Last month someone I know got quite upset about the fact that he was turning 31 and felt like he has done nothing with his life. Although his age should not matter, to him his age was a good measurement of how much success he should have achieved by now. Unfortunately to many of us self-imposed timelines based upon our ages can create unnecessary distress. My friend was turning 31 which means he has the potential to live for another 6 decades. However, instead of asking how he wanted the next thirty years of his life to go, he focused on what was missing from the first thirty years of his life.
I would be lying if I didn’t feel that arbitrary timelines have not influenced my life in a negative way. I’d focus on my salary is not as high as I thought it would be, or the fact that my career isn’t where I want it to be right now. Worrying about arbitrary timelines is simply a waste of time. Below are some ways you can stop worrying so much about a timeline and stay focused on what you want out of your life.
Give yourself time to reflect. Staying busy is a great distraction to keep you from actually listening to yourself. Many of us very badly want a change in our lives but are unwilling to create space to listen to our own hearts. You might be making yourself busy with hobbies, career and going out every night that it feels impossible to take a hard look at yourself. Giving yourself space to think isn’t exactly pleasant. Sure taking space can be relaxing at some stage, but you will probably go back to thinking about what you thought your life would look like when you were much younger. Maybe you felt you would be a millionaire by now, have an amazing partner, children or have travelled all over the globe. Facing the fact that you may not have lived up to your youthful expectations can be distressing. Don’t worry. That’s part of the process. When you can come face to face over what you thought you wanted back then, you can reassess what you want right now. You give yourself the space to accept that you didn’t live up to the dreams you had back in high school or college. That’s okay. You are a different person now. You can accept that you didn’t live up to those dreams by the timeline you set for yourself years ago, and that doesn’t make you a failure. It’s just time to reconsider what your dreams for yourself are now and what you intend to do to achieve your dreams right now.
However, you must give yourself the space to reflect. I have just recently returned from a volunteering trip to the Philippines where a significant portion of my time was spent reflecting on a gorgeous beach devoid of tourists. The Internet there was terrible so I was free of distractions. As a result, I spent several hours each day in silence and just reflecting on my own life and figuring out what I wanted from myself. Fortunately we all don’t have to travel to a far off beach to have this experience. Take time each day to meditate or reflect. Make sure your phone and other distractions is turned off and out of reach during this time.
Take the timeline out of the equation. Let’s say that you met someone who could you tell you your future today. What if this fortune teller told you that you would never achieve this specific dream whether that dream includes finding a life partner or starting a successful business? Conversely, how would you feel if the fortune teller told you that one day they can guarantee that you will achieve those dreams at some stage in your life but are unable to tell you the specific time? How would you live the remainder of your life knowing that you either would one day achieve what you desire or may not achieve it? Would you relax, go out, have fun, pursue interests that bring joy to your life or simply sit in misery dreading the next coming decades of your life? Having timelines can be necessary with short term goals. Maybe you want to complete a short story by the end of next month or need to apply for graduate school before next year. Having short term goals are fine but in terms of a lifelong dream, having strict timelines can actually set you back. You will feel really bad for not having achieved something by a specific age or stage in your life, which may make you feel like a failure. When you remove the timeline, you realize that you have plenty of time to achieve this dream. It may not happen in the exact way you wish it would, but it can happen.
If you are the type who really likes a timeline, have a more flexible one. Instead of saying I need to finish my book in the next six months, say that you would like to give yourself the next year or so to finish your book. Instead of feeling like you need to find your life partner by the age of 30, aim for finding a healthy long-term and committed relationship sometime in the next several years of your life. When you give yourself more flexibility, you allow yourself to feel happier with the process of pursuing your dreams rather than nervously counting down to a self-imposed deadline.
Accept that taking longer to achieve something you want isn’t bad. Looking back on my life, there are dreams that I wanted earlier in my life but I lacked the maturity, finances, intellect or wisdom to achieve that dream. Some dreams are more successful the longer you wait. You could have written a book in your twenties but you may have needed more time, skill and patience to have crafted a book that you feel happy to share with the world. These skills are not something we are born with, but are developed through practice and patience. You could meet the right woman for you today but if you lack the maturity to properly handle a long term relationship, the relationship is pretty much doomed to fail. Recognize that it may be in your best interests to continue working on yourself before being in the right place to achieve your dreams.
Revaluate your priorities. When you get caught up on achieving something in a certain timeframe, you may actually be avoiding an even more important consideration. You might be avoiding if the things you want are still things you want. Maybe earning a high paying salary was very important to you in your early twenties. However, maybe after spending years in a career you are more interested in a career that you are passionate about and pays well, but is not necessarily high paying. Maybe you are holding onto a dream of being a chef when in actuality that is something that doesn’t interest you anymore. Perhaps you wanted children at one stage in your life, but maybe you have decided that that lifestyle is not for you. Instead of focusing on what you have not achieved by now, focus on what you actually do want out of your life right now. Even if your dreams have not changed, you may find that your priorities need some adjusting.
Journal your progress. It is too easy to lose sight of your goals and progress when keeping busy. Your dream may be huge but it’s likely that you have been slowly working towards that dream. Taking time to journal where you are at now and how you have progressed will help you realize that you are moving forward. Sure, you may feel like you are not moving forward right now, but you are. When you record how far you have come, you will see that you are moving forward even if it does not feel that way right now. Keeping a journal may also help you show ways in which you can make improvements to achieve your end goal.
So take a deep breath and relax. Work on living a full and enjoyable life. You don’t need to worry about a plan that requires all sorts of strict deadlines. You can still aim for your dreams but remember that you have plenty of time to reach your dreams. Don’t let a self-imposed timeline make you feel like a failure or prevent you from feeling good about your life. Relax, be happy and let everything fall into place in its own time.