I fell victim to the ‘toxic career timeline’ and it filled me with self-doubt

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I fell victim to the ‘toxic career timeline’ and it filled me with self-doubt


I remember the first time I cried because I didn’t reach the career timeline that I wanted to by a certain age. It was my 25th birthday, I wasn’t at the stage I thought I would be, and it felt like everyone around me was hitting their goals and getting endless promotions. What was I doing wrong?

I’ve always been ambitious, perhaps it’s the older sister in me, but it’s come with as many benefits as it has drawbacks. The latter being the immense pressure I put on myself to achieve these ambitions at the age I thought I should.

On reflection, I now see that I fell victim to a ‘toxic timeline’, or the idea that we are trying to achieve milestones too quickly.

In fact, a new study from Arden University has found that the average age for Brits to reach the peak of their career is 46, and that over two-fifths (38%) of us wish we were more successful, and 34% are too critical of ourselves.

The study also found that, due to toxic social norms, many Brits expect to achieve these milestones in their twenties and early thirties, when in reality this success usually comes later on.

“This toxic mindset of feeling that we need to have achieved our biggest life milestones by the time we hit our thirties is crippling our self-worth and happiness,” Dr Sophie Ward, Deputy Head of School of Psychology at Arden University, says.

“It’s likely to be fuelled by the increasing use of social media where people post their life highlights, creating extra pressure for those who are yet to hit these milestones. This is resulting in an overly self-critical nation. We need to move away from the idea that we need to be a certain age in order for our achievements to be valid and therefore, celebrated.”

This internal self-criticism was certainly something I experienced. As peers around me took on impressive new job titles, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I just wasn’t good enough, that there was a reason why I wasn’t achieving the career goals I set out to. The self-doubt was crippling at times, and the constant comparison to others did nothing to quell these doubts.

It’s not just in our careers that we can fall into a toxic timeline, but all other aspects of our life as well. The research found that most Brits expect to buy their first home by age 28, when the actual average age for first home ownership is 34. They also expect to get married by 29, when the average age is 32.

“As a society, we fixate on timelines and when we ‘should’ do major life events, from completing education, to buying a house, to being financially stable,” Dr Ward says. “If we don’t complete these events by those set deadlines, we fear we’re falling behind or failing in life. As a result, we end up putting extra, unnecessary pressure on ourselves.



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