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I was hanging out with some friends recently, eating pizza on the floor (you know, the usual), and commiserating over the ways that our lives haven’t turned out as planned.
To give you a picture of what I mean, in this particular group, none of us are married, we don’t have kids, and many of us still don’t know where our careers are going. That isn’t where any of us planned to end up. And we all, with spirited yet regretful enthusiasm, agreed that night that we feel behind because of it.
Despite the fact that several of us admitted to paddling the same boat, we still feel like we haven’t kept up with “the norm”.
It’s made us doubt ourselves. We wonder where we went wrong, and what everyone else did right. “Everyone else” being the people who ended up where we wanted to. The people who, in our eyes, must have somehow pulled ahead of us, while we began trailing behind.
We’re told by society, sometimes our parents, social media and the comparison to our peers that by certain checkpoints in life, we should have crossed particular steps off the list. And when we see ourselves not making it to that step by that time? We perceive a gap. A gap where we are the ones watching everyone else get smaller as they sprint ahead. And as the distance between us increases, so does our discouragement.
But after years of doubting myself, being tormented with questions like “why hasn’t this happened for me?” and “what’s wrong with me?”, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, there is no gap at all.
What if the gap is just a fabricated lie, made of unmet expectations, sewn together by the thread of comparison?
If we think about it, there’s no real authority that dictates exactly where we should end up and by when. It’s an imaginary perception we’ve created from not arriving where we planned, and comparing ourselves to someone else who did.
But the gap is just that. An imagined perception. It isn’t real.
And I believe that it’s time to forget about it once and for all. To stop emotionally cutting ourselves by comparing our story to someone else’s. It’s time to own our own stories for what they are, and what they have the potential to become.
But how do I keep myself grounded in this belief? Well, admittedly, it’s never easy. We live in a culture where we are constantly reminded of what and where we are not.
But I’ve discovered a few thoughts that help to erase the gap on days when it feels immeasurably long, and I’d like to share them in hopes that they might help you too:
1. I can’t be “behind” because I’m not on the same path.
To be behind, we’d all really have to be going the same way, with the same turns, obstacles and short-cuts. And I think we all know that just isn’t true.
From day one our stories start out differently. Even if we go to the same schools, play on the same teams, and meet the same people, we all have different personalities, family situations, opportunities, and hardships that come our way.
It doesn’t even make sense that we would or could arrive at the same place at the same time. We aren’t where everyone else is because we weren’t put on the same path from the start, often through no fault of our own. We are going our own way, maybe to the same destination, but maybe to somewhere different, and there is nothing wrong, or “behind”, about that.
2. My experiences may be different, but they are not less valuable
We perceive that because we haven’t checked the same boxes as someone else, that the boxes that we have checked aren’t as valuable, or don’t count. But that isn’t fair to say, is it? That belief negates all that we’ve done in our lives, all that we’ve been through, and all the opportunities we’ve been given.
Those checkpoints, marriage, college, kids, career, whatever it is for you, aren’t worth more than what you’ve experienced. Those are just a few of the millions of things you could happen in your lifetime, and we shouldn’t act as if they carry more weight than others. Through your path and your story, you’re learning lessons and absorbing life in ways those other people are not.
So when you’re feeling like your life is “less” because it’s different, stop and think for a moment…what have I learned and experienced, that the people I’m comparing myself to haven’t?
3. The best stories come from those whose lives didn’t go according to plan.
Think about some of the best stories you’ve heard. Whether its from family members, friends, CEOs and founders of companies, or celebrities. How often do you hear “My life went perfectly. Literally everything went exactly as I planned and I got everything I ever wanted when I wanted it?” Almost never. Instead we hear “And I fought for it. I failed a million times before I figured it out. I learned from what didn’t go my way, and it made what I have now all the more sweet.”
The best stories in life are those that are hard fought. That take persistence, and that take you on turns you never expected. And that’s true of our lives as well. Our stories may feel frustrating and sluggish right now, but one day we may look back and realize these were just plot twists on the way to something greater than we imagined.
I share these reminders with you not because I have it all figured out.
I still have days where I sit on the floor and cry, with tears of “what happened” streaming down my face. But I want to share all of this with you because even though some days it’s still difficult to see myself on my own journey instead of falling behind on someone else’s, I know these things to be true.
I am on my own path. My experiences are valuable. And I am writing my own, unique story.
I am not behind.
And neither are you.