It’s so easy to feel behind in your twenties. You look around at your friends and your peers, quickly seeing all the ways your life comes up short. They have more money, more status, more possessions, more friends, more everything than you! And so you feel behind, frustrated with your life and your circumstances, and somewhat jealous of that you don’t have what they do.
Every person in their twenties struggles with feeling behind. Really! But if you want to actually enjoy this decade of your life, and not just spend it comparing yourself to others, here are ten things you need to constantly remind yourself.
reminder 1: what society calls success usually isn’t
When you feel behind in life, make sure you first uncover the underlying narrative behind the people you’re using to judge your life against. Our society’s narrative for a successful life is whoever gets the most money, marries the best looking person, attains the highest status, and wields the most social power. These people are presented as the real winners in life, and are usually the ones we compare our lives to.
But why? Just because society defines success as that lifestyle, doesn’t mean it actually is success. If it were, why aren’t those people more happy? So often we feel behind in tangible things (buying a house, making a certain amount of money, having this many followers) and ignore that real success in life is about using your gifts to help others, while developing meaningful relationships along the way. The people who do that, whether rich or poor, famous or obscure, are the ones who are happiest.
Ask yourself: What definition of success am I using to compare my life to?
reminder 2: everyone starts in a different place
Before you start to compare yourselves to others, realize that everyone starts in a different place. Some people are born into rich, well-connected families with almost unlimited opportunities. Others are born to single mom’s who struggle just to get by. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, but yet we act like everyone starts at the same place, and thus can easily be compared to each other. Let’s face the facts: some people have incredible advantages, and so it’s just apples and oranges to compare your life to theirs.
When I moved to New York, I felt really behind all of my peers. But yet I had to realize I had a different starting point than them. No one in my small town in Kansas had ever even told me about New York, much less encouraged me to move there. I had to accept that we all start in different spots in life, and some are more advantageous than others for instant success. That doesn’t mean I’ve failed, just that I have a different story.
Ask yourself: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of where I’ve started? Am I maybe being a little too hard on myself?
reminder 3: everybody’s going to a different destination
So many young people their twenties as a race: the first one to check every box off wins. And so they rush to get promoted, buy a house, get married, have kids, attain a certain lifestyle, all trying to reach different milestones before their peers. But life isn’t a race that you should try to get through as soon as possible, but an experience to savor and enjoy.
Your life is going to a different destination than the people you’re comparing yourself to, so don’t be surprised if you don’t hit all the same checkpoints, especially at the same time. God has given you unique gifts, situation, and calling which will lead you down a different path than most people. Your twenties are not about jumping to a big lead in the race of life, but rather figuring out who you are and where God is taking your life.
Ask yourself: How is the destination I feel God is calling me to different than the people I’m comparing my life against?
Reminder 4: your twenties are about figuring out what works for you, not other people
Some jobs and career trajectories are set up to give external markers of success much faster than others. Careers in accounting, engineering, computers, law, and finance offer higher starting salaries and more structured and immediate pathways to financial and social success. Which is totally fine. But if your gifts don’t fit those kinds of careers, your twenties will be different, requiring more self-exploration and less in the way of starting salaries.
When you feel behind, check to make sure you’re not comparing yourself to someone with an entirely different career structure. Some careers give immediate payouts, while some careers take a lifetime to build. Figure out which path you’re on, and quit comparing yourself to the other. Every career path has pros and cons, so don’t force yourself into a bad fit just to appear success. Instead, use your twenties not to race others, but to learn about who you are and what you’re good at. Then you can spend the next forty years honing your gifts and abilities, not being miserable just to win some figurative life race.
Ask yourself: Am I comparing my career path to one that is set up completely differently time-wise?
Reminder 5: lots of people who look further ahead are stealing from tomorrow to pay for today
Many young people who look like they’re the furthest ahead in life, are using money they don’t have to appear more successful than they actually are. They are using credits and other debt to live beyond their means to look good in the short term, instead of saving and thinking of the long term. Often times the people with the nicest apartment, clothes, and lifestyle are getting those things at the tradeoff of setting their lives up for finance ruin down the road.
It’s so tempting to follow this trap, but you’ll save yourself a lot of future headaches if you learn how to live within your means in your twenties. Be willing to not have the nicest apartment or clothes or trips in your twenties so that you can establish a solid financial foundation that will help you thrive in your 50s, 60s, and beyond. Not spending all of your paycheck may make you feel behind today, but trust me, your future self will thank you.
