We work hard. We struggle. We want to get ahead, be successful, and get to the life of our dreams. That’s not a bad thing. Except, every so often, things don’t go our way. And we find ourselves “behind.”
But what does that mean? Whose standards do we judge by? Sometimes, the worst things turn out to be the best. And life can change at the drop of a hat. In any direction. So as long as we’re living with enthusiasm, giving life all we’ve got, and remembering that the journey is more important than the destination, there is no being “behind.” Where ever we are, is perfectly fine.
In my early twenties, I saw my life as somewhat of a project. With a timeline. With milestones that needed to be hit. And an amorphous end goal.
My timeline stretched from where I was, to the end of my life (light years away). My milestones were finishing college, getting a great job, supporting myself, volunteering, finding love, getting married, attending graduate school, getting a better job, making more money, travelling the world, supporting my parents, getting a dog, buying a house, having beautiful kids, giving back to society, and having a fabulous life. Roughly in that order.
My end goal – well, it wasn’t clearly defined. It had something to do with “success” and “achievement;” whatever those things were. This lack of clarity didn’t concern me. Because I figured as long as I hit my milestones, I would be alright.
So, milestones were important. They were indicators for how I was doing in life. They told me how far I had come. How far I was from where I wanted to be. Where I stood relative to the world. And where the world stood relative to me.
Milestones also dictated how I felt about my life. When I hit my milestones, I felt like my life was “on track.” It was going well. I felt happy, and secure. When I missed milestones, I felt like my life was “off-track.” I was “behind.” I felt dejected, and insecure.
So, milestones mattered. I measured my progress in life by them.
Milestone-wise, I did well for a few years. I found love. I graduated from college. I got a good job. An apartment. A husband. A nicer apartment. A raise. A promotion. I travelled abroad. I went to graduate school. I got an even nicer apartment. I travelled some more. I got a new degree. A better job. I earned more money than I had earned before. I bought nice things. I moved into a pretty yellow house. And headed towards bigger and better milestones: kids, home ownership, more financial security, and other things. I was “on-track.”
But my life didn’t feel good. I was struggling with myself. And with my relationships; especially with my marriage. I didn’t know how to find a healthy equilibrium between the job that I enjoyed and had worked hard to get, and other aspects of my life that were important to me. The future I was heading towards didn’t make sense. My life didn’t make sense. I felt completely “off-track.”
Eventually, my life underwent a major upheaval. I got a divorce. And I gave up my law-firm job. Within the span of a few months. It seemed like I hurling myself off-track. I was letting go of a relationship that was familiar. And that would have allowed me to hit the rest of my milestones easily. I was risking my career. One that I had worked too hard to even begin. I was letting go of a promising future.
But, a life that felt more on-track became available. As I started to live it, I found myself struggling less. My life filled with people and things I loved. I felt like I was finally in the life I had always meant to be in. And I was happier and more peaceful than I had ever been before.
So, how was I doing now? How far had I come? How far did I have to go? Where did I stand relative to the world? Where did the world stand relative to me? How far from “success” and “achievement” was I? Was I on-track, or off-track?
I no longer had a clue.
And this is where I find myself today. Without a clue. And without needing to have one. Because I am where I am. Right now, it feels good. I will enjoy it while it does. And be grateful for it. If it changes, I’ll deal with it. And try to remember that sometimes, worse begets better. Because what is better or worse anyway? Better or worse by whose standards? And better or worse for what?
As for my milestones – I still want some of those things. But I try not to measure my life by them. Instead, I measure it by how authentic my relationships feel. How centered I can be. How honest with myself I am. How few regrets I collect. How peaceful I am. And how much love exists within me. They are no longer milestones to be achieved. They can be with me every moment I breathe. And nothing is more fulfilling.