Life experiences shape us, and some leave us drastically altered. We all know this. There is a layer to this equation though that isn’t always visible ― it’s the timing of those experiences and the sequence in which we experience them.
For instance, two 35-year-olds may have both experienced the loss of a parent, the emotional high of a plum job and accompanying financial rewards, parenthood, and job loss but the age and order in which those events occurred will shape them differently. For simplicity, let’s say the rest of their lives, lifestyles, and influences have mostly been similar. Now imagine if one of them lost a parent at 8, became a parent at 25, lost a job right after at 26 and finally got that plum job at 35 after years of struggle. Let’s imagine the other getting that high-paid job right out of college at 22, becoming a parent at 27, losing a parent at 32 and their job at 35.
We can picture how the first person might have been impacted by that early loss of a parent and job loss shortly after new parenthood. When they finally get the financial safety and career success at 35, they’ve likely experienced years of emotional and financial vulnerability. For the latter, we can picture the stability that a complete family and early financial success created such that they were likely better resourced to navigate loss when it eventually came. These examples are of course hypotheticals and our individual stories play out in larger contexts of other lives lived. For instance, if the former had a large and loving extended family, the shock of early loss was likely buffered in some way. If they had a caring partner that was also financially stable, they probably didn’t feel the zing of that job loss as acutely.
There are many other unexamined nuances here so I’m oversimplifying the larger scenario to make this one point ― Who we are is not only determined by what we go through but when we go through it. Because where we are in our lifecycle when we meet different life experiences shapes our experience of those events. The same things land differently at different points in our lives.
“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” ― Nathaniel Hawthorne, American Novelist