I was supposed to be married by now. Joint checking accounts, engagement photos in eclectic frames on the wall.

I was supposed to have two kids or, at the very least, one kid with one on the mind.

I was supposed to have a house, a mortgage, a budget. A coupon drawer.

I was supposed to have a retirement fund. I was supposed to know how retirement funds work.

I have none of these things.

I knew I was going to have none of these things when my childhood sweetheart cheated on me for the (do numbers go up that high?) time. He had been part of the plan, too. We were going to get married, only ever having been with each other. We had looked at rings. Tossed about baby names.

We had made a plan, but then he was gone and I formed a new plan.

Okay, so I won’t be married by twenty-two, I conceded. Instead, I will get my career together. I will follow the trajectory of JC (a Philly-famous actress) and theatres will be demanding that I star in their show. I will work towards a savings account. I will figure out what an IRA is. I may not own a house, but I will definitely have no problems ever paying rent on my apartment. I will date and then I will find The One. I will get married by twenty-five and have a baby by twenty-seven. And, even if I don’t get married, I will become a single mother by twenty-seven, because kids definitely need to happen before I’m (gasp!) thirty.

None of these things happened either. I realized the life of an actor was never for me. I had a savings account, once… I had a lot of problems paying my rent, even more problems paying down medical bills. I had to rely on my parents to buy me groceries every now and again. I definitely never had children, through sperm bank or knowing donor, and I still don’t know what an IRA is.

In my moments of weakness, I lambaste myself over my failed timeline. I never saw my life going this way. On some days, during dark hours, I feel I have failed because I am not the person I wanted to be. I’m dependent on others, I have not made new life, not shared lasting love, and I have never once looked at stock options as a viable source of future income.

If my eighteen-year-old self looked at what I am written down on paper, I know she would have never chosen this path. I know she would have thought, “This woman should have stuck to a timeline.”

I tried, little Samantha. I tried…

 

What’s interesting about this is that over the past month or so, every single one of my friends has contacted me in similar situations with similar thoughts during similar dark days. One was denied a loan for a house, one realized that she couldn’t push off her “we’ll have kids in five more years” much longer, one admitted that his gypsy-artist lifestyle was no longer conducive to his new life goals of home and family. One friend felt that the dream jobs she had been chasing were no longer her dreams. After a failed engagement, another began feeling the pressure from his family to not muck it up this time. To find a nice girl, to settle down, to start a family.

“I thought I would have a house by now,” they said.

“I didn’t think I would be single at thirty,” they admitted.

“I thought things would be different,” they cried.

“My parents…” they would begin. (And here is where it gets really interesting.)

My parents had ____________ at my age, became the gauge at which we looked at our lives. Whether that blank was filled with “kids,” “jobs,” “401ks,” or “mortgages,” it didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that they had already done it by our age and the very fact that we hadn’t meant that we were failures.

Mom and Dad went to school, graduated, went to college, worked, fell in love, got married, started a family, bought a house, and, finally, turned thirty. It seemed tried and true. This was the way it should be done, because this was the way it had been done before.

And, yet, when it came time for the Baby Boomers’ children to follow this path, we went to school, graduated, went to college, and then… failed. All of a sudden the idea of “getting a job” and “owning a house” was no longer a viable option for us.

As The Chicago Tribune points out, “Millennials were one of the groups hit hardest during the Great Recession. They had a hard time finding jobs out of college and saw friends get laid off. They saw family members who had worked at companies for years get laid off and have their pensions eradicated.” In addition, “Millennials were a part of perhaps the greatest real-estate bubble in this century.”

Many of us who went straight to work found that our parents were being laid off. (So much for company loyalty.) Sometimes they were laid off to make room for us, except that we had to take on two to three people’s workloads for less salary than one of the recently fired Boomers. That is, of course, if we were lucky to find full-time work. Many of us are told that our jobs will only require 35 hours in the week. Somehow this always felt like a gross understatement and more like a plan to deprive us of benefits.

Our parents had the middle class as an aspiration. We didn’t. The Pew Research Center stated that for the first time since the 1960s, the majority of people do not live within the middle class ($42,000 – 126,000 per year for a 3-person household).

And so, we wait. We wait to have kids, wait to commit, wait to look into that “For Sale” sign. We are called “lazy,” “entitled,” and “narcissistic.” The Me-Me-Me Generation. And, sure, this stereotype may be based in truth, (Can someone please tell me the point of SnapChat?) but aren’t we really just looking for our place in The American Dream?

 

I was supposed to be married by now. Joint checking accounts, engagement photos in eclectic frames on the wall.

I was supposed to have two kids or, at the very least, one kid with one on the mind.

I was supposed to have a house, a mortgage, a budget. A coupon drawer.

I was supposed to have a retirement fund. I was supposed to know how retirement funds work.

I have none of these things.

On bad days, during dark hours, I cringe that the Me of Today has veered so drastically from the path the Me of Yesterday had laid out for me. On bad days, during dark hours, I say “When my parents were my age they…” On bad days, during dark hours, I struggle to find my place in society. How will others see me? What will my legacy be?

On all of the other hours in all of the other days, I realize that this path was never for me. It couldn’t have been, even if I had wanted it to. I didn’t follow in the footsteps of Philly’s finest actors, because I wasn’t meant to be an actor. I didn’t own a house, because I couldn’t. I didn’t marry my high school sweetheart and I refused to stay at a job that had me take over for three full-time employees with a salary that was $10,000 less than one of those employees and no benefits because I am worth more than that. I don’t have a savings account because I wiped it out to move to London and travel throughout Europe. I don’t have kids because modern medicine allows me to wait. (And so does common sense.) And, no, I still don’t know what a 401k is.

Despite all of this, despite the fact that my timeline has been tossed out the window and run over by a day’s worth of traffic, I am happy. I have a job that supports me and allows me to inspire others. I have friends and family who make me laugh and challenge me to be better than I was the day before. I may not have enough for a savings account yet, but I do have enough to pay the bills. Although I recognize that for a country and its people to thrive, things need to change, I am surviving and I am happy.

Perhaps that’s the only American Dream we need.

 

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