Feeling Left Behind? It’s Not You; It’s The Social Clock

Last week I turned 37. And I must say, it is my favorite age yet. After thinking more deeply about why, I’ve realized it’s because my thoughts and feelings are no longer controlled by the tick-tock of the social clock. Instead, they gently sway with the beat of my own drum. Which is much more pleasant to listen to, IMO.

So what exactly is the social clock?

The social clock is a made up timeline that we impose upon ourselves, about where we should be in our lives, that is governed by societal “norms.”

So, when thoughts pop up in your head, like you “should be married by 30” or you “should have kids by 32” or you “should own a house by now” it’s because the social clock is taking over your thought process.

Back in my 20s and also my early 30s, the social clock was ticking very loudly in the forefront of my mind. It was not great for my anxiety or my self esteem, to say the least.

I was the friend who was still single while all of my friends from high school and college were getting engaged. And I was the friend who changed career paths and was just starting out when everyone else seemed to be getting promotions.

What’s funny is that I didn’t necessarily want those things right then and there. One day, sure. But the fact that everyone else seemed to have them by a certain time, while I felt so far from it, made me feel very isolated. And that something was wrong with me.

The narrative that took over my brain was “I’m being left behind.”

But looking back, the more truthful narrative was “I’m carving my own path.” 

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I think I’m kind of grateful for that nagging social clock?? Because it forced me to examine my feelings about where I was in my life. 

And I learned I either had to accept those feelings, do something about them, or admit that maybe some of the expectations I had for my life weren’t actually my expectations, but someone else’s.

Learning to quiet the tick-tock of the social clock will help you to better hear the sound of your own voice.

Over time, I have been able to strip away those mistaken beliefs about the way my life should be, and get in better touch with what it is that I want. 

The social clock had me thinking that by my 37th birthday, I should be married, with a couple of kids. I should be living in a house in the suburbs, in a director level role, managing a team of employees. (And hey, if this is you, and it’s where you want to be, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Go you!)

But instead, at 37, I live with my partner in a rented apartment in Brooklyn. We aren’t married, but we’re consciously committed. I don’t have kids, but I do have a cat, plus a bunch of adorable nieces and nephews that I love to pieces. And, I love the work that I do as a therapist.

Of course, my life isn’t perfect. And every day is not hunky-dory. Not even close.

But what feels so good about my life is that it’s just so me. And there is no better feeling in this world than when your life is aligned with who you are.

If you’re feeling pressure to accomplish certain goals by a certain time (like I did for so long), I encourage you to explore where that pressure is coming from and why.

You can start by asking yourself:

  • Why is it important for me to have this thing by this time?
  • What are the feelings that come up for me when I think about having or not having this thing by a certain time?
  • What do I think (honestly) about other people who do or don’t have these things by a certain time?
  • What would it mean for me and my life if I had these things? What would it mean if I didn’t?

So much of my growth in this area came from talking with my therapist about the pressure and fear I felt, and why I had it. If this is something that you struggle with, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

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