The passing of time makes me feel more 'behind' than ever
Happy New Year!
I can’t believe it’s already the 9th of January. I can’t believe it’s 2022. I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since I first was asked by an editor to work on an article about the outbreak of a virus in Wuhan, China. I can’t believe I’m 37. I can’t believe I’ve lived in the house I’m in for 18 months. I just can’t believe how fast time is flying. I have this overwhelming feeling that time is slipping through my fingers (yes I am singing Abba – or actually the Mamma Mia version – in my head as I write this) and I’m not fully making the most of the time I have.
This feeling sometimes makes me feel sad but more often than not, it makes me feel a little panicky. The list of things I haven’t done yet seems to swim in front of me. From the more day to day things like pitch all the articles ideas I have before someone else writes them, knit my friend a baby blanket and upcycle the Welsh dresser I got from Facebook marketplace to the more life changing things such as buy a house, pay off my debt, learn to drive, write a book and – probably the most time sensitive of all – have a baby (oh and of course the small matter of finding a partner to have one with. That or winning the lottery so I can do it solo!).
Sometimes this feeling of time flying by makes me feel a little lost and directionless because I start to worry I’m on the wrong path and don’t know where my life is going or if I’ll ever stop feeling behind my peers. I decided I needed a little booster to remind myself of what’s important in life so I have just read Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library again this week. I realised it’s been exactly a year since I read it for the first time and so I think I’ve started a new tradition. I always find I take different things from books the second or third or fourth time I read them and I love re-reading books for that reason. On this reading of the book, it made me think about time and the beauty of letting things play out and being curious about what happens rather than focusing on the things you haven’t done yet and the life you could be leading if only you got your act together.
This is quote below stood out to me and helped me snap out of the feeling that I’m “behind”:
It was interesting, she mused to herself, how life sometimes simply gave you a whole new perspective by waiting around long enough for you to see it.”
The moment you are reading this newsletter and this word is just a snapshot in time and what’s going on for you right now doesn’t actually define who you are as a person or what your life means. Everything could change in a minute or an hour or by tomorrow or by Spring or by this time next year. Sometimes external things may come along and shift our perspective or totally upend us or sometimes things shift internally. We might suddenly accept where we are in life or realise we don’t want what we thought we did anymore or maybe something happens to make us feel just incredibly grateful to be alive and healthy.
I know I’ve talked before about the feeling of being behind and not hitting the life milestones that society shoves down our throat but so many of you write to me and say that you also feel this way. But something I always remind myself is that comparing our current lives to the ones we think we should be living (or that society makes us feel we should be!) only makes us feel shitty about our actual circumstances which in reality might not be that bad at all. And comparing ourselves to other people’s actual lives (all those perfect family Christmas shots that were all over Instagram maybe or when you hear about someone buying a nice house you can only dream of affording) just makes us focus on what we are lacking and not what we already have. Matt explores this in The Midnight Library:
Every second of every day we are entering a new universe. And we spend so much time wishing our lives were different, comparing ourselves to other people and to other versions of ourselves, when really most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad.
There are patterns of life... Rhythms. It is so easy, while trapped in just the one life, to imagine that times of sadness or tragedy or failure or fear are a result of the particular existence. That it is a by-product of living a certain way, rather than simply living. I mean, it would have mad things a lot easier if we understood there was no way of living that can immunise you against sadness. And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can't have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you're in.
After writing this section of the newsletter, I took a break and walked into town to run a few errands. While waiting for my Ecover products to be refilled in a local grocery store, I nipped to the library and see if they had a book in that I wanted to read but wasn’t sure I needed to actually buy as I’m trying to spend less money. They didn’t have the book I wanted but I decided to have a browse. I felt like I was looking for something but I wasn’t sure what. A book caught my eye because Elizabeth Gilbert had recommended it. It was Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
I happened to open it on to a page entitled Close and it seemed to be the answer to the question that had been on my mind all week even though I hadn’t really formed the question in my head which I guess was something along the lines of ‘what is the meaning of my life if I am still nowhere near where I want to be?’ Luckily David published his piece on the word Close on his Facebook page so I’ve republished a section that helped me below. Do go and check out the whole thing or better still, buy or lend the book!
is what we almost always are: close to happiness, close to one another, close to leaving, close to tears, close to God, close to losing faith, close to being done, close to saying something, or close to success, and even, with the greatest sense of satisfaction, close to giving the whole thing up.
Our human essence lies not in arrival, but in being almost there, we are creatures who are on the way, our journey a series of impending anticipated arrivals. We live by unconsciously measuring the inverse distances of our proximity: an intimacy calibrated by the vulnerability we feel in giving up our sense of separation.
Human beings do not find their essence through fulfillment or eventual arrival but by staying close to the way they like to travel, to the way they hold the conversation between the ground on which they stand and the horizon to which they go. We are in effect, always, close; always close to the ultimate secret: that we are more real in our simple wish to find a way than any destination we could reach: the step between not understanding that and understanding that, is as close as we get to happiness.
It caught my eye because it felt fitting to what I’ve been thinking about this week. This line in particular really spoke to me: “Our human essence lies not in arrival but in being almost there, we are creatures who are on the way, our journey a series of impending anticipated arrivals.” I just love that. And this bit: “We are more real in our simple wish to find a way than any destination we could reach.”
So anyway, I am going to try and let go of the feeling that I’m flailing and lost and have taken the right path, and just try my best to enjoy the journey and be curious about where this year could take me. And I’m going to try and stop myself from comparing my life to the one I think I ought to be living.
Sorry if this is a bit existential today. It’s just how I’ve been feeling this week. I think it’s the new year and how quickly this week has gone that has contributed to this feeling. Maybe you feel a similar way. I’d love to hear from you if you do!
Have a good week!
Things you should check out
My boss was 25 years older than me and taught me the power of being unapologetically me – I wrote this article about a friendship that changed me. It’s not about being single but both Alyson and I are single.
Why I’m embracing single positivity – I was interviewed for this lovely article alongside some absolute legends!
What Does Marriage Ask Us to Give Up? – Good read on the erosion of sense of self that can happen in marriages.
Flying solo on a pandemic wellbeing holiday in St Lucia – Absolute solo travel goals if you want some inspo!
Dear Dolly: ‘I’m 31, single and keen to get back on the dating scene this year’ – if you are thinking about getting back into dating.
17 Things Single People Are NOT DOING In 2022 - hell yeah!
New year, same old you! The secret to self-improvement is embracing your messy, imperfect life – Love this and it’s very fitting with today’s theme.
Ditching the diet – how I learned to accept the body I have – This is what I am striving for.
An Overlooked Cure for Loneliness – I am planning to do more volunteering this year.
How the Pandemic Created a Cohort of Secure Single People – Uplifting from Bella DePaulo!
Life after a great leap: lessons from people who dropped everything in search of happiness – nice read if you are ever wondering what it’s like to jack it all in and follow your dreams.
Paying subscribers, I’m writing a special bonus newsletter which I’ll try and get out in the next few days. Watch this space!
Words I love
Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape
– bell hooks, who sadly passed away last month.
For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you particularly liked this edition, you can buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
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