Recently I read a chat room posting about a twenty-nine-year-old, six months from his thirtieth birthday, lamenting on his feelings of being a failure. He had just begun training for a new career, and was now daunted with the task of starting on a new path. He further elaborated that his chief complaint with feeling like a failure was his disappointment with still being a single guy, without kids, and his current residence with his mother.
According to conventional wisdom, most people will usually advise this gentleman not live to his life based on a schedule or a timetable. I understand the mentality from which this conventional wisdom and anti-timetable thinking is derived. In my understanding, this conventional wisdom advises us to focus more on the present, and less on the end goal or destination. I will also note that in the past, I too have given such advice to others. Now, I will say there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting a timetable for your life. I still believe in the importance of making meaning in the journey (staying with the present). However, with a timetable, not only does one’s journey have more meaning, but it also has more structure. Timetables protect against becoming easily distracted from your objectives, and with the progression of time, they provide a clear understanding of how well you are doing, so you can make adjustments as necessary. If you think about it, most of us come into this world on a timetable (think grade school through high school), so it is quite natural and expected for us to develop timetables for our lives as we start to transition into adulthood and independence. So where do some of us go wrong? Also, how can those of us who are headed in a wrong direction redirect our paths?
According to Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Ironically, this is a very optimistic mindset to take to life, as anyone with this mindset will always prepare for the worst. But, there is a less popular addendum to that law, which states, “Nothing is that predictable.” So if you have lived from your childhood through your adolescence with things going relatively or roughly to plan, you are fortunate. However, you are at a slight disadvantage. Think about it: If you have never experienced the circumstance of things going awfully wrong, then you are likely to be significantly traumatized when things do go awfully wrong and throw you off your timetable. This is a common reason many people get off track with their goals. It also doesn’t help that we live in a society where we constantly receive the message that success is only reserved for people who work hard and are diligent in all facets of their lives. While there is some truth to this philosophy, it conveys a false positive. Which is, that if one were to work hard and be diligent, everything else will always fall into place and go according to plan. A lot of people who preach this mindset neglect to mention external factors which play a role in people’s lives—factors over which people are powerless. Examples would be illness, death of a loved one, being born and raised in abject poverty, natural disasters … this list could go on. People who subscribe to the conventional philosophy of success then tend to blame themselves when things (due to factors beyond their control) go wrong, or they project blame in a direction where it is not warranted.
So if you have been sidetracked from your plans or ambitions by things going awfully wrong, it is possible for you to get back on track. How? By removing unneeded “musts” from your mindset. The stars, the moon and neighboring planets do not have to be aligned in order for you to pursue your goals. As a veteran of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, I draw inspiration from memories of a soldier on base, running in the mornings with a prosthetic left leg. (He had lost his leg to a roadside bomb.) In short, you don’t have to look a certain way or come from a certain background, and things do not have to occur in a certain order for you to pursue your goals. Learning to accept the reality of your situation and rolling with the punches will take you a long way.
Another reason we fail to achieve our goals is that we allow ourselves to become handicapped by fear. This usually leads to embracing the comforts of our present situation, not wanting to make any advances for fear of failing. An example would be someone who struggles with shyness and is reluctant to date due to a fear of rejection. Yet, despite a desire towards starting a family, they find themselves getting older and still single and continue to take no action.
There is a popular saying which states: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This saying creates another false positive for most people, who are already experiencing a hesitancy in attempting progression in any facet of their life. This is because both the metaphoric devils—the one you know, and another you don’t know—are still devils. A positive twist and response to the “devil you know” sayings would be: “It is a necessity to proceed to the next challenge after having mastered ways to overcome a present challenge.” So how does a person, mentally burdened by fear, overcome his fear to achieve gains in life? By acquiring support. Seeking help from someone who can support you during the most challenging times of your life, or seeking support from others going through a similar experience as yourself can be a rewarding experience. As human beings, most would agree that we are creatures who strive to increase pleasure in order to reduce pain, or vice versa. However, happiness is found in the journey experienced in life.
Our journeys in life are characterized by the challenges we have overcome and are overcoming, and the best way to overcome our struggles is to put our challenges into a healthy mental context.