"I should be married by now, everyone else is" says one. "I should have kids by now, all my friends do" says another. "I should own my own house/be mortgage free/have my retirement plan sorted/be the boss/own my own business by now," says the third. "I should have figured out what my passion is. Why don't I know? Why is it so hard for me to work it out?" says ... almost everybody.
It does seem to appear that other people's lives progress in a far more linear fashion than our own. Job. Uni. Partner. Wedding. Kids. Job. House. Promotion. Those standard-issue round trampoline things that every single family own. The proverbial white picket fence. And so on.
It really can seem as though stuff just falls into place for everyone around us, while we are left with a pile of jigsaw pieces and we can't even see what image they make yet. Some people's lives seem to progress in a manner that seems so much more straightforward than our own.
The thing is, some of us just take a more scenic route in life. And I think that's totally okay. More than okay, in fact. Increasingly okay. Life has become less rigid and controlled the more this millennium has unfolded. You don't have to have the traditional 1950s' 2.4 kids white picket fence set-up to be happy or fulfilled or full of growth, connection, passion and security. Work doesn't have to look like the stereotypical 1980s traditional climb up the corporate ladder to glory. It can be a portfolio career of multiple skills, or a radically different, thoroughly successful second career. Gender roles are being accepted as less rigid as we embrace gender fluidity and let everyone be who they are without apology. This relaxing of the linear expectation is a good thing.
We are living in times where perhaps the scenic route is increasingly the way to go. We might not get there as fast, but we will get there in the end. And where is "there"? There is no "there" of course. We all know that. Our life is a constant, rolling work in progress. We never get it finished. We are never "done".
If there is no "there" then what we really have is the journey. And so in that case, the scenic route might actually be the best route of them all. Twisty-turny. Full of the unexpected. Highs. Lows. Laughs. Horrors. Fear. Love. Grief. Pain. Joy. Linear progression is highly overrated. All our best stories come from the detours we took either on purpose or by complete accident.
Our biggest times of personal growth come from the paths we never in a million years expected to walk down. When life doesn't look like we thought it would look, that forces us to grow as people. If we can learn to see the beauty in the scenic route, rather than the frustration that we are not getting to where we want to be in a more efficient, predictable fashion, our life will be all the richer for it.
A few years ago I walked the Inca Trail. It's an amazing, exhilarating, and tough physical challenge (the altitude is killer). It takes four days. Thing is, you can actually get a train to a nearby town and then take a 20-minute bus ride and boom! you are at Machu Picchu. You can skip that whole four days of high-altitude trekking and sleeping in sub-zero conditions in a tent wearing all your clothes and washing with baby wipes for a couple of hours on a train, then a bus.
But, of course, most people don't do that. They opt, voluntarily, for the far more uncomfortable, epically slower, scenic route. And it is majestically beautiful. It is the stuff of which memories are made. The option is there to skip straight to the destination, but very few people take it. Taking the scenic route is the point. The discomfort is part of the exhilaration. The challenge and grit make the summit, and seeing the sacred city open up beneath you for the first time, even sweeter. The scenic route is literally what it's all about.
I think we would do well to remember this in life, when we are harshly judging our own deliberate or inadvertent scenic route (or those of others). Scenic doesn't necessarily mean easy. But it definitely does not mean it's wrong. Or even that it's too slow. Maybe, just maybe, it's the perfect path we should be taking to the ideal job, career, relationship, family, house, business, body. If we can stop perceiving non-linear choices as circuitous and frustrating, and see them as a part of a scenic route instead - well, won't we enjoy the destination even more when we arrive?
So if all your ducks haven't lined themselves up in an orderly fashion just yet, cut yourself a little slack, and embrace the fact you are taking the scenic route instead. Take a moment, slow down and enjoy the view as you go.