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A client of mine recently wrote to me saying:
“I feel like at my age, I’m SO far behind and need to be insanely productive every single day.”
She was referring to feeling behind in her career, which is something I hear all the time from my clients (regardless of their age). But feeling behind can spill into every area of your life.
If your friends start getting married while you’re still single, it can make you feel behind.
When your colleagues all have mortgages and you’re still renting a tiny apartment, it can make you feel behind.
When you scroll through social media and see all of your high school friends posting baby pictures, it can make you feel behind.
If you see someone else living out your dream career and you’re still stuck at the same old company, it can make you feel behind.
WHAT’S GOING ON TO MAKE US ALL FEEL LIKE WE’RE FALLING BEHIND?
It makes sense why so many of us are feeling this way. For the first 18 (or more) years of our lives, we’re all pretty much on the same trajectory. While we’re in school, our paths are mostly laid out for us. We’re among peers, growing and going through the same milestones at the same general pace.
Then, after high school or college, we start going off on different paths, and the comparison about “who’s ahead” and “who’s behind” starts to gets murky.
So, because we don’t have clear indicators of measuring progress anymore — the way we did when we were in school — we end up comparing how “behind” we are based on external things we can see, like promotions, marriages, kids, houses, and other external mile markers.
But we forget that these factors are completely irrelevant.
Many of the people you see with all of the external things aren’t necessarily happy and content with their lives. (Trust me on this one — I’ve coached a lot of those people, and I know what’s going on under the surface of that carefully curated Instagram feed!)
So because we’re all human, which means we’re not going to be able to live in a bubble and stop comparing ourselves to other people, let’s come up with a new way of measuring our progress. One that’s true and accurate and takes into account what deeply matters.
ONE BIG SHIFT TO STOP FEELING BEHIND
I’ll admit, I used to feel weighed down by the “I’m so behind in life!” mentality, too.
It felt like, everywhere I looked, people were progressing faster than me. Hitting milestones earlier, climbing the ranks with more ease, figuring things out faster, leaving me in the dust wondering, “How did I fall so far behind?”
I thought the reason I felt this way was because I was doing something wrong. Maybe I’d focused on the wrong things after graduation, or maybe I just wasn’t meant to have the things that seemed to come so easily to other people.
But that wasn’t it at all. My comparison actually had nothing to do with what had happened (or NOT happened) in my life so far. It had everything to do with how I was feeling about my life at the time.
When I was unhappy with my job or my living situation or my social life, my first instinct was to look around and assume the reason for my unhappiness was because I lacked something that other people had.
But now I know better.
At this point in my life, I still haven’t hit a lot of the life milestones for a happy existence, according to societal norms (marriage, kids, house with a big backyard, luxurious vacations, etc.), but I no longer worry about being behind. That’s because I genuinely like the life I’ve built for myself because it aligns with what I most care about.
The reason I was unhappy before wasn’t because I was “behind” … it was because I didn’t know how to measure my life according to the things that actually matter to me.
A NEW WAY TO MEASURE YOUR PROGRESS IN LIFE
So here’s how I measure my life nowadays to asses my progress and my happiness in a much deeper, more fulfilling way. I think these metrics apply to just about everyone, but feel free to edit this list based on what matters most to you:
- How fulfilled I feel on a regular basis. For me personally, this comes down to the kind of impact I’m having on other people and on the world at large. If I’m promoting positivity (especially nowadays, in the midst of so much negativity) to even one person, I can confidently check this box.
- How happy and content I feel each day. In my definition, this means creating a life of freedom, ease, creativity, deep connection, and LOTS of spaciousness. It has almost nothing to do with what I have or whether I’ve “made it” in life.
- The quality of my relationships. When I look around at all of the amazing people I’ve attracted into my life who I can be 100% myself with, I know I’m doing something right.
- How well I’m taking care of my health. By this I mean holistic health — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
- My focus on personal growth and constant learning. There’s a great quote out there that says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” I feel this on a personal level. When I’m stagnating, it feels like soul death. I always want to be learning something new.
If these are more accurate factors for determining how “ahead” or “behind” you are in life, then you’ve probably made way more progress than you thought.
Plus, the beauty of this new list of metrics for measuring happiness and progress is that you can achieve all of these things, in some way or another, regardless of your life circumstances!
SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP FEELING BEHIND AND ADOPT THIS NEW METRIC FOR PROGRESS
- You’re not allowed to compare your life with someone else’s social media highlight reel because you have no idea how that person measures up to your new criteria for success.
- You seek out people who are genuinely happy and fulfilled so you can learn from them, instead of isolating yourself from the people who have all of the external stuff you think you want (because they inadvertently make you feel bad).
- You stop burning yourself out trying to make up for lost time because you realize that you’re much further along than you thought you were.
- You seek out experiences that bring you joy, excitement, and deep contentment, instead of reactively chasing external career and life mile markers in an attempt to “catch up” (which likely won’t make you happy anyway).
Look, it’s OK to still want to hit those external mile markers. It’s natural to want the great job, the family, the beautiful house, and all of that. You want those things for a reason, and it’s even perfectly natural to feel jealous when you have a strong desire for something. I’m certainly not telling you not to want the things you want. I’m just asking you to seriously question WHY you want those things in the first place.
Pursuing external markers of success simply because you feel “behind” isn’t the right reason and isn’t going to lead to the results you want. On the other hand, when you make pursuing your NEW (internal) metrics for measuring progress the ones you care most about, the external ones are bound to follow naturally.
So have you been feeling behind lately? How will you define your new mile markers for measuring your progress? Leave a comment to let me know!
Kristen (& Rachel)