Ask yourself: Am I making wise financial decisions, or am I caving into peer pressure to appear to live a certain kind of lifestyle?
reminder 6: if you’re not satisfied with what you have now, you’ll never be satisfied
When we feel behind, what we’re actually saying is: “When I have ______, then I’ll finally be able to be happy.” But when you think one more hit of achievement will finally satisfy us, we forget that that means everything you’ve achieved so far in life hasn’t. That’s the problem with thinking if you just catch up to your peers then you’ll be happy. Because no matter what you achieve, when you get it, you’ll find a new thing that you need to get in order to be happy.
Young people who feel behind will always feel behind, no matter how much they achieve or get, because they will just compare themselves to a new set of people “ahead” of them. Your desires will always outpace your attainments, unless you consciously work on curbing your desires. Instead, you need to learn to cultivate contentment and gratitude for what you do have. This doesn’t mean that you give up on your dreams, but rather that you learn to enjoy your situation and be thankful for today, regardless of what the future holds.
Ask yourself: What thing or achievement do I think will finally make me happy?
reminder 7: it takes years of hard work to do anything worthwhile
When you feel behind in life, it’s often because you’re expecting instantaneous success. But it takes time to build a meaningful life, and real, lasting success doesn’t happen overnight. It will take years to develop the skills, wisdom, and connections necessary to contribute to healthy organizations and communities. While it’s easy to spend your twenties discouraged about your lack of achievement, think tortoise, not hare, and commit yourself to a lifetime of growth.
Quit worrying about where you are in relation to your peers, and instead focus on getting better every day. Slow and steady growth over a lifetime is the only path to meaningful success. Many young people shoot for instant success, and either never get it or become one hit wonders, because they don’t have the framework in place for long-term success. Be patient and be diligent in cultivating your skills.
Ask yourself: How can I use the time I often feel sorry for myself, to instead work on getting better at what I’m gifted in?
reminder 8: delayed gratification makes for the sweetest gifts
When success and achievement come easily and on time, it’s tempting to grow complacent and entitled. These young people often struggle when life gets hard, as it does for everyone. While it’s okay if life comes easily, the most rewarding moments are often when you see years of hard work pay off. Why do you think Olympians are so happy? Because they’ve worked for years behind the scenes, and are finally seeing the fruit of their labor.
In the rush to appear ahead in life, many young people chase trivial things they can achieve quickly, never wanting to commit themselves to any larger or longer term goal. But if you want to live a satisfying life, quit trying to act like you’re ahead in your twenties, and instead commit yourself to serving a purpose and a people larger than yourself. Be willing to risk appearing behind your peers because you’re working on a calling, problem, or opportunity that is bigger than you.
Ask yourself: Am I more likely to work on important projects that help others, or short-term things that make me look good?
reminder 9: everybody feels behind in some way
Because we all only have one life, everyone feels behind in one way or another. Nobody can be at the front in every area, because most paths are mutually exclusive: choosing one requires you to fall behind in another. It’s easy to fixate on the ways you feel behind, but you also need to realize how blessed you are in the ways that you are ahead of some of your peers.
Rather than always grumbling about what you don’t have, take some time to count your blessings for all of the ways you have been gifted. Not in a prideful way, but rather to recognize that God has given you much more than you give Him credit for.
Ask yourself: In what ways am I ahead many of my peers? (If you think hard enough you have some)
reminder 10: trust that God is honing you in little ways to prepare you for bigger things to come:
God tells you that He first gives you small amounts of responsibility to see if you can handle it before He gives you more. Your twenties are this time of “small things” where you feel like you’re doing unimportant work. But really you’re building the character, integrity, and abilities that you’ll need to succeed in the future. God is working in your present to equip you for your future.
Many young people don’t believe this, so they loaf through their jobs, thinking they’ll turn it on when it really matters. But that’s not how life works. If you don’t do the unimportant things well, you’ll never have the opportunity to influence the important things. I know it’s hard to be patient, but you need to faithfully serve in your current role, no matter how beneath you you feel it is. Trust that these years of feeling behind aren’t being wasted, but are the training ground for your future responsibilities.
Ask yourself: How do I need to re-evaluate my attitude towards the things I consider unimportant in my life?
At its core, feeling behind your peers is really an identity issue: you’re trying to find your worth through your own relative achievements rather than recognizing your need for Christ’s achievements. When you try to find your worth through comparison, this a recipe for constant insecurity and fear, since you’ll always be worried about falling behind other people, no matter how much you achieve.
When you realize you’re loved and accepted through Jesus, you’ll be set free from comparison, and enable to enjoy the unique life ahead of you, even if it doesn’t meet all of your expectations. Remember, life is not about achieving a set of goals by a certain age, but rather engaging in the moment and growing into His plan for your life.