On feeling behind..what does it mean to have wasted time?

Sometimes I find myself dwelling on all the time I’ve wasted. On how behind I am at everything in life and how far ahead everyone else seems to be. Whether it’s how long it took me to finally get a good accountant, or to redesign my website, or to work out issues in my relationship. Whatever it may be, I end up kicking myself for how long it took me to get to the point of resolution, of change, and then I kick myself some more when I think of how far away I still am from where I want to be, where others currently are. While intellectually I realize the futility in going down this path, it doesn’t stop the thoughts from pinging against my brain, needling me down into the vortex.

The topic came up with a friend the other day. How this notion of “wasting time” is a silly one. How it’s actually not wasted because when we look back, we can see the lessons caught in those sticky webs of confusion, lethargy or despair we once spun. We can see them rising through all of the murkiness. And it’s these very lessons that can guide us in the present. Help us build momentum, motivate us to roll over all that once held us back, letting it be traction for our future goals.

Wrapped up in all of this is the notion that our self-worth is tied to our doing and output. I’ve talked about it before. In our world that is increasingly focused on productivity and validating our existence through what we’ve visibly “accomplished”, it’s hard not to compare. It’s hard not to look around and feel so utterly behind. But when we investigate these feelings further, we can see that they often don’t hold up under scrutiny. Because when we say we are “behind”, usually it means that we are looking outwards for external markers of growth and success. We see someone else killing it in their career or in their love life and we feel a pang of jealousy or regret. And then we jump to the conclusion that we are behind since we don’t have what they have. But if we can stop ourselves before we make the leap to what’s wrong with us and right about them and allow ourselves to feel the discomfort for a minute, then we can see that these pangs are actually important signposts telling us something about ourselves.

It’s not a novel concept I’m laying out here, others have awoken me to this same point before, but I think it bears repeating. I know I certainly need to hear it again. That when we ask “why do I feel this way?”, the answer probably lies in the fact that we aren’t doing something that we really want to be doing, that maybe we’ve neglected a facet of ourselves that we wish we hadn’t neglected. Seeing it in someone else just reminded us of that fact. And other times, when we untangle the discomfort, we find that there’s actually nothing to it at all. It unravels in our hands. We see that maybe those pangs of envy are only there because we think we want what they have, since maybe it seems everyone else does or that they are getting a lot of praise for it, but in actuality, we don’t. That’s their path, not ours, and we’re allowing society or the larger culture, or whatever it may be, to seep into our consciousness and play with our feelings of self-worth.

I feel silly typing these words out because the lessons seem glaringly obvious now, and maybe it all sounds a tad trite. But, in the moment, the feeling of having wasted time presses and weighs, turning positive growth into an “about time” rather than a celebration of how far we’ve come. Rather than embracing the fact that we’ve progressed and are now taking action towards where we want to go or who we want to be, we turn against the roots that brought us the flower.

Underlying it all is the truth that though our value is not defined by our achievements, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important either. We would be kidding ourselves if we said they weren’t. The trick is in defining what we want to achieve for ourselves and giving ourselves permission to get there in our own time, knowing that time cannot be wasted, every digression or turn only brings us new discoveries, frees us to see things a different way, becomes fuel that pushes us in a direction, that when we look back, we realize was where we had to go to get where we are now.

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