What to Tell Yourself When You Feel Behind in Life


Growing up is inevitable. So, too, is that feeling of whether or not we’re doing it right. Post high school or college, we lose the cohort safety net that’s previously been our barometer of success. As we move through our twenties, we’re increasingly surrounded by milestones that used to feel foreign or meant “for later” (you know, things like marriage, buying a house, having kids, starting a business, selling a business, etc.).

So it’s highly likely that at some point you’ll find yourself staring in the mirror wondering: Am I behind? Am I really an adult? Shouldn’t I be more “established” by now? What does “established” really mean, anyhow?

And if you haven’t asked yourself those questions, well, you’re probably not reading this article to begin with. So to all the other cabooses out there: Hi. We’re in this together. I stare in the mirror and ask myself those questions pretty frequently; so much so, I’ve started realizing some deeper truths that help me slowly step away from the mirror and get back out there, making the most of my own lane.

If you’re feeling behind in life, here are a few things to tell yourself to work through it:

Who are you comparing yourself to?

Source: Alessio Lin

It’s easy to paint broad strokes by thinking “everyone has their life figured out but me.” But realistically, 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 friend group, 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 your friends to reassure you. When we’re confident that those who know us best will still be there for us, regardless of reaching certain milestones at the same time, we can settle back into our own set of circumstances and with less pressure of needing to keep up.

On the other hand, if you find that you’re comparing yourself to those “out there,” or people beyond your immediate social scene, call out the lie that says that’s actually what’s going on. It’s far easier to entertain shame or non-acceptance when all we see are the glorified images of someone who we don’t know in real-time. So if you’re bummed your life doesn’t look like a favorite blogger, actress, or even your high school BFF that you now know only via Facebook, then give yourself a break. There are too many unknowns for it to be an adequate assessment of your life “being on track.”

Decide what YOU like.

Source: Elijah Henderson

Being reassured that we’re known, loved, and valuable to a few close friends—despite our lives looking identical—is amazing for our self-confidence. It reminds 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. Instead of focusing on what you lack (that others seem to have), it can be helpful to switch gears and think about what’s unique to your season that others can’t take advantage of. 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.

For example, rather than bemoaning you’re not married or don’t own a home, think about how flexibility could enable you to move to a new city or take a job assignment. Conversely, if you’re a stay-at-home mom who wishes she could travel the world or go back to school, flip the script and consider how you could think outside the box with your kids, perhaps bringing that love of travel into the kitchen or in learning a foreign language with your child.

Your life doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s but your own.

Do a heart and gut check. Are you behind?

Source: Jiri Wagner

Honesty can take us places; as adults, we sometimes forget the need to dig deep and face what we otherwise wish we could avoid. If we’re not careful, over time it could be a very real possibility we’ve learned how to sidestep struggle and tap out when things get uncomfortable.

Could it be that there is a foolish behavior, an underlying fear or insecurity that has prevented you from choosing to commit to a career, settle down in a city, save up for a house, or risk the vulnerability of a relationship? That you may, in fact, actually be behind? Not behind in the sense that there is only one right way to be an adult, but behind in that you haven’t pressed in when a challenge could have been necessary to shape or mature your life.

This isn’t always the case, of course, but constantly re-evaluating where you are in life and your motivations for being there will help move you forward. A benefit of being honest, gritty, and real with yourself is that if you are able answer “yes,” that you’ve pressed in, you’ve allowed yourself to grow through challenges and are able to identify skills or interests you want to take advantage of (and work hard toward), then keep going! You’re living your life and allowing it to bloom according to a one-of-a-kind timeline. Don’t worry about rubbernecking to stay in step with everyone else.

Enjoy your own path. You’re the only one who can.

P.S. Here’s a fun-fact about cabooses: Historically, they were the train car that offered shelter for the crew and kept an eye out for trouble or damaged cargo. Isn’t that a great picture of the friend who maybe isn’t where everyone else is… yet?