I remember talking to a girl at a bar for another girl’s going away party. Her roommate was turning 26, and didn’t want to celebrate. She didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that she’d turned 26, because she was frustrated with her romantic life. She wasn’t married, she didn’t have a boyfriend, she wasn’t seeing anyone special, and she felt like because she hadn’t checked off any of those boxes, she didn’t want to highlight that she’d turned 26. The girl I was talking to made a comment that really stuck with me. I was quite a few Mission margs deep at this point, so this probably isn’t verbatim, but she said something along the lines of “She thinks life doesn’t start until she has a boyfriend and then gets married…but like, life’s here. It’s happening.”
And she articulated something that’s been on my mind for a while.
Waiting for life to start.
In high school, there are always those kids with a tunnel vision towards graduation. They can’t stop thinking about freshman year, and all the fun they’re going to have at college. “When I go to college — that’s when life’s really going to start.”
In college, the same thing happens. People get that graduation tunnel vision, and become obsessed with starting their lives in the ~real world~.
And then, once they enter the workforce, maybe it’s a promotion, or a raise, or a new job, or a change of location. Or maybe in the case of that girl’s roommate, a significant other. Or a baby. Or even a goal weight.
They think that once they just reach this new milestone, that’s when life will start. That’s when they’ll be happy, and that’s when they’ll be content.
But that just isn’t how it works.
I have a friend. Let’s call her “Chelsea.” For her it was college. And then she got her first job out of college, and then it was the next job. And then she got the next job — and in the city she had always pictured herself in. She was literally living her dream. But it didn’t feel like that. She was stressed out, she was exhausted, and everything was going wrong.
You can’t stake your happiness in a life event. You can’t waste your life waiting for one thing to happen, and expect everything to come together when it finally does.
Not because it won’t happen — but because even if it does, it probably won’t happen the way you thought it would.
In Chelsea’s case, it’s