The Social Clock: An Important Timeline Or False Alarm?

social clock

Feeling left behind while all of your friends are off getting married, having kids or being promoted is no joke!

Okay, maybe it’s a joke when it’s in a meme.

I always love a good cat lady meme.

But the reality is, this “joke” touches on a phenomenon that causes us to compare ourselves to others. And triggers us to feel inadequate when we aren’t on the same timeline as everyone else in our lives.

And this social phenomenon is called The Social Clock.

So what exactly is The Social Clock?

The social clock is a false timeline we impose upon ourselves. We receive subliminal messages that tell us where we should be in our lives. These messages are influenced by what what society deems as “normal.”

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,” it’s because the social clock is taking over your thought process.

Back in my 20s, 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 one who was still single while all of my friends were getting engaged. And I was the one who changed career paths when everyone else was getting promotions and earning a lot of money.

Whether I wanted those things or not didn’t matter – everyone else seemed to have them by a certain time, which made me worry that I should too. And because I was so far from it, I felt isolated, and like 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 now I’m grateful for that nagging social clock! Because it forced me to examine my feelings about where I was in my life, and what I truly want.

I learned to acknowledge and accept those feelings. And once I did, I could do something about them. I also started to admit that maybe the expectations I had for my life weren’t 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, you can strip away those mistaken beliefs about the way your life should be, and get in better touch with what it is that you want. 

And there is no better feeling in this world than when your life aligns with who you are.

If you feel pressure to accomplish certain goals by a certain time, I encourage you to explore where that pressure is coming from and why.

A great way to start is by journaling. You can check out this post, and also reflect on these questions:

  • What comes up for me when I think about other people who have these things?
  • Why is it important for me to have this thing by this time?
  • What would it mean if I had these things? What would it mean if I didn’t?
  • How do I feel when I think about having or not having this thing by a certain time?

And lastly, I’m leaving you with one of my favorite quotes by Carl Jung.

“I am what I choose to become.”

So much of my growth in this area came from talking with my therapist. If this is something that you struggle with, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Hi! I'm Paige

Cat Lover, Real Person, and LGBTQIA+ Friendly Psychotherapist in NYC 🌈

therapist williamsburg brooklyn

E-mail me at  if  you have a question you would like me to answer on my therapy blog.

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  1. Pingback: 5 Ways To Build Self-Esteem – Paige Rechtman, LMHC

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