Counting Down to 30: Waiting for “The American Dream”

Countdown Banner3All of my life, I’ve heard the steps we’re “supposed” to take in our 20s:

1. Graduate from college
2. Get that job and make/save money
3. Get married
4. Buy a house
5. Start a family

This is what many people call the modern American Dream and it’s something that I’ve heard since at least high school. Society as a whole tells us these steps are obtainable and should happen at a certain age for every “normal” or “average” person, but especially by the time you’ve hit 30 years old. You’ll have your life all sorted out, we’re told.

Obviously (and we all know it), this instructional guide of the American Dream isn’t reality in most cases at least not anymore. I’m guessing it was a bit more realistic for our parent’s generation, when they didn’t have to have at least a bachelor’s degree to be hired into an entry-level position, weren’t attending school for an average of 5 to 6 years, and when women’s place was to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I’m not saying it was easier; I’m saying it didn’t take so much time to complete each step toward independent “adult life.”

I can’t believe I’m going to link to an MTV page, but this article actually explains this topic quite well and makes some points I agree with.

But these steps are still very much in our face today and you might even call it expected. I can’t speak for men, but as a woman, often people wonder why you’re not married or have kids by a certain age. ‘Cause, you know, it’s really what we should have done by now or you must have a problem. Sigh.

My Facebook feed shows me the 5-step standard I mentioned fits about 90% of my friends who are of similar age. But what about that left over 10% a group in which I’m included? I’m only 2 and a half steps in and I’m 29. I should at least be nearing step 4 by now, right?!


(Courtesy of Eastbrook Homes)

Start thinking like that for too long and you might panic. I have.

I see that 90% of friends going through life, getting engaged and then married, having children and buying their first home (maybe not in exactly that order, but you get my drift). Some others even fit in a master’s or doctorate degree in there. Hell, half of that 90% had all of or most of these steps complete by their 25th birthday.

And then here I am. Seven years after graduating college and have gone from stepping stone job to stepping stone job, not being compensated for what I know I’m worth, and not given chances for better positions with other companies. I’ve gone through a couple of long-term relationships which were close to engagement, though didn’t work out in the end. I’m nowhere even the slightest bit close to owning a home, even if I did want to put roots down in the area in which I live now (I don’t). And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how I feel about step #5. That one doesn’t really apply to me.

Back to thinking too long and panicking. You start freaking out that you’re way behind where you “should” be in life, and irrationality takes over. You turn on yourself, begin doubting and feel the immediate urge to keep up with the Joneses. “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have all of this? I’m so far behind. When will I get there? Maybe I’m not good enough for a better job and I’ll be stuck doing this and making these wages for the rest of my life. I’ll never find ‘the one.’ If I/he/she hadn’t screwed up that relationship I’d be married/engaged right now.”
And sometimes you get angry or jealous that your friends are where you believe you should be by now, especially if they’re younger than you and making double the pay in a similar career.
Apart from anger and freaking out, thinking about the accomplishments you “should” have can be a black pit of despair and suck all motivation of seeking a better job, a significant other, etc. You begin to believe since it hasn’t happened by now, it won’t happen, so trying to get there is futile. Complacency Is Dangerous.
Or worse, you start rushing. Settling into something you know isn’t exactly right, because you feel you need to get at that next step.

Frost Quote 2I confess, not being where I thought I’d be at age 29 is often extremely hard to swallow. Not because I’m jealous, think I’m better than anyone or believe I deserve it, but because I really want to have a job where I can actually save money, get married, and own a house.

I know those steps will happen when the time is right. I’ve just never been a patient girl.

Let’s open this up for more conversation. What do you think of “The American Dream” steps I mentioned and why do you think it’s still somewhat a big expectation for people to have earlier in life? Are you past your 20s and stuck somewhere in this list? If so, does it bother you?

Even general comments are welcome! Thanks for reading.


Other posts in this series:

Throwback Thursday Edition

*Time clock graphic designed by Justin McKee

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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8 Responses to Counting Down to 30: Waiting for “The American Dream”

  1. jacheree says:

    I have written about this exact thing! 🙂 I’m in that 10% with you. At one point I had step #3 down, but for the last 4 years I’ve been back to single/unmarried. I finally got #2 down about a year and a half ago, but I’m not close to #4 yet and I’m constantly torn with #5–wanting it to happen soon, then being fine with it not happening for a few years.

    When I got divorced and moved to Phoenix, I gave up thinking I knew what life had in store for me. I gave up believing that my plans were 100% going to happen. And it was liberating! Because you just never know where life is going to take you! And I had to accept the fact that my journey took me down a different path than a lot of people I know. We all have a different journey. 🙂 Some get married at 20, have 4 kids by 26, stay in (or near) their home town and live a perfectly happy life. Others never get married, adopt a kid themselves at 37 and live a perfectly happy life. Still others get married at 33, never have children, and live a perfectly happy life. The options are endless! We just have to learn to appreciate the journey. 😀

    • Karin says:

      Great thoughts on the subject. I agree – it’s the best to not expect anything, though that’s so hard sometimes! It’s definitely a struggle.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Martha says:

    From one who didn’t get married until mid-30’s, have children until her mid to late 30’s, who has not gone the path of most, by any means, and soon will be 60, …and spends her days with those who are 80, 90, and even over 100 years… Here are my thoughts of this journey we call life, and of the measure of age… oh, the wisdom of these who have gone so much further in a different time & even culture, whose lives are more deeply absorbed in the spiritual realm as their physical wears thin & fragile… Oh, their wisdom!! Here are my thoughts…

    “The American Dream” is a state of mind, not a reality. It’s just that… a “dream”. Everyone’s life is different, unique, and there are reasons we all go through our individual life journeys, no matter the age. Age is not a goal to achieve, nor a dream to be realized, but age is just an avenue along life’s path. Truly find the blessings in each & every age along the way (even through the toughest of life’s paths)…it becomes steeper in the uphill climb the greater the age, but the view of wisdom becomes more magnificent the higher we go. Appreciate your individual journey’s view the higher you go, and wisdom will go with you, not “dreams”.

  3. Stacey says:

    OK, first of all your “parents generation” was the equality generation – following women’s lib!! Women went to college, ran marathons, lived and traveled independently, and got jobs in large corporations. No one walking around pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen! 🙂 Maybe you were thinking of your Grandparents’ generation?
    As you know, I didn’t get married until I was almost 30 – and still had children, worked full-time, part-time and had stay-at-home-with-babies time. I have owned several houses, lived in 4 different towns/cities, watched my children grow up and move on. Life is an adventure – I am heading toward 60 and never sure what the next year may bring! It is all about enjoying your current situation and doing whatever you can to make that time the best it can be. Contentment is not complacency; life does not stand still. Embrace it, trust it and don’t forget to “ask, seek and knock” – He will respond!

    • Martha says:

      Stacey, I’m so glad you commented regarding her “parents generation” thoughts… I, too, was a bit taken aback by that. And your perspective (as was mine above yours) to focus on the life that is ours now (present tense)…. Each age is different for every individual, and life’s experiences are to be grasped at the moment, and greater insight & wisdom will be the reward along our life’s journeys! And to frame it all in with the knowledge that these journeys, no matter the place along the path, have purpose, and have a constant Companion in the One who gave us our lives & our purpose in the first place. If we walk it without Him, ours will falter & we become lost along the way. 🙂

      • Karin says:

        Alright, forget the barefoot and pregnant comment in regard to my parent’s generation. But the other things I mentioned in that same sentence are true!

  4. mattingm says:

    I love this post, Karin! I think it’s my favorite one you’ve written thus far 🙂 I’m excited to see where your journey takes you!

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