At times, life can feel like it goes on and on forever. At others, life feels like it passes by in the blink of an eye. Whether the days and years seem to drag on or race past, there are always markers along the way.
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Those markers are called milestones, and they allow us the ability to reflect on momentous events in life. And understanding life’s milestones can even help you live life to the fullest.
Every person’s life is different and unique. But our lives are similar in many ways, too. We experience many of the same key milestones throughout our childhood, teen years, young adulthood, and beyond.
Below, we’ll describe 18 of the biggest life milestones that you might want to celebrate and reflect back on.
Childhood Life Milestones to Celebrate
Some of the most memorable milestones in life happen when we’re children. Even if we don’t remember these moments with perfect clarity later on, we often have our parents to help us reminisce.
Childhood milestones and key life events define us and make us who we are. And while everyone experiences some unique and personal milestones, there are also some that almost everyone has in common.
Here are some childhood milestones to look out for if you have kids, or to look back on from your own youth.
1. Being born
It might seem strange to consider your birth a “milestone,” but it is, in fact, your very first one. And while we don’t remember the moment of our births, we might have family members who do.
Often, moms and dads enjoy telling and retelling their child’s “birth story,” so often that it can start to feel like your own memory. Many people give gifts to a newborn baby and mother, which you might still have around, too. And, even if you’re no longer with your birth parents, the moment of your birth is a key milestone in your life.
2. Learning how to walk and talk
Another milestone that you likely don’t remember is actually two events: learning how to walk, and learning how to talk. Everyone picks up these skills at a different pace. But generally, we’re walking by the age of one and talking by the age of two.
If you’re still connected to the family members who were around at that time, you can ask them to tell you what it was like when you took your first steps or said your first words. If you’re lucky, someone might have even captured those precious moments on video or snapped a photo.
3. Starting school
Once you’re walking and talking, it’s time to start learning about subjects like math and reading. Some people remember their very first day of preschool or kindergarten, while others might remember something later on. For example, maybe you remember your first time reading out loud in class, or the time you got a gold star for good behavior.
4. Making a friend
Children often have a few friends before they start school. Maybe they met in daycare, or their parents arranged playdates for them where they got to know each other.
But starting school gives children the opportunity to choose their own friends for the very first time. And that typically leads to stronger connections and longer-lasting friendships.
5. Experiencing failure and rejection
Some memories and milestones aren’t so pleasant. Often, the things we remember most are moments of pain, fear, or disappointment. As children, we have to deal with those emotions for the very first time.
Going through failure—like failing a math assignment or getting detention—teaches us that we’re not perfect or invincible. And being rejected—not getting a valentine from our crush or an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party—teaches us that we don’t always get what we want.
6. Dealing with the death of a pet
Many children first experience the pain of loss when a beloved pet passes away. The tragedy can be so heart-wrenching that some parents cover it up by saying the animal “ran away.”
And whether it’s a goldfish, a rabbit, or the family dog, losing a pet for the first time is likely something you’ll remember forever.
7. Finding something you’re good at
On the flip side of failure and rejection, most children find the areas where they excel relatively early on. It may be sports, music, or math and science. No matter what your skillset, finding what you’re naturally talented in can lead to a big boost in self-esteem.
Finding something you’re good at also helps you develop new skills and join new social groups that will be with you throughout childhood, and even into adulthood.
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8. Learning to drive
For many teenagers, learning how to drive and passing the driving exam is the first step towards adult independence. Once you have your driver’s license, you often feel a sense of freedom that you never had before.
For that reason, most people remember studying for their driving exam, the moment they passed the exam, or where they went after they had their license to drive.
Life Milestones for Adulthood and Beyond
Reaching adulthood opens the door for even more milestones. As a child, you’re beholden to the path set in front of you by your parents. But as an adult, you’re free to choose your own way. Still, there are some key milestones that most people experience.
Here are the common milestones that many of us have in common.
9. Leaving home
You might leave home as soon as you possibly can, or you might wait and save some money by living with your parents. But eventually, most people move out of the family home. And doing so is typically a memorable, momentous occasion.
You might remember the homesickness you felt that first night, or how you forgot to bring your favorite pillow along with you. And parents also experience their kids leaving home as a major life milestone.
10. Earning a paycheck
Getting a job and opening up that first paycheck is yet another big step towards adult independence. Whether you’re still receiving financial support from family or not, getting paid is a milestone in life that most people remember.
You might not remember actually opening up that envelope, but you may remember going to the store with hard-earned cash in your pocket, or finally understanding the value of a dollar.
11. Falling in love (and experiencing heartbreak)
Some people fall in love in their teen years, but many experience this milestone in early adulthood. Either way, your first love is typically followed by your first taste of heartbreak.
The milestone of falling in love and having your heart broken is one of the most painful events many people experience in early life. It falls in line with the milestone of experiencing rejection and failure, in that it teaches us resilience in the face of hardship.
12. Making a major purchase
Once you’ve saved up enough of those paychecks, you can make your first major purchase. It might be a brand-new car or a flat-screen TV. Later on, you might make the decision to buy your very own home.
Those major purchases — especially your first one — are big milestones because they indicate a level of financial independence. You’re no longer dependent on others to get the things you want and need, and you can start making even more of your own decisions in life.
13. Dealing with a loved one’s death
Many people first experience the death of a loved one when they’re still in childhood. But the majority of people face this milestone in adulthood.
Dealing with the death of a loved one forces us to learn coping methods we might not have needed before. It’s an important life milestone because it makes us think about death, including our own mortality.
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14. Getting married
Not everyone gets married, but for those who do, it’s an important life milestone. You’ve found a person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and together, you say your vows. Whether you say them in front of a huge crowd, or just in front of a judge at the courthouse, it’s a moment you’ll always remember.
15. Finding your own path in life
Just as you found things you were good at as a child, most people find their path in life as adults. You might find the things you value most (friends, family, health), and you might have found your dream job.
Ultimately, finding your path in life means deciding on the things that are most important to you.
16. Having children
Just like with marriage, not everyone has children. If you do have a child, though, the moment your first child is born is a major life milestone.
And the birth of each child after that is equally momentous. Having children can even readjust your path in life, changing what you value most and find most important.
Finally, you’ve reached the end of your employed life. For some, retirement is a welcomed event. You can finally step aside and enjoy some you-time. For others, it can lead to discontentment and boredom.
But no matter how you view retirement, it’s a major milestone that marks one of the biggest changes in life.
18. Reaching the end of life
The final milestone for every person is reaching the end of life. In old age, you might spend more time getting your affairs in order and reflecting back on the life you’ve led.
If you have ideas for your funeral, burial, or cremation, it’s time to lay those out for your family to follow through with.
Looking Back on Life’s Milestones
As mentioned, not everyone experiences all of the milestones listed above. For example, not everyone gets married or has children. But we all experience major milestones in life that help us reflect on where we’ve been, who we’ve met, and what we’ve done.