It was up until 2019, the age of the old normal, when most people around the world were leading their life with their own set of deadlines and timelines to achieve success and chase ambitions – be it in their career, relationships or otherwise.
And then, in 2020, the world came to a standstill.
Gradually, as the world battles through a devastating pandemic, the definite boundaries of leading life by a timeline are fading. Those who planned to get their big break in 2020 are now facing one of the biggest job market crises and those who planned a 200 people wedding ended up with a 20 people gathering.
The pandemic has torn apart the ‘ideal society timeline’, revealing the fault lines in the expectations we have of ourselves as part of a society that makes an individual plan their life with the goal of living the ‘good life’ much like a typical ‘American dream’ commercial. You know the one – that dream house with the swimming pool, the perfect corporate job with loads of money and the perfect partner by 25. In short, the ‘good life’.
The funny thing about these timelines is that instead of giving a pattern to our lives and giving us direction when it comes to charting out a life plan, a timeline only ends up rerouting our entire plan as per its schedule. If time dictates that in two years a person would be 25, then it also automatically rings an alarm bell in their head indicating to them to get it together because the ‘deadline’ is approaching. Cross this deadline and that house with the swimming pool, that loaded corporate job and the perfect partner is going to be handed to the smart arse who you always believed to be better than you.
This social construct established to channel our chaotic energies has whittled our dreams and potential down to size and confined it to – as we say in job applications – ‘attainable, realistic and achievable goals’.
While living through a pandemic which has been raging now for more than a year, one thing becomes clear; that death is an inevitable reality. Death is a universal experience which can happen at any time and knock on your door unannounced.
With people as young as 30 losing their lives within a matter of weeks to a deadly virus, apart from leaving us with a strong sense of despair it has also forced us into thinking about the futility of foresight and the transiency of life. This has made those of us who have yet to embark on this journey, as well as those who are unhappy with their present circumstances, ask themselves simple yet nerve-wracking questions: “Why? Why am I doing what I am doing? What if that young 20-year-old in the news who passed away within a week or two of being infected was me?”
As we explore the ‘why’, most of us end up tracing all of our decisions that got us there in the first place – back to that flawless timeline in our head that we needed to follow in the pursuit of the ‘good life’. None of us stopped and thought, “What if I drop dead before I reach the ‘easy street’ of my life while I miserably slave away through my 20s.”
It’s funny, isn’t it? How the distorted commercial timelines which should ideally be helping us find happiness end up making us chase happiness.
If the pandemic has taught us anything worthwhile that we should carry with us till the end of our days, it’s the classic millennial reference, “You do you boo”.
That’s the mantra each of us needs. It is the ultimate catchphrase to shed our pretence of a well-planned future so that we can embrace the uncertainty of the present.
Many of you reading this might still feel that ‘living in the present’ and ‘chasing after your dreams’ is idealistic humbug, which feels better coming from John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. But as the modern plague washes over the human race, bringing with it heavy waves of despair, loss, sorrow and fear, every now and then, it leaves us with new realisations. With each new day as we face the reality of lives that are lost, we gain the ability to value those who live on.
While we learn this harsh lesson from the pandemic, we owe it to ourselves to lead a life we believe in; one that needn’t stick to society’s timeline where we endlessly chase the ‘good life’, but to make what we have in our own lives feel so good that we wouldn’t dream of leading any other.
Adwitya Taneja is a graduate student of English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She is just a girl in her 20s getting her life, just the way she wants it. You can find her on Instagram @adwitya10