It’s easy to look at what other people are doing and think you’re failing, or defective, or somehow just wrong; what’s hard is to listen to your own heart, and to trust it.
I spent most of my early 30s secretly wondering if there was something terribly wrong with me. Every one of my friends was married and starting to have children, and I was still — single. Like most unattached women at that age, I felt a tremendous social and biological pressure to get my life on track before I ruined it forever.
Why can’t I check the boxes like everyone else? What am I doing wrong?
The year before I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend who was deeply ambivalent about marriage, because I was sure I had to get married. Check. And then have kids. Check. Soon. Because that’s how life is supposed to work.
I had considered going to therapy to find out if I was the victim of subconscious self-sabotage, but I wasn’t that motivated. Then my ex emailed me to say he had just eloped with the new girlfriend I didn’t know he had. Suddenly my life turned into a bad TV movie, and I made therapy a priority — right after I spent a week on the floor crying.
Is there something wrong with me? Am I broken? Whatever it is, let’s fix it so I can start being normal.
After talking with my therapist every other week for 6 months, she gave me the good and bad news: there was nothing to fix.
Nothing? Not even one dysfunctional pattern from my childhood to unravel?
Nope. She said I was just going through the normal life stuff she saw all the time.
On the one hand, thank goodness she didn’t think I had a serious medical issue, but on the other, how anticlimactic to have a professional tell me my pain was normal. I took her word for it though; I stopped the sessions and moved on as best I could.
It took me ten years, another long-term boyfriend, another major breakup, and a lot of meditation to find a resolution to my questions; and it didn’t involve getting married or having children. The answer to all my questions was this:
The only thing wrong with me was that I kept thinking there was something wrong with me.
I was making myself miserable thinking that if my life didn’t follow the same pattern as everyone else’s, it was a problem, and worse, *I* was the problem. I had fallen into the trap of believing that we’re all here to check the same boxes by the same age and then die.
We’re so quick to judge ourselves as wrong or failing when we can’t make our lives fit the mold someone else gave us. It’s often much easier to take the blame than it is to go within and find our own answers, especially when they turn out to be different from everyone else’s.
If I had been more focused on my own feelings, rather than those of that ex-boyfriend who didn’t want to get married — to me, I might have noticed my own ambivalence about marriage (and children). And I might have heard my heart telling me that was okay, and that I could relax, because what it really wanted was independence.
But that didn’t happen.
The only way I resolved the fear that there was something terribly wrong with me was to start looking at my life in a new way. Eventually I realized that every time I looked to some outside source for my definition of success, I lost myself in fears of personal defect and failure. The only solution for me was to start listening to my own heart over everything.
What do I want? What do I really want?
And then trust I’d be okay following my own answers.
Of course, this isn’t a commentary on getting married or having children; those are the right choices for a lot of people. We all have our own versions, though, of boxes we think we need to check to be successful at life. There is an entire world of people willing to tell you what your life should look like, but your answer is the only one that ever matters.
So rather than giving yourself a hard time for not doing what everyone else is doing,
What if you gave yourself a break for a little while?
What if you aren’t failing, and you aren’t defective?
What if you stopped thinking there was anything wrong with you?