone around us. It also teaches us that we are