By Ruby Caballero-Roff
I didn’t pass my driving test for the first time at age seventeen. I didn’t go to university the September I turned 18. I did not have a huge balloon-filled party at age 21. I felt like I had failed, but I hadn’t.
I’ve always found that making progress is far too often linked with age and meeting goals we assume we will reach as we grow older. These goals are then combined and linked to your personal success as a person. Goals can be positive, uplifting, and remarkable, and all these achievements at such a young age give you countless boasting rights. A CV filled with confidence when applying to universities or a bedroom drawer filled with certificates (not just participation awards) — your progress has given you a childhood full of success, but will that follow with a lifetime of judgement?
For the entirety of your life, you’ve been judged on your progress. You were judged when you took too long to take your first steps, say your first words, and get your first A on that maths exam. You were judged when you said you didn’t want to go to university and then when you changed your mind. Eventually, you were judged because you didn’t judge someone else, so you began to judge yourself.
If you’re anything like me, you will make mistakes in decisions you thought would be the best thing for your future, your career, your happiness, and your purpose. Bad decisions that you make in your teenage years can feel as if the world has ended. Trust me when I say that the feeling sticks as you enter your twenties. Your twenties are a decade filled with not only understanding yourself but also understanding progress.
Your own personal progress on the path to adulthood is amazing but unbelievably terrifying as you delve into the depths of self-love and self-loathing. As a student in my early twenties, I am constantly battling with the fear of being behind, screaming at myself for taking a gap year as I graduate a year late. A year behind, a year of achievements lost, a year without progression. Looking at younger students in their freshers glory and regretting the year you took out of university because you could have been them. You could have been on track for your future, but you are sitting in a class knowing you are the oldest, and knowing the teenager next to you is achieving more. After all, their progress is a greater achievement simply because they are younger.
Then, as you mark your attendance for the fourth time that day, it clicks. Your internal monologue pauses slightly, and, in the silence, you contemplate: Who am I competing with? The race is not over because it didn’t start. You started a journey, and you are no longer at the beginning. You have successfully progressed through your adolescent years into early adulthood. The person next to you doesn’t know your story and probably doesn’t care at all. Growing older, I see that there was not a path I failed to walk on; the route I’m on is full of achievements, and taking time out, stopping, and seeing where you started can make you see where you are headed. One day it all seems to fit into place and you realise that in order to succeed, you have to navigate yourself through these situations that we often perceive to be failures.
For now, you may feel as though you didn’t succeed. But just know that progress looks different for everyone.