“And I’m just sitting here, eating chips.”
I was eight and she was seven. We instantly became friends, I really don’t know how or why. We were both fairly new to school and we both had weird names, so I guess friendship was inevitable. One day we were sitting together eating lunch, and we had a conversation I’ll never forget.
It started as one of those typical conversations kids our age used to have, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As if this conversation happened only yesterday, I hear myself say the words before I even really think about it, it was always the same answer, “I want to go to uni and become a nurse.”
“Well, I want to get married and be a housewife before I’m 21 just like my mum,” she said, and I’m pretty sure I had choked on my Nutella sandwich. Even at eight years old, I couldn’t believe what I had heard. How could this girl – my new best friend – have life priorities so completely different to me? She wanted a relationship, I wanted career. Although my mother taught me to never judge people, I was judging her, and I was judging her hard.
According to psychologist Melanie Schilling our life priorities were so different thanks to our mums and dads. “What we prioritise in life is very much influenced by our parents in our childhood, then by our teachers, mentors and friends in later life,” she told The Newsroom.
I can relate to this – my parents had always drilled in my head that going to uni and having a career was essential. What was hard for me to understand at eight years old was that not everyone was raised the same way I was. Not everyone’s parents taught them the same things my parents taught me. I kind of just figured all parents around the world followed the same instruction booklet that came with having children (news flash: children do not come with an instruction manual).
Fast forward to now, 12 years later. We’re still best friends and I take my hat off to her, she did indeed get married before 21. Hey, at least she’s made her dream come true, right?
But while I thought I’d be surrounded by my friends at uni, it’s become one of those times where everyone around me seems to be walking down the same pathway and I’m the only one who turns around and walks in the opposite direction.
You see, my two best friends are married, and then everyone else is engaged or getting into serious relationships.
They are constantly asking me when it’s my turn. Then when I tell them I have no idea, they say, “But aren’t you a little bit worried? I mean… you’re 20 years old and you’re not even seeing anyone?”
Yes, I am 20 years old and no, I’m not seeing anyone. Nor am I worried about never getting married. Yes, I can survive the day without being in a relationship, and quite frankly I don’t have a single problem with it.
If you’re like me at the moment, whether it be a similar situation, or if all your friends have figured out what they want to do with their lives and you’re still in the dark, take a deep breath and don’t stress because it’s completely normal. Just because your friends seem to be getting on with their lives, don’t be discouraged to get a move on with yours!
Ms Schilling encourages you to take the reigns of your own life. “As adults we have the opportunity to choose our own path, we need to take responsibility for our own choices and own the consequences.” she said. “It’s very important to become clear about your own goals and ambitions in life. It’s easy to become influenced by friends and family, especially when you may feel a little ambivalent about your own direction.”
I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life and had a clear goal in mind – although what I decided to study has changed dramatically since I was eight, especially since I discovered I literally faint at the sight of blood. Even though I don’t feel the pressure to do what my friends are doing, I know there might be some people out there who probably do.
Ms Schilling gives us some tips on how we can get our lives sorted. She suggests we should invest some time and energy in defining where you want to be in 5 and 10 years, set some goals and most importantly start taking action. “This will help you become more committed to your own path and less influenced by others,” she said.
One thing that gets me through the day without a mental breakdown about not being in the same stages of life as my friends, is the fact that I hardly compare myself to them. And you shouldn’t do that to yourself either! Like Ms Schilling states, according to the Social Comparison Theory, “When we compare ourselves to others, we create unnecessary stress and anxiety for ourselves.”
How do we stop from comparing ourselves to our circle of friends? “By becoming clear and committed to our own goals and life direction, and finding people to support us in this direction, the pressure to compare ourselves to others will diminish,” she said.
So there you have it, your friends are moving away and leading different lives but you’re not left behind. Your life isn’t necessarily not going anywhere, it’s just going in a different direction. Go do your own thing, and while you may compare yourself to others, like Ms Schilling says, “It doesn’t have to rule your life.” – Heba Dandachi
Top photo by Heba Dandachi and Rebecca Hopper.