You just returned from girls (or guys) night out and you can’t help but compare your own life – unfavorably – to that of your friends. Here you are, 30-something, unmarried (with no prospects on the horizon), still living in a cramped apartment, and working a job that leaves you less than thrilled. Sound familiar?
It’s not uncommon by the time you reach your 30s to focus on what you haven’t achieved. But instead of measuring yourself against what others have accomplished, it may be healthier to reflect upon your own life, and to take credit for the progress – however small and inconsequential it seems – that you’ve made along the way. “Progress can be defined in many ways,” said Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy Editor at Large and licensed psychotherapist. “For some people, progress is getting to the gym twice in a week or even getting out of bed in the morning! I believe that progress needs to be evaluated based on small goals and large goals, and should be determined by the individual person, not what society expects us to be doing.”
Not sure what to credit yourself for? Here are some signs that you may be doing better than you think you are:
1. You can appreciate what you have. Maybe it’s not perfect, but if you have the basics – food, shelter, clothing, and a job – and you’re able to count yourself lucky. “It’s a great place to start,” said Chicago-based licensed clinical professional counselor and author of Stress in the Modern World, Serena Wadhwa, Psy.D. “When we see where our starting mark is, it may go a long way in recognizing how the rest of the journey may be,” she explained.
If you think that being grateful for the small things rather than focusing on what you don’t have is “settling,” there’s another perspective to consider, according to Dr. Wadhwa: “Settling is giving up, losing faith,” she said. And you don’t have to lose faith that you can better your circumstances in order to appreciate what you have right now.
2. You take responsibility for your life. Taking responsibility for your life is more than having a job and supporting yourself. It means that even if you’ve had horrible experiences, whether as a child or an adult – and who hasn’t? – you know that you can choose to move forward from them and to create a better future. “I always say that you’re the only person that is around you 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” said Kaiser. “This means that there is only one person that you can count on on a regular basis to truly take care of yourself. The best way to accomplish that is to be able to fully take responsibility for yourself. Know who you are, learn your strengths and weaknesses, own up to your mistakes, and praise your successes.”
3. You are trying to better yourself, working toward a goal. You may not have everything you want right now, but you’re able to reflect upon the past and make plans for future accomplishments. Reflection is an important part of establishing new goals, said Dr. Wadhwa, because you may see patterns from the past that can help you to focus more in a different part of your life. Bettering yourself, she added, is all about reflecting and reassessing.
4. You surround yourself with true friends. No, friends are not the 299+ people – some of whom you’ve never met – you invited into your life through social media. Friends are those few people (maybe only as many as you can count on one hand) who will come visit you in the hospital if you are there, who will take care of your child if an unexpected work meeting or emergency comes up, and who will be there for you both when you’re celebrating a victory and when you’re feeling down. “Reaching a place in your life where you have surrounded yourself with true, supportive friends who bring out the best in you is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Kaiser.
5. You have activities that you participate in and enjoy. All work and no play, according to the proverb, makes Jack (or Jill) a dull person. “Finding activities that you enjoy is good for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being,” said Kaiser. “Many people walk around for months and even years struggling to find activities that give them pleasure. If you’ve accomplished that, you’re insured greater joy and happiness in your life.”
Looking at what you’ve accomplished in a new way? “For some of us, society, or the way we’ve been raised, has taught us that success is measured by the tasks of career, family, and finances,” said Kaiser. “However, success can also be found in looking at the little individual things in life that matter to you and to the people closest to you.”
“Progress is moving forward, plain and simple,” added Dr. Wadhwa. “If people focus on what they don’t have, they shade themselves from the shining sun.”
6. You are making an impact upon others. Almost as important as helping yourself is helping others. If you’re a good sister or brother, good son or daughter, or good friend, you’re ahead of the game. “Being able to accomplish being a good person and taking care of others can make you feel happier, build yourself a stronger support system of others who want to be there for you, and make an overall difference in the world,” said Kaiser.
It’s easier to measure your progress from week to week and year to year if you develop a recording system. Some ideas:
✓Journaling – Successful people have kept journals (or diaries) for centuries. A journal can be a powerful life tool to help you clarify your feelings, solve problems, and understand what you need and want. When you look back at what you’ve written over the past year, you can easily see how far you’ve come. It’s important when keeping a journal to write at least a few sentences every day. Forget spelling and punctuation, just write a little bit about yourself, what you’re doing, feeling, and thinking.
✓Tracking – Tracking is a tool that you can use if you like an accurate measure of your progress. Tracking involves charts, logs, or tables in which you can record the facts. For example, if your goal is to find a job that you enjoy more, you can track number of resumes you’ve sent, interviews you’ve gone to, or steps you’ve taken to enhance your marketability. If you’re working on getting your finances under control, you can track monthly expenses.
There are many apps that can help you to record your goals, add tasks or steps required to achieve the goal, and then track your progress. Three to explore are LifeTick, Strides, and GoalsOnTrack.
✓I Did It List – If you’re not into creative writing and you don’t want to take the time for daily tracking, a daily goal list is ideal. Simply write everything you’d like to accomplish each day and cross things out as you complete them; carry over incomplete items to the next day. To see how far you’ve come, keep your daily lists in a binder and look back on them periodically.
By Linda Hepler, BSN, RN