When you’re not where you thought you’d be in life, part 4
No one likes the feeling of not having accomplished enough by a certain age. We place such high demands on ourselves that when life takes a detour and we come up short from those expectations, the results can be disastrous. We beat ourselves up over these supposed failures, bemoan lost time, and allow ourselves to be eaten up alive by the fear that we won’t ever make the difference in the world that we so long to make.
When you’re not where you thought you’d be in life, it’s easy to become discouraged. However, there are five questions every person needs to ask herself before she takes any further action (or idles away in inaction). So far, we’ve covered three of those questions:
Are you comparing yourself to others? (read more here)
Are you clear on what you want? (get clear here)
How will you know when you’ve succeeded? (find out here)
Today, we conclude the series with the last two questions you need to consider:
Question #4: What’s working and what’s not?
Albert Einstein once said that insanity could be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s astounding how often we opt for familiar ways of doing things even though they’re clearly not advancing us in any way.
There can be two reasons for this. The first is that we become so comfortable where we are that we shrink back from unfamiliar methods that can potentially catapult us to new heights. To put it in other terms, we’re scared of success. We’re scared of growth. We’re scared of evolving, realizing our dreams, and maximizing our potential.
Is it really possible to be scared of these things? Yes! It happens every day with people just like you! It’s not that we don’t crave those dreams with the inmost parts of our heart—it’s that we’re terrified of the responsibility that might come with it. We’re scared of what might change—in us, in loved ones, in our living situation. We may even be worried that people will look at us differently or not want to be friends with us anymore.
As a result, we shrink back from greatness and sabotage our own efforts toward building our dream life.
The second reason this sabotage happens is quite simple: we don’t recognize stagnation when we see it. Essentially, you can’t tell whether you’re growing or not. (Think of those horrendous American Idol auditions in which the singer honestly has no clue how ill-equipped for singing they are.) The same can happen to us in terms of being blind to inertia. We think we’re moving but we’re actually very much at rest.
How do we fix this? By being accountable and taking ownership of our lives. First, it’s time to stop being afraid of growth. You were created to achieve greatness—but don’t be deceived. Greatness means different things to different people. Whatever your definition of greatness is, whatever the dream you’ve been given for your life, you are meant to go after it. It’s no coincidence that it’s there. Believe in yourself! Believe in your ability. Believe that while the road toward your dream life may at times be scary or intimidating, while it at times will call you to live outside of your comfort zone, while it may mean outgrowing some relationships…all of those challenges will be well worth it when you’re experience the ultimate fulfillment you always wanted.
Then, when it comes to recognizing growth or stagnation, start to become self-aware of your daily actions. Before you spend 5 hours looking at cat videos on YouTube, ask yourself if that’s going to get you any closer to fulfilling your dreams. Don’t get me wrong. There’s no rule against enjoying life. But if you want something bad enough, you need to work hard to get there.
Ask yourself questions like: is there something else I can be doing that’s a better use of my time? Is this activity adding to me in any way? And as far as determining what’s working and what’s not, it’s all trial and error. When I was writing the first draft of my novel, I went through a plethora of ‘writing times’ before finding the one that worked. I’d write at work, or right after work, or only on weekends, or only after reading…and throughout it all, I kept charting my progress so that I could see which method was helping me to advance. It turned out that writing first thing in the morning for an hour right before work produced the best results. So what’s working and what’s not working in your own life?
If you have trouble recognizing growth for what it is, then continue reading to the next question:
Question #5: In what ways have you grown between then and now?
Here’s an easy exercise. Grab a sheet of paper and make a timeline of your life. Draw a line straight down the middle. Then, for every 5 years, make a circle, write your age, and jot down a few sentences about something important that you learned at that age. If you have to give or take a few years, that’s fine too.
Interestingly enough, when I first did this exercise, I discovered that it was like clockwork! As if it were divinely inspired, it would seem that every 5 years or so, I’d learned a big lesson; I’d experienced something unforgettable, had grown from it, and had taken away an important lesson.
All this to say that sometimes, we get so caught up in where we’re NOT…that we forget about where we’ve been. We forget about what we’ve already achieved! We forget about what we’ve already overcome! But all of that makes up your story–and a story is one of the most powerful things you can share with the world. It can inspire people, uplift them, encourage them, change the way that they think. Behind you is a treasure chest of lessons, life experiences, and up’s and down’s that have shaped you, matured you, and refined you into the person you now are–a person who is going to make an incredible impact on the world that no one else can make.
The next time you feel like life is miserable because you’re not getting to your dream destination as quickly as you’d like, take a look at just how far you’ve come. You shine like a star in the universe, baby. Value how much you’ve grown. Treasure it. And thank God for the journey it’s been…and for the journey it’s going to continue to be.
Your turn! Do the timeline exercise above and chart out all the major experiences you’ve been through and lessons that you’ve learned. What did you discover? Share your insights in the comments below!