It seems in our early 20s we all start life at the same starting line. We graduate from university and enter the work world as young professionals eager to prove that we have what it takes to succeed. By the time our early 30s roll around (and for some in their late 20s) we all start to suffer various setbacks in life. Some people experience more transformational setbacks such as the death of a spouse or a child or even a life altering divorce. Others of us seem to be spared the more traumatic experiences and suffer the typical career or other everyday type setbacks.
For those of us that suffer life altering experiences that cause mandatory transitional change – it can sometimes feel that this causes a setback. We are beholden to these milestones that society imposes on us – like marriage, having children, moving up the career ladder, buying a first home, car etc.
Aspire-Canada mentor Vishen Lakhiani, and founder of Mindvalley and author of The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, is an expert in questioning these often self-limiting rules. According to Vishen, we all absorb the cultural norms of our society, but we often forget to question whether these are serving us — or limiting us. In his book, he challenges you to think like some of the greatest non-conformist minds of our era, to question, challenge, hack and create new rules for YOUR life so you can define success on your own terms.
If you’ve been through a tragedy or loss or even a career setback – it’s highly likely that at some point you’ll find yourself wondering: Am I behind? Shouldn’t I be more “established” by now? What does “success” really mean, anyway? How do I define “success” on my own terms?
Read: How to Overcome Tragedy and Loss
If you’re feeling behind in life, here are a few things to tell yourself to work through it:
Are you comparing yourself to others?
It’s easy to look at our immediate peer group and think “nobody else has been through these types of setbacks but me”. It is easy to sink into self-pity, when were faced with losses and setbacks but everyone has challenges. There’s probably only one or two people who, when we boil it down, are the real triggers behind us feeling…well…behind.
Start with your immediate network, which is often your healthiest source of acceptance and identity. Are you feeling “behind” because you’re now the only one who’s single, without kids, lacking a (fill-in-the-blank), and you’ve started to feel excluded somehow? It can help to speak those subtle fears out loud, so try: “I’m worried my friendship doesn’t matter anymore because…” and then allow yourself to be reassured that your true friends will not forsake you because of personal circumstances. Tragedy and setbacks have a way of revealing our true friends. If your friends suddenly seem uncomfortable with you because you’re suddenly single after a divorce or death of a spouse – rest assured that they probably weren’t true friends anyway. You can now settle back into your own set of circumstances and with less pressure of needing to keep up with the Joneses.
Decide on your own unique path
Everyone has a unique path in life. We suffer losses at different stages – some of us suffer transformational setbacks earlier than others. Our own unique situation will remind us that we’re unique and meant to leave our own mark on the world.
A vital part of moving beyond “feeling behind” is knowing you’re on your own path—and embracing it. Each one of us has a different purpose in life. Instead of focusing on what you lack (that others seem to have), it can be helpful to think about what’s unique to your situation that others can’t take advantage of. Like your DNA – your story is unique and is entirely special on its own. It’s not about feeling better or less than someone else, but about seeing how your life is unfolding in ways that could help you specialize in a field, interest, or experience – or transition into perhaps a new career.
For example, rather than bemoaning you’re not married or don’t have kids, think about how this flexibility could enable you to move to a new city or take a job assignment. Your life doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s but your own.
Do a proper self assessment. Are you really behind?
Perhaps you love to travel and you delayed moving up in your career because you took long breaks to travel the world. Those experiences are invaluable and travelling while you’re young can be beneficial when you have the time and energy. Perhaps you waited longer than your peers to actually have children. So you’re ahead in your career – but all your friends have two to three kids already. Does this really mean you’re behind? We all make sacrifices at each stage of our lives – calculated decisions that allow us to prioritise certain aspects of our lives knowingly putting some life goals on the backburner because of a perceived need to get something more pressing done now.
Part of our self assessment means really acknowledging that we consciously made decisions in order to facilitate another action or set of actions that we thought were more necessary at the time. If for example, you’ve made decisions in the past to put your career on hold to take care of young children or family – then perspective is everything. Nurturing young kids or taking care of elderly sick parents is an opportunity you may never get back. The validity of some decisions cannot be assessed based on monetary gain or the promise of fame or fortune.
These sacrifices that may cause perceived “setbacks” because they’re not considered part of society’s milestones or indicators of success or wealth. However, we know the relative value of these activities to the health and wellbeing of our families – and most times they are priceless.
Have you suffered a perceived setback? Do a thorough self assessment and you might just find that you probably didn’t really suffer a “setback” at all.