We love to talk about people who are more successful than us. Particularly, twenty-somethings who are more successful than us. Most of the time, we’re nowhere near them in terms of life paths, having our shit together, financial situations, or overall accomplishments. But still, we love to talk about them.
Most of us can barely keep our heads above water right now. So focusing on people who seem to have it all together is just rubbing salt in the wound. It’s almost like it stings so badly that we can’t stop. Like we’re so unhappy with where we stand and how little we’ve accomplished that we might as well make ourselves feel worse by looking up, reading about, and talking about the people that are in a place we wish we could be. Like doing that will somehow bring us clarity or motivation to finally know what it is that we’re supposed to be doing.
We’re convinced that comparing ourselves to the most successful twenty-something’s in the world will shame us into doing what’s necessary to achieve instant wealth, success, and fame. So we read all the articles: 30 Under 30 or 25 Under 25 or whatever else is posted online about twenty-somethings who are running shit. We stalk their Twitters and spend hours learning about them all on Wikipedia. We force ourselves to read about all the things that we are not.
The problem with all this is that obsessing over someone else’s life distracts us from seeing the progress that we actually are making in our own.
It’s rare that someone has conquered their chosen industry and achieved insane success before they’re 30 years old. And even if they have, they’re not finished. They’re still on a path, just like we are. They still have to figure things out every day, just like we do. Your twenties are about stepping stones. Your twenties are about getting there, not being there. You just have have to keep making small steps, and then little by little, before you know it, you’re on the path that is going to take you where you want to go. You don’t have to get there in a year or even 5 years. You just have to keep working every day to get yourself a little bit closer to where you want to be.
This long and confusing road doesn’t end when you turn 30. There’s no timeline. It’s not like you turn 30 and if your life is over if you haven’t accomplished your dreams or done something magnificent. Can you imagine if 30 was the actual climax of our lives? We would only have up to 29 years and 364 days to do what we want to do in life, and then after that, it would be all downhill. That’s no way to live a life. To work your ass off for years and then turn 30 and stop trying, whether you’ve achieved your goals or not.
A satisfying life is one where we’re challenging ourselves everyday. Where we’re remembering that success doesn’t come in an instant. It happens over many long nights, many difficult moments, and many periods where you thought everything was hopeless but you kept going anyway. Sometimes you finally reach one of your goals and it’s anti-climactic. It feels good, but not as sweet as you had hoped – because the part that you ended up really enjoying was the part where you were sweating and putting in everything you had and feeling like you weren’t good enough and somehow still getting through it. The achievement itself isn’t even that important to you anymore. What you enjoy is the knowledge that you made it, even through all of the self-doubt and uncertainty and ridicule and challenges that you faced.
The parts of success that often end up being the most special aren’t usually the end results. It’s the small, baby steps you took to get there. The ones that you barely notice. The small stepping stones towards accomplishment that seem like nothing at the time and end up being the very things that make up your character and who you are.
This is what we have to remember when we are feeling that all-consuming anxiety of having nothing to show for ourselves. It’s easy to let that crushing weight settle itself on your chest, and paralyze you to the point where you’re too scared to do anything. The pressure is so heavy that it almost feels like you can touch it. That’s okay. The pressure is going to be there no matter what. You don’t have to throw it off you and then race to the finish line. You just have to be willing to get up every day, and walk a tiny bit farther, even when the pressure is weighing down on you.
The pressure will never go away. It will try to stop you, and consume you, and keep you from going on. But all you have to remember is that one step forward on the right path is always going to get you farther than staying put. Enjoy the baby steps. Because eventually, you will get there, wherever that is. You’ll bask in that accomplishment momentarily. And then, you will just find yourself being nostalgic for each one of those painful and seemingly unimportant steps you took along the way.