Do you ever feel like you’re falling behind in life?
Who wouldn’t feel like they’re falling behind in life at some point, when there are so many milestones we’re each supposed to be ticking off? From that first kiss to getting a degree, living alone, career, marriage, baby and buying a house… and all by the time we’re 30! But it’s just not that easy when you’re experiencing social anxiety. As you fall behind schedule, you might start to feel like a failure.
I get it. I was the girl falling behind in relationships because I was so scared of talking to boys that I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 17 when a random military guy bought me drinks at a bar, and I got so drunk I puked on his shoes. For the next 5 years, I continued to use alcohol to hide the social anxiety so I could show up for dating, sex and relationships –and I always felt like a disappointment.
I was the college student who missed the degree milestone because I was too afraid to go to university. Watching my peers go off to get their degrees confirmed to me that I was failing at life, but I didn’t think I’d be able to make new friends, live with others, do my own grocery shopping and… stand up and do a presentation (because surely at uni you can’t go ‘sick’ and avoid it like I’d been doing at college?).
So, as an unemployed teenager, I was purposefully messing up my job applications to make sure I didn’t get a job interview because I was convinced that I’d make a fool out of myself, I couldn’t do the job, and anyone who hired me would quickly realise that I’m a failure.
Then when I hit 30 without having married or had a child or earning the income I wanted, I was kinda disappointed with myself. Even though I was doing some amazing things and had made progress that would have astounded my younger self, I still felt for a short time that I wasn’t achieving enough.
Because 30 is the age we’re supposed to have our shit together, right? My younger self had dreams about getting a degree and forging a successful career as a well-paid solicitor (a solicitor? I sometimes wonder if my younger self knew me at all) and becoming an independent home-owner by the age of 30. Then, in amongst all that studying and climbing the career ladder in my 20’s, I was to meet my prince charming, get married, travel a lot, and adopt a child!
Well, when you feel like you’re failing at life, you need to consider these 3 reasons why you’re not:
1. The schedule you feel you’re falling behind isn’t really for you
Ask yourself: Whose schedule are you falling behind anyway? The truth is, it’s nothing more than a made-up timeline thoughtlessly handed to us by society. Pictures painted for us on the telly, social media and in magazines teach us how a perfect life should look. Your mum telling you how she was married with a kid (and still holding down a job, you know) by the time she was your age instils a sense of panic and not-enoughness. It’s in the milestone blog posts that dare to tell us whether we’re succeeding or failing at life. But ‘by whose standards?’ is the question we should be asking ourselves.
No two of us are on the same path. None of us are learning and growing at the same rate. Most of us don’t have healthy family springboards to launch us on our way. In fact, a lot of us have to unravel numerous old, unhelpful beliefs, thought patterns and coping strategies that we’ve picked up along the way in order to get to a place where we feel comfortable in our careers, happy in ourselves, or secure enough in our relationships to take the next step. So what if you have some personal steps to take that this made-up timeline hasn’t considered? Maybe the milestones set out for you seem impossible to reach simply because they’re not in the right place.
2. Those milestone on your list… they’re not really yours
It’s easy to get swept away in the idea that you should go to university, get a degree, get a job, pass your driving test, buy a car, climb the career ladder, get engaged, get married, buy a house, have a baby, have two, get a promotion, upgrade your car, move to a bigger house, retire and relax.
Have you noticed how so many of those goals are actually material possessions or symbols of status? We grow up with this idea about what life ‘should’ be like for us. As if someone has already mapped out the story of our lives. Then we think we’re failing if we’re not hitting those goals. No wonder so many of us feel like we’re falling behind in life! But what goals would you choose if you started without these preconceived ideas of success and actually tuned into your own inner wisdom instead?
Those things on my list weren’t all mine. My idea of ‘success’ was a well-paid, high-achieving solicitor with a lifestyle to match, because that’s what the world told me to be. But in my heart, it’s always been about how I show up in the world and compassionately help others.
I thought that showing vulnerability was failure that would lead to rejection, because that’s what I learned from the adults around me. But my inner wisdom knows that I can only truly be successful in my relationships when I have the courage to be real; allowing my fears and feelings to be seen and asking for help when I need it, however uncomfortable that may feel.
My head told me that success was about intelligence; collecting certificates and top grades, because that’s what I was praised for. But my heart knows that true success really depends on my willingness to curiously explore the way that I think, feel and behave so that I can become a wiser, truer version of myself as each year passes.
What would happen if you got in touch with your own personal values and listened to what your heart truly wants in life? What would you go after? And what would you let go of?
3. You can always do something different
Whilst the timeline and milestones you’ve had in mind until now might not really be yours, you are responsible for creating and walking your own path, at your own pace. However, as someone who’s experienced social anxiety, I know how easy it is to feel like you’re falling behind in your education, career, relationships and your own personal growth to the point that you almost stop moving along your path altogether. Yet, there are things you want to achieve! You have your own unique milestones you want to reach, but it’s as if there’s an invisible wall stopping you from putting one foot in front of the other. A wall of fear.
Often when we feel like we’re falling behind, we put extra pressure on ourselves because we worry about other people judging us if we’re not as good at something as we think we’re supposed to be, so we avoid it for even longer (or, as in my case, get super drunk to cope with the anxiety). Then we compare ourselves to other people who always seem so confident and competent to us, forgetting that we have no idea how they really feel.
The reality is that so many people are also worried they’re not good enough, and most people would tell you they’re winging it through life. The difference is in how you choose to respond to those feelings… You can choose to hide away to avoid being seen as imperfect and afraid. Or you can choose to accept that you’re really not going to be perfect –nobody is– and give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable and anxious and to make mistakes, but show up anyway so that you can learn and grow and move forward in your life. Because that’s what’s important to you.
So if you’re worried that you’re falling behind in life, remember to check whose timeline you’re on and whether those milestones are really meant for you. You have permission to walk your own unique life path, and to take all of your fears and imperfections with you too. Don’t wait to feel confident or to be perfect, you can be brave and afraid at the same time. You can’t be failing at life if you’re having a go.