You Are Not Behind

A woman with long dark hair standing in the middle of a forest, looking off to the side.
Photo by Alef Vinicius.

Do you ever feel like you're behind in life?

I certainly do.

Sometimes I feel behind in the "cool career moves" category. I recently realized that someone whose career I have always seen as "ahead" of mine is actually five years younger than me. (Whaaaaat? Where have I been???)

Other times I feel like I'm behind in the whole procreation thing. Mainly because, if/when I have children of my own, they will be years younger than my friends' kids, which makes me worry about our life stages being too different and the friendships falling completely apart while my kid sits alone and friendless in a corner. (Not melodramatic at all!)

I haven't considered this feeling to be a big part of my life because I don't think about it very often. Then I was reading financial advice from Bari Tessler and was surprised to see her speak to it: "You are not behind. Not now. Not ever. Not in this mini-course. Not in your job search/diet/lifeplan. You are precisely where you need to be, doing precisely what you need to be doing. How could it be otherwise?" (Did you expect financial advice to get so into your heart? Me neither.)

I read that and, despite the fact that I hadn't been consciously thinking I was behind in anything at that moment, breathed a sigh of relief. Without even realizing it, I was carrying a weight of needing to catch up. Of failing to keep pace.

That's when I realized that the sense of being behind isn't just a feeling I have once in a while. It's a belief, ingrained over years of comparing myself to other people and my own imagined ideal self/life. (Comparison, of course, being the sneaky, evil monster that does one thing, and one thing alone: steals our joy.)

Holding a belief that I'm behind in life means I don't have to actively think about it for it to impact me. It's there, underlying everything I do, and there it will stay until I actually start to believe something different.

This sucks for a number of reasons, but mostly because Bari Tessler is right: we can't be behind.

First of all, behind what? Or whom? What is this track we think we are supposed to follow? Which people's lives are the benchmark? Why them?

We have all spent our lives doing what we needed to do at that time, whether that was going to school, taking the first job we could find, travelling, playing video games, dating, working out every day, relentlessly pursuing a career goal, or caring for our families.

Whether or not we would like to brand those activities as "wasted time" or the "wrong focus", the fact is that at that time, we were the person we were with the information we had, and we made the best decision we could.

Now, we might have different values, more information, or even just a different perspective, but there's no way we could have had that back then. We didn't. (And even if we did, we only control so much in our lives--who's to say things would be very different now?)

For me, that means that there really is nowhere else my life could be right now. Even if there are things I would do differently if I could go back and start over again, that doesn't mean I'm not exactly where I am supposed to be right now. That place is also pretty great if I stop for a moment to appreciate it.

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