So I have some stuff going for me. I graduated from a Top 50 college at 22, I went on a mission, I’ve taught seminary as my actual job, I’ve done awesome outreach work through multiple non-profit organizations, and I’m a published author. That’s good, right?
But I’m not married, have no children, no graduate degrees, and really not much professional progress. And that’s bad. Well, at least I feel like it’s bad, and it’s the part I think about.
I’m 26, and all of my friends fall into the early 20’s to mid 30’s range. I’m blessed to know and love the best set of people on the planet. They are awesome and they do awesome things.
But (and you knew this was coming) every time I become aware of some facet of their station in life, I immediately compare myself. If my 24 year old friend just got her Master’s, I feel so far behind. If my 29 year old friend get’s her Master’s, I feel an anxious urgency to hurry up and “do something” so that I can keep pace.
My late teens to early 20’s had a good cadence about them- I left for college at 17, took classes every summer, got my mission call two weeks after my 21st birthday, moved out-of-state two weeks after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. From there, my progress felt like it was slowing, but remained steady. I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a full-time employee for the Church Education System, but after two years of actively pursuing that, I found myself at 24, jobless, hopeless, and driving from Salt Lake to California to move back in with my parents.
My self-confidence took a major blow. I had never been the pretty one, the funny one, or the adventurous one, but I had always, ALWAYS been the smart one. My sense of self-worth came from a good college (since that’s what smart people do), and the post-degree translation of that was to get a good job. Or at least an interesting, respectable job.
Not having a job caused me to feel that my education didn’t matter, and really made me feel like it may as well not have happened. When people ask me if I was in school, I wouldn’t tell them I had finished, I would just tell them no. If they asked me if I was working, I wouldn’t recount any of previous work or explain that I was “between jobs”, I would just tell them no. I expected people to see me as a nobody, because I saw (sometimes still see) myself as a nobody.
My lack of direction and lack of hope became so serious that I began to fantasize about death. I would never kill myself because I don’t want the people who love me to have to carry that weight around for the rest of their lives, but I was hoping to get hit my a bus or stricken with some aggressive terminal illness so that I could still die, but without everyone having to know how miserable I was.
I know this sounds crazy to a lot of you. But I also know that to a lot of you, it doesn’t sound crazy at all. I hope that none of you have ever actually secretly wished for death (if you have, you have my compassion), but I know that I can’t be the only one who feels slowed down, held up, or halted all together.
Maybe you are happily married, but struggling to conceive while well-meaning folks keep asking when you’re going to have a baby. (How long have you been married? 5 years?)
Maybe the marriage you hoped and prayed for came, but then went when some cruel form of “incompatibility” arose. Maybe you are in your seventh year of undergraduate work and still struggling to feel comfortable with school. Maybe you got your “dream job” to discover that whatever your dream was, this isn’t it. Maybe you feel slow socially, wondering why you are not a part of the friend groups you see forming around you. There are a lot of ways to feel behind, and in order to be behind, we have to feel like someone else is ahead.
I’m just trying not to feel too far behind.
I’m a lot happier now (praise God). I had a few tender mercies that got me out of my hell-hole of a state of mind and into a more literal hell (Arizona…and it’s July), which was right where I needed to be. That feeling of progress hasn’t quite come, but my hope-o-meter hovers at around 96%. Right now I am facing 3.5 more years of school to earn my second bachelors degree in Nursing, followed by a 2 years master’s degree. This means I will not be done with school until I am 32. This scares me into not wanting to try at all. Graduating at 32 seems so far behind all of my friends who did things “the right way”.
But I know that there is no “right way” besides the one that is right for us. So many of our concerns in this life involve things not matching up to our preferred time table, or feeling like we ourselves are not matching up to our preferred time table. It’s good to have goals, it’s important to have plans, and I believe it’s essential to our happiness to feel like we are progressing. But the rate and nature of the progression of others has nothing to do with our own.
Comparing ourselves to each other either makes us prideful or makes us spiteful. I propose that we should be patient and joyful. Patient with ourselves and with others in times of struggle. And we should allow ourselves to feel joy over the accomplishments achieved by both others and ourselves.
I am likely preaching to the choir. I have said nothing new, but I have said something important. Even if it’s just important to me.
Go (your own “right” way). Fight (your own battles). Win (at your own life).