Unfortunately, there are no puberty-adjacent symptoms that correspond with getting your life together. You don’t start growing hair under your arms when it’s time to quit trying to make it as an actor, and you probably don’t start compulsively masturbating when it’s time to buy your first house, settle down and start a family. (Or maybe you do? You be you, guy.)
“I don’t think there’s an on/off switch for shit togetherness,” writes one redditor. “It’s a gradual thing, and it’s just about following a reasonable trajectory towards goals that are compatible with my own. So, for example if you’re 27, dead broke, a million roommates and no car that’s fine if you’re in grad school or working at an entry level job that will bring you closer to your career goals, but not so fine if you’re bouncing around aimlessly with no plan in mind.”
But even if the trajectory of having your life in order isn’t linear, there are at least some baseline checkpoints, especially when considering your finances and your career. For example…
Responding to the question posted on job search site Indeed, “What age should you be settled into your ideal/stable career?,” one person wrote that they knew of only a few people past the age of 40 and 50 who changed careers. “One was my high school biology teacher. He went from teaching to becoming a minister. Another was a friend of my dad. Went from being an accountant to working as a mechanic.”
The point being that, if you really think about it, once you hit a certain age there’s less wiggle room for trying your hand at, say, acting or becoming a doctor, than there was in your 20s. But while that age may seem fairly obvious once you hit 40, according to Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, that doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, Carstensen told Inc. that she thinks people should begin their full-time careers when they’re about 40. Her argument: Less burnout and longer lifespans.
“In our current model, ‘You never get a break. You never get to step out. You never get to refresh.’ We go at this unsustainable pace, and then pull the plug,” Carstensen told Quartz. That system doesn’t work, she says, “because it fails to recognize all the other demands on our time,” reports Inc.
Still, there’s no denying that most people rely on the youthful energy of their 20s and 30s to get themselves ahead professionally. “The younger person often has no kids and fewer personal responsibilities, so they can take risks and work for that startup company,” Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, told U.S. News & World Report. “They can work at a place without health care, or with health care, but no dental insurance. They can hop from job to job. But younger people don’t just have less to tie them to a job — they also have more energy.”
Admittedly, this section probably deserves its own article, considering there are different financial milestones for every age. According to The Balance, by age 30, your financial foundation should include eliminating student debt, saving for a down payment on a home and securing life insurance (pauses to laugh hysterically, then cry for 12 straight hours). Let’s kindly call that the “ideal” scenario that most people — millennials especially — will fail to live by. Instead, a better measure — or at least a more vital measure — is the one I posed to David Rae, a certified financial planner in L.A.: By what age should someone start thinking seriously about their finances before things become really dire?
“I’d say by 40, if you’re not at least aware of saving for retirement, you’re shooting yourself in the foot,” says Rae. “By 50, if you haven’t started looking at what it would take to retire comfortably, it’s going to get dire fast. Unless you have rich parents.”
Rae says that a lot his clients are in their 30s, which is the age that most people start saving seriously for the future. “The money you save at 28 is going to be worth a lot more for retirement than the money you saved at age 48 or 58.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of first marriage for women in 2017 was 27.4 years. For men, it’s slightly older at 29.5 years. In case you were wondering, that’s the longest Americans have ever waited to get married.
Still, clinical psychologist Amy Kim tells me that getting your relationships in order — which far too many people conflate with getting married and settling down — has less to do with any sort of expiration date and more to do with general maturity. “Your 20s is the time to explore relationships and have adventures,” says Kim. “During this time, you should keep working on being open to people and honest with yourself. You should learn more about how to become a more loving person.”
Additionally, Kim says that during your 20s, you should figure out your emotional patterns and your triggers. “If you’re repeating certain habits, you’re not maturing,” says Kim. “If you’re maturing, the quality of your relationships should be getting better.”
That said, Kim admits that there are “crazy societal pressures” for people to settle down around the age of 30. “Women in particular are made to feel like they’re expiring,” says Kim, adding that cultural expectations to find “the one” before a certain age is the cause of immense suffering. Instead, her advice is to use your 20s to learn about what you want and what you don’t want and be honest with yourself, so that when you meet someone you like, you’re better equipped to commit to a relationship.
The voting age is 18, but according to the scientific community, the brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25. “The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true,” child psychologist Laverne Antrobus told the BBC in 2013. “My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.” That’s partly why child psychologists are working with people past the age of 18 and up until the age of 25.
According to Kim, you should be held accountable and have a higher level of maturity in your mid to late 20s. “If you don’t start taking responsibility for your actions in your mid-20s, your life is going to get messy and chaotic,” she says.
But it’s fairly well known that twentysomethings are taking longer to grow up. Or rather, as noted by Hope Reese writing for The Atlantic, the very definition of adulthood is changing. Kim suggests that this could be because younger generations have more resources than ever: “They have more opportunity for leisure and distraction and aren’t as likely to be forced to grow up and get to work,” says Kim. To that end, Jean Twenge, writing for CNN, uses the phrases “slow-life strategy” versus “fast-life strategy” to explain why people are maturing later in life:
“A ‘slow-life strategy’ is more common in times and places where families have fewer children and spend more time cultivating each child’s growth and development. A ‘fast-life strategy,’ on the other hand, was the more common parenting approach in the mid-20th century, when fewer labor-saving devices were available and the average woman had four children. As a result, kids needed to fend for themselves sooner.”
Obviously, having your fashion sensibilities in order before your 50th birthday isn’t nearly as pressing as saving for that point in your life where you cannot work anymore. But according to Rayne Parvis, a style coach, having your style together is part of a larger effort to live a better lifestyle, so her advice is to figure out your look by age 30. “At 30, most people have got the ‘I don’t care’ attitude out of their system and are investing in a better lifestyle,” says Parvis. “You’ll save yourself oodles of time in achieving your life goals if you act on putting your best foot forward sooner rather than later.”
Which is true of just about everything on this list: The sooner you get started, the better off you’ll likely be. But unless you’re 50 and still trying to move out of your parent’s basement, it’s never too late to start getting your shit together. If you are 50 and still trying… good luck, I guess?