Have you ever felt like you were behind? I used to feel that way. I would read articles about a 26-year-old entrepreneur with a billion-dollar company or a 16-year-old kid who invented a new kind of fusion reactor and a slow creep of panic would start to rise in my chest. I would read about my favorite author who published their first book at 27 and I was already 25 and I had not even written one page and I started counting backwards to figure out of it was even possible to finish a book by then and I can’t believe I didn’t start it last year when I said I was going to and why the hell it so easy to watch six seasons of Game of Thrones in two weeks but I can’t even get myself to write one fucking page of a book or how about the gym for that matter, I haven’t been to the gym in six months and if I had stuck to it back in college I would have a six pack by now like the guy on the front cover of Men’s Fitness.
The feeling of being behind is one of the most destructive feelings to harbor and yet almost every high performer I have ever met suffers from it. The question that finally helped me break the cycle was: behind compared to what? Some alternate-reality version of yourself without flaws, a relentless Terminator on the Perfect Course of Life, chasing down and slaying goals and if you stop to catch your breath for one second the cyborg-take-no-prisoners-has-no-bad-days-or-relationship-or-family-issues-and-never-binge-watches-Netflix ‘you’ will just fly by and you will never be able to catch up no matter how hard you try?
I will tell you a secret. There is no other version of yourself, there is only the version sitting here right now. You are not behind (or, for that matter, ahead): you are exactly where you are supposed to be. So take a deep breath and relax.
Maybe you spent the last two weeks binge-watching six seasons of your favorite TV show. Or maybe you were a jealous mess in your last relationship, or you haven’t done one bit of exercise in the past two years. These things are neither good nor bad. They are irrelevant and you need to let go of them if you want to move forward and be happy. If you won’t say it to yourself, I will say it for you: you are forgiven. No more wasting time thinking about all of the things you have or have not done.
History is simply “all the data we have so far,” says venture capitalist Paul Graham. It may be worth looking at your history in order to learn more about yourself, but that learning stops when review turns to regret. Regret is just a horrible attempt at time travel that ends with you feeling like crap. You can analyze the data, learn from it, draw conclusions, but you can’t change the data itself. You can’t do anything in the past. You can’t reach into your past and change a decision, regardless of how many times you replay it in your mind. So turn your eyes forward and focus on what you can change: the future.
And besides, the further behind you start, the more glorious your comeback will be. There’s a reason why we celebrate ‘rags to riches’ stories. A ‘riches to riches’ story would be so boring.
Follow me on Twitter @zackkanter. PS. This is an excerpt of a book I’m writing. If you like it, sign up for email updates and I’ll let you know when it’s released.