If you're living life going from one socially-acceptable milestone to the other, you're just not doing it right, says Sally Sampson, who marks her life by far more exciting things like sushi and tattoos.
Life has its milestones. We all know that. We spend most of our lives trying to get from one milestone to the next. We plan for them, we work towards them, we dream about them and then finally, when they come to pass, we are usually surprised at how quickly they go by.
I suppose it would be no real shocker to anyone that, over the years, I’ve sort of taken my pick of the milestones that I think are worth looking forward to, focused my attentions there and then completely not given a shit about the rest of them. I’ve also created some of my own along the way, which most people fail to understand as well.
“So, one of the most momentous occasions of your life was trying sushi for the first time?”
I PERSONALLY think that’s a much more interesting milestone than, for example, being kissed for the first time or going to prom or cooking a meal without giving yourself third-degree burns or incinerating part, if not all, of the house. (I’m still working on that one…)
The sushi milestone often involves you having to read directions on how to use chopsticks off the cheap paper packet it comes in and learning that no matter what you do, you should never ever EVER eat that blob of wasabi on the side of your plate. It is about discovering that trying to get food from your plate and into your mouth with chopsticks means you get more food on your lap than anywhere else. And it’s about having a new-found respect for the Japanese because through the sushi experience, you realise that even when they’re eating, they’re working hard at developing their dexterity…bless them.
Such are the milestones that have had any real sort of impact on my life; those moments that have stimulated my senses, made me step out of the box, changed my perspective, and taught me a lesson that went beyond a single framed moment caught in time to be hung on the walls of my home.
I find that the traditional milestones (graduating, getting married, having a baby) are dull. Not that they are dull in themselves…I am just bored with the hype around them. It’s like they have their own PR firms working day-in, day-out to sell and convince me of a product that I’m not even sure I fucking want much less need!
For years, my mum (the chairman of the PR companies, of course) would start sentences with “Once you get a PhD and become a professor at a university…” or “When you are holding your children in your arms, you will understand that…” or “Here’s another reason you need to learn this; it’s so when you get married, you can…”
And all those times, all I could think was ‘Now hold on a fucking second! What is this? The Truman Show? If it is, someone please fire the writers of the show, because they SUCK!’
Yeah, I might decide to go back to university one day and get a PhD and I might have children and/or get married in the future (the very far distant future, perhaps when science has diagnosed the unique form of idiocy that descends on me in the presence of anything with a penis as the mental illness that it is), but I can’t really remember ever expressing that I actually even wanted to do any of those things that everyone has been planning for my whole life.
My dreams have always revolved around wanting to make a difference, in making my time on earth count, in using the gifts that I possess to challenge the status quo and in learning as much as possible, not just through textbooks, but through rich, daring experiences! I’ve always wanted to spend a year in Paris, back-pack across Asia, adopt a child, found a theatre company…and then maybe somewhere along the way get married, IF I find the right person.
I think we focus, as a society, far too much on individual events and forget about what it is to have vision, long-term goals and positive determined attitudes that will actually get us through the hardships of life with a smile on our faces. So many of us get boxed into what we’re meant to do and never really do what we want to do. And that, I believe, more than anything else, fucks us up.
I see it on the faces of family members and older friends. I see frown lines that are now not drawn, but carved and etched forever into their faces. I see those lines grow deeper with every hair that turns grey. I see a melancholic longing when they search through the photo albums of their youth. I see bitterness, I see anger and I see a poisonous fear. A fear of it all crashing down, a fear of how much of it didn’t really count for anything and a fear of it all ending in a moment.
And I know this reads like a cheesy inspirational chapter out of The Secret or something, but I’m okay with being cliché, just this once, because it’s the truth and may I be damned if I’m going to be anything but the blatant and frank BITCH you’ve always known me to be.
My 23rd birthday was another milestone in my life, because on that day, I took the decision to do something that I’d always wanted to do. It was something that I had spent years mustering the courage for and I did it despite my mother’s multiple warnings that she was going to disown me (and no, I’m not talking about losing my virginity…)!
On my 23rd birthday, I woke up early and with a trusted friend at my side to hold my hand, I went out and got a tattoo.
I’d always wanted one, but I’d always been scared of it hurting or of my family kicking me out of the house. Nonetheless, on that day, I decided to live MY life and stop living the life everyone else had planned for me, even in that small way. I shut out the voices of my relatives telling me that I would get bored of it, that it reflected poorly on my image as an educated female and that it would be used against me when I applied for a job or when I entered the professional sphere, in general, and I fucking went for it anyway!
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that I didn’t get it on my hip or on my back or somewhere that I could hide it either; I got it on my wrist! And, as it turns out, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, I’ve never been bored of it and my parents didn’t kick me out of the house…in fact, they didn’t say very much at all. And I love my tattoo more and more every day!
Milestones are also, for some reason I can’t quite comprehend fully, married to the importance of something happening for the first time! Now this, I find to be quite the pressure cooker situation because of the insane burden it places on our shoulders to GET SHIT RIGHT IMMEDIATELY when, let’s be honest, our first time doing ANYTHING is often clumsy and quite the disaster from the get-go. Think about it…
The first time you walk.
The first time you talk.
The first time you dress yourself.
The first time you give a speech.
The first time you drive.
The first time you slow dance.
The first time you kiss someone you like.
The first time it goes beyond kissing…
The list goes on…and feel free to add to it yourself! I bet you’ll find that all those things were probably better the second time round and then more and more so after that, the more practice you got.
For me, I first graduated with a BA in Mass Communication, but I was prouder of myself when I got my Masters in Acting (to my mother’s dismay) because that was what I had always wanted to do and study. The first time I had to give a speech in front of my school was exhilarating, but as the years have gone by and I’ve developed my communication skills, my increased ability to connect to an audience has thrilled me more than any initial head-rush I got as a rookie taking centre stage. And I know you probably want to know about my first kiss as well, but contrary to popular belief, BITCHES don’t kiss and tell anymore than ladies do!
I think I’ve made my point, but I suppose perhaps, American philanthropist, Rose Kennedy summarises everything that I’ve been going on about much more concisely in this one sentence:
“Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments."
Don’t let anyone decide which moments of your life matter and which don’t. Define what milestones matter to you and work towards those! And that’s my final say on the matter…
How’s that for cheese? Yep, I know! The Secret can suck it!