If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably had an imaginary timeline of how your 20s would go. Graduate from school, travel the world, write the next greatest novel, get engaged, and maybe have a kid by age 30. The pressure to fulfill this timeline can be intensified by social media and seeing everyone share their successes online. While it can be inspiring to see young people accomplish their goals, it can also be a little disheartening when things in your life aren’t exactly going to plan.
That’s why I’ve started looking for role models who took a bit longer to experience all of the marks I feel pressured to hit in my 20s. Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is one of them. While we know her as the accomplished actress, humanitarian and royal family member she is today, it’s important to point out that all her professional and personal successes didn’t just magically happen overnight in her 20s. In fact, everything we really know and love her for all started happening in her 30s.
For instance, Meghan didn’t start playing her life-changing role as Rachel Zane on Suits until age 30. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for her to make it as as a woman of color actress in Hollywood. That takes patience and perseverance, yet here I am at the age of 23 already feeling like a failure for not landing my dream job yet.
Data shows that I’m not alone in this feeling; a 2018 study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin suggests that young people are setting “increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves.” Part of that pressure stems from comparing ourselves to others on social media, and that perfectionism is necessary for us to feel validated.
Another common dilemma that people with uteruses deal with in their 20s is hearing how their “biological clock is ticking,” meaning it’s now or never to have kids. Seeing as the average age for first-time mothers in the U.S. is 26 years old, it’s comforting to see Meghan have her first child at the age of 37 and pregnant with her second at age 39 (especially when I’m living in my childhood bedroom during a global pandemic with a non-existent dating life).
While having a family is something to be proud of, Meghan’s professional experience is what I’m most inspired by. She ran a successful lifestyle blog called The Tig in her mid-30s. On top of that, she also pursued multiple fashion endeavors, spoke at the UN Women Conference, and tackled other commitments as a feminist — and that’s all before she had access to royal resources.
I was reminded of another reason why I look up to Meghan after she sat down with Oprah. During the eyeopening interview, she opened up about her mental health problems and suicidal thoughts. It takes a lot of courage to admit you need help, even without a platform as large as hers and the inevitable pushback she receives. Meghan talking about these vulnerable feelings continues to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. Hopefully her words can make others feel less nervous to open up about their own struggles. Meghan’s resilience in the face of constant scrutiny is something to be inspired by. It’s also a crucial reminder for me and the millions of others who watched to seek help when faced with these problems, whether it be to a family member, friend or mental health professional.
It can be easy to put a lot of pressure to follow a certain timeline in your 20s. Much of this is due to social media and societal standards to which we’ve grown accustomed. That’s why it’s been helpful for me to remind myself of Meghan’s “unconventional” timeline and know that I don’t have to have it altogether in my 20s. Even with the hardships she’s been faced with recently, Meghan is still working out what she wants her life to look like because there’s no deadline for these types of decisions.
I’m going to remember this next time I’m feeling bad about my living situation or my lack of accomplishments. That means putting less pressure on myself and making the most of moments I’m living right now. What’s the rush? Meghan didn’t get on Suits until age 30, marry her true love until age 36, or start having kids until age 37 — and her life appears to be just beginning.