Milestone or millstone? Have you reached these key life stages?
As a new survey sets out when we should be reaching key life stages, two of our top writers reveal if they’re keeping up or lagging behind
Life is all about having a plan, or at least, that is what the latest findings from a survey would have us believe. Never mind a five-year deal, a new study has revealed there are 25 milestones which we should all be aspiring to including marriage by 27, owning your first home aged 29 and achieving a £40,000-a-year income by the time you hit 37.
From a first kiss at the tender age of 15 to early retirement at 60, the poll has your life and all its most significant achievements mapped out.
These life goals, though may strike a hollow note with many 30 to 40-year-olds in Northern Ireland, many of whom are still struggling to get onto the property ladder and definitely aren’t banking a £40k salary, never mind jetting off on two luxury holidays a year in their mid-30s.
We also talk to four successful women with busy careers and family lives to match to see if they had a plan of action at a young age.
A document entitled The Ultimate Guide To Life was published this week and, of course, my curiosity was instantly piqued by the title alone. An "Ultimate Guide", eh, to nothing less than life itself? Blimey, what a grandiose claim.
Was this some kind of philosophical magnum opus written by an illuminati of the greatest thinkers of our time exploring the very purpose of humanity? Er ... no. It was actually a survey about spending habits.
Hmmmm. I was cynical, but I persevered and read the whole thing, in case it offered any illuminating ideas about how I ought to proceed in my own life.
After all, at my current crossroads, I'm open to any suggestions.
The results of the survey are drawn up like a kind of snakes-and-ladders type map of a typical successful and fulfilled life with the "milestones of life and the age we should achieve them".
I decided to play the game, matching my own life with their ideal one.
1. Age 15 - your first kiss. Mine was at 16, so I'm already a slacker before it's even started. Can I go back and snog a random boy at the bus-stop? No? Okay, move on. Maybe I can make up for lost time in the next question?
2. Age 19 - your first full-time job. Er, no again. I chose to continue my education at university and so I didn't get a full-time job until after I'd graduated at 23. So does that make me a failure? Incidentally, there's no mention of education at all in this survey, which seems odd.
3. Age 20 - pass your driving test. Nope. Did mine when I was 24. Wrong again.
4. Age 21 - first holiday with friends. Oh, God. I never had a holiday with friends. I'm starting to feel like a complete loser.
5. (I hardly dare look) Age 22 - Move out. At last. Something I actually did ahead of schedule. I moved out at 19 to go to uni and never moved back. That should buy me a few points, surely?
6. Age 23 - first holiday with a partner. No partner, no holiday. But I did have three A-levels, an Art Foundation diploma and a BA Hons degree. Nevertheless, I'm starting to feel like a total flop.
7. Age 24 - get engaged and rent with partner. Nope, I was still young, free and single, but I did have a job by then, at last. Less than minimum wage, like, but still.
8. Age 27 - get married and buy house. Hallelujah. Yes, I did this. I'm not a total failure then.
9. Age 28 - have first child. D'oh! This didn't happen for a couple of years. Perhaps I should have tried harder?
10. Age 31 - have second child. No, I didn't. Not until I was 34.
11. Age 32 - buy a brand new car. Didn't manage this until I was late-30s.
12. Age 34 - become a manager at work. Actually, I gave up work and became a full-time mum, which, in survey-land, doesn't even compute.
13. Now this is starting to get ridiculous. Not a single one of the remaining life goals have I achieved. No, I didn't buy a second home at age 36. No, I didn't start enjoying two holidays per year by age of 37. No, I didn't - ever - become a manager at work earning upwards of £40,000, buy property to let, or start my own consultancy.
At this juncture, I screwed the survey up and tossed it in the bin.
So what did I do between the ages of 40 and 50?
Well, for a start I got divorced and there is no mention of that in this idealistic life plan.
Then I struggled bringing up two kids and getting myself back on the career ladder after 10 years of full-time mothering, paying the mortgage, putting food on the table, navigating my two sons through college, being the best mum, sister, daughter, auntie and friend I can possibly be and, basically, keeping sane at the same time.
So, has my life thus far been a failure?
Well, based on the materialistic ideals of this survey, then yes, it has. A complete and utter failure. But before I go outside and shoot myself, let's just think about who commissioned this survey.
It's a company that offers instant loans of up to £5,000 and charges 49.9% interest.
Is it possible, do you think, that these guys have an ulterior motive in making readers feel like under-achieving failures? I think so, don't you?
Alex Kane: Mine has been a life without timetables or boxes to be ticked
I usually take all surveys with an enormous pinch of salt: and that’s because the people they survey seem to be so at variance with the realities and experiences of everyday life that I’m pretty sure most of them don’t, in fact, set foot outside their own front door.
Amigo Loans, for example, has surveyed 2,000 people aged between 16-65 and produced a list of the milestones we should have hit at various ages.
According to them the best age to have your first child is 28, followed by a second one (no mention of any others, by the way) at 31.
But then they say that 32 is the best age to buy a brand new car. Are they serious? At that point you would have two children under the age of three and my experience of young children in the back of a car is that they are wrecking machines.
When they’re not throwing up over your headrest or smearing yoghurt across the windows, then they’re pouring juice into the storage unit between the front seats while quietly peeing into their car seat.
By the time you’re hitting 39, this survey says you should have moved into a new home, be enjoying two holidays a year and be thinking of buying a property to rent. What world do these people inhabit? Have they any idea how much it costs to keep two adults and two children?
Are they aware that somebody needs to look after the children when they’re not at school? Do they not understand that an awful lot of parents are already living in second houses because they’ve separated and are living with someone else? And often because they’re not actually living the lives they want to live.
I’m approaching 60 and my life is nothing like the nonsensical, fantastical life set out in these sorts of surveys. My life has been a bumpy life. It has been a lived life.
It has been a life with an almost reckless disregard for norms and conventions.
It’s a life in which each new difficulty and challenge is embraced — albeit not always with gusto — and waltzed with. It’s a life, which has had huge sorrow and setback along the way, but it’s also a life in which sheer, undiluted, unexpected happiness can burst through the door at any moment.
And whatever comes, or whenever it comes, I deal with it. Mine has been a life without timetables, or boxes to be ticked.
I’m an old dad. I love being an old dad, because I have time to be with the girls. I love being able to pick up Lilah-Liberty from school and discuss whether she had roast beef or camel poo for lunch. I love being there to hear the stories and ideas that come tumbling out as she tries to compress her day into three sentences.
I love being with her as she tries to coax me into buying yet another 10p mix.
I love doing her homework with her. In other words, I love doing all the things with her that I wouldn’t have been able to do had I had her when I was 28 and been too busy working to watch her grow up.
We don’t live in a big house. Our car is covered with bumps and scrapes.
I’m not looking at second properties. I’ll probably not be able to retire until I’ve one foot in the grave.
And do you know something? I don’t give a damn about any of that. I am happier than I have ever been with Kerri, Megan, Lilah-Liberty, Bo and Wink (of course, the survey doesn’t mention the joy of pets, either).
My advice to youngsters: don’t lead the life others think you should lead and don’t spend it ticking boxes that don’t really mean all that much.
Your kids and family matter more than the new car, or the bigger house.
If you live a life in which the yardsticks for success are determined by surveys and rat-racers, then you’ll only look back and realise how much fun and how many simple pleasures you missed along the way.
Four businesswomen reveal if they’ve hit those goals...
Grainne Maher (40), a milliner and jewellery designer with an online business, will open her first retail store at The Spires Centre, Belfast next month. She lives in Belfast with her husband, Ciaran (48) and their children Sorcha (10), Cuan (7) and Seadhna (6). She says:
I am a driven person — and I don’t know whether luck plays a part in this or not — but I have a lovely husband and three beautiful children, and I run my own business.
I have always wanted to be the best I can be rather then having set actual goals. I have the house and I’m building up my business each day, but I’m actually quite a laid back person and tend to go with the flow, but I can be really driven in the right conditions.
I’m very happy with the choices I have made. As an artist, it is all about creative and excelling in your art, so it’s not necessarily about the mercenary side of life. My artistic goals are to travel the world and show my work wherever people want to see it and share that positivity.”
Vicki Caddy (43), head of PR at ASG, is married to Grant Caddy (43), a consultant at the Ulster Hospital. They live in Holywood with their children, Rory (17), Elliott (15), Faya (12) and Romy (9). She says:
Having always been very career focused, I never set down a list of achievements in any order time-wise. I knew I wanted to do a professional job and studied Law at Newcastle-upon-Tyne University.
I was aware I would probably never practise law, as I fell in love with advertising and marketing. I had a summer job at ASG, so from the age of 18 I was committed to pursuing a career in this field, which offered the excitement I felt law lacked. I was hooked on advertising and marketing from the start — it was dynamic, fun and high energy.
I met Grant when I was 16, and we started thinking about a long-term relationship when we were both in our 20s.
We got married when I was 24 after a three-year engagement, during which time we saved up a deposit for our first home. We hoped to have children fairly quickly, and it was never the case that we would establish our careers first then try for a family in our 30s. I always wanted to have children and have been very lucky to have had the flexibility in my career to do that.
We have always been focused on our careers and worked hard to achieve everything that we have now, and equally parenthood is important to us, too.”
Rachael Harriott (38), owner of Harriott Communications, lives in Belfast with her husband Craig Bishop, who works for Royal Mail. They have two children, Jake (12) and Evvie (7). She says:
My mum was an entrepreneur, so I always wanted to work for myself. She decided to run her own business when she was expecting me. Coincidentally, I was expecting my daughter Evvie when I made the decision to set up my PR business.
My mum was a window dresser before setting up her own speciality doll-making business. Running my own company has always been in my head, but I never put myself on a deadline. I set up Harriott Communications five years ago and it was important that the timing was right for my business.
Having children didn’t enter my head when I was younger. I met Craig when I was 22 and we got married when I was 30. Marriage and a family were never something I was in a rush for — when you meet the right person then things just happen naturally, it was never something I planned for — it just evolved.
I certainly wouldn’t kick myself if I didn’t achieve something by the time I was a certain age. Things happen when they are supposed to.”
Carrie Neely (40), director of Art Loves Consultancy, is married to Rob Grundy (40). They live in Belfast with children Jaxon (7), Marley (6) and Nansi (3). She says:
When I was in my early 30s I created an image bank on my computer of all the goals that I wanted to achieve — and they all happened within the next two years. There was a husband, a house, a car, a business, an award for my business and another child — my first son Jaxon was just born.
I decided to do it after I read The Secret which is a self-help book which gives you advice in how to achieve your dreams, and it worked for me. I got married to Rob in 2010, after Marley was born. I think the concept outlined in The Secret does help you focus on what it is you really want in life. It is also important to be positive — I think that it is one of life’s secrets. I believe like attracts like, and it makes sense to me that if you think in a positive way, positive things will come your way.”