One of the biggest myths people obsess over is that they are supposed to achieve certain milestones by a particular age.
There are benefits to comparing yourself to your peers – for someone excelling in a field you want to progress in, they can be an inspiration, driving you further forward than you didn’t think possible without your example.
But on the flipside when you’re on social media being exposed to images of wonder kids, displaying the talent of someone who has spent decades mastering their craft, it’s understandable this may make you feel insignificant.
It doesn’t need to be someone in the online world – it could just be something simple like seeing a friend who has a good job, own their home, and in a solid relationship.
When you compare to yourself – struggling to start your career, living with parents and long-term single, you start feeling behind.
When you get these feelings remember:
Life is about following your own path
When you say you’re behind, it’s worth remembering this is a false statement. ‘Being behind’ implies there is an official measure where we are supposed to be and what we are meant to achieve by a particular age. This doesn’t exist and has been created from a combination of societal pressures of what is normal, and our own tough standards of where we think we are ‘supposed’ to be.
You feel behind because your friends are starting a family, storming their career, and setting up a home, but there is no rule saying you are meant to have these things.
They say life isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon, both seem inaccurate as this suggests your life is a competition with others, really, it’s more like a series of personal bests – you set your own path.
When you live like this, you’ll never feel like you are being left behind, because you’re on your own. Your achievements are what you choose to put your energy into. As Earl Nightingale said, “Success is the Progressive Realization of a Worthy Ideal.”
Feeling behind hits young people just entering adulthood hard. This is because they’ve gone through the education system, which is all about reaching and exceeding milestones.
With this conditioning it’s not surprising they still have this comparison mindset with their peers, forgetting they’re adults, free to make their own decisions, and not following a framework to be considered a success.
There are unwritten rules, imagined pressures deemed by the culture you’ve been brought up in. For example in western society you may feel a stigma if you’ve not lost your virginity by your late teens.
In reality, a lot of these things can wait until you are ready – keep this in mind when facing these pressures.
“Stay in your lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” – Brene B
You don’t have to have it all figured out yet (or ever)
This type of advice doesn’t just apply to twenty somethings, there are plenty of people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, older who look at their life and think because of their experience they should be further ahead.
When you reach an older age you feel pressure to be more mature and have life ‘figured out’, and this creates the feeling of being behind. This is something else imagined, there is no defined requirement that we must understand our purpose – part of the fun in life is figuring this out.
It’s something of a cliché in self-improvement literature to read about people like JK Rowling and Colonel Sanders finding success ‘late in their careers’. These examples are supposed to inspire hope that the good thing will still happen to you, but really their success is irrelevant as you don’t ever have to figure it out.
Life is about ups and downs
When you see someone that makes you feel behind, you’re not seeing the full picture especially on social media. There life may not be a good as you think, failing to see their flaws or unhappiness which they choose to hide from public viewing.
This is not meant to be advice suggesting you look forward to their inevitable failure to make you feel better, but a reminder that this can happen to anyone – there are moments progression maybe be halted or even decline by the unexpected such as losing that great job, or a marriage ending.
Keep this in mind – everything is fleeting so keep working at it, enjoy your moments and be grateful for what you do have!
How do you stop this measurement?
There are things to recognise to avoid feeling behind, starting with realising life isn’t a competition, where you are ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ the crowd.
Constant comparison with what others have is damaging your wellbeing. If you have a friend who seems to have it all, be pleased for their success, and focus on your own progress rather than viewing them as a yardstick for your own shortcomings.
There is no definitive rules about what you are supposed to do with your life and when you’re supposed to do it – set your goals and invent your own definition of success.
So next time you think about life as being something you are behind in, stop yourself and realise that’s not correct as this world is not meant to be a big measurement of required ‘must have’ milestones.