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What are the healthy ways to work through the feeling that you are “behind in your life”?

This is something I myself have long wondered but failed to express as eloquently and succinctly as you have—especially to my therapist—so I both congratulate and thank you for offering up this inquiry! 

There have been so many moments in my life that I’ve felt behind. When I saw my high school classmates, years after graduating, begin having one, two, even three kids! When my coworkers (younger ones, at that) fondly remembered visiting countries that were still on my bucket list. When friends of my friends began to buy homes in trendy neighborhoods. The list can go on and on—and it will if I keep using others’ lives as my only tool of measure. 

The list of moments I’ve felt behind in life can go on and on—and it will if I keep using others’ lives as my only tool of measure.

If your feelings of being lesser-than—or, more so, later-than—often come from comparing yourself to others, you’re not alone. (Hi!) If they derive from well-meaning but imposing parents, we’ve got tips on how to create boundaries there, too.

But if it’s you who created this unforgiving schedule then you’re in luck, because I’m sure you could talk to the boss and ask to be granted a bit more grace. (Hint: It’s you, you’re the boss.) Until then, here are a few ways I think we can address this very common feeling with both patience and compassion for self.

Identify our triggers and how we engage with them

When we get intentional about our engagement with content, we can discover what does us more harm than good.

Whether it’s social media, reality shows, magazines, or some other source, if certain content leaves you feeling low, consider doing a digital detox or making more self-affirming swaps. We often consume these things out of habit rather than mindfully, but when we get intentional about our engagement, we can discover what does us more harm than good. 

Still, we can’t avoid every impetus; sometimes our feelings of inferiority stem from our most stable foundations, like long-lasting friendships or a competitive but beloved career. In those instances, the Harvard Business Review has a suggestion: “View your peer’s progress objectively, as if you were a journalist researching their story rather than someone in direct competition with them….Instead of saying to yourself, ‘I wish I did or had that,’ ask yourself, ‘Why can’t I do or have that?’”

Reflect on what we *have* achieved

What joyful circumstances in your life have only occurred because things did *not* go according to your plan?

Big or small, what are the moments in your life that you are proud of? What have you accomplished that other people think is pretty damn cool? Better yet, what would your younger self think was worthy of awe and applause? Even more fun to recall, what joyful circumstances in your life have only happened because things did not go according to the plan you made for yourself? Write these down and look back at them whenever you question your progress. 

My father likes to remind me that life is a journey, and that if I keep my eye too relentlessly fixated on a single prize, I’ll miss all the sneaky good things that happen along the way. Moreover, there’s always the chance that once we achieve or receive The Thing, we’ll already have our sights set on another. 

If we don’t get a grasp on gratitude soon, we could be setting ourselves up for a literal lifetime of thinking the grass is always greener. Striving is one thing, but insatiability is another.

If we don’t get a grasp on gratitude soon, we could be setting ourselves up for a literal lifetime of thinking the grass is always greener.

Trust ourselves—and our timing

Understandably, our frustration with feeling “behind” can sometimes also be exacerbated by the idea that we’ve done all the right things. We made all the right choices. So why? Why hasn’t “It” happened yet? Ironically, that same frame of mind can save us from spiraling. 

If in your gut, using your strongest instincts and total truth, you feel confident that you’ve done everything within your power to achieve what you envision, and life is still not going according to that plan, then that should serve as proof (and relief) that it’s not you—it’s timing. And it’s out of your control. But it will still work in your favor. Because it’s yours.

If you’re not marking off milestones at the pace you desire, it can often be because other ones need to happen first. Writer Jamie Varon explains it well: “Sometimes the novel is not ready to be written because you haven’t met the inspiration for your main character yet….Sometimes you’re not falling in love because whatever you need to know about yourself is only knowable through solitude.” 

What’s meant for us will be for us. All we can do is continue to play as if we have all the answers, and then take solace in knowing that we don’t have them at all.

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Danielle Cheesman was born and raised in New Jersey, where she lived until moving to Philadelphia to study journalism at Temple University. She has spent her years writing and developing editorial visions for music, art, and lifestyle brands. Now residing in Los Angeles, you can usually find her taking pictures, making playlists, or cuddling her pup. Say hi on Instagram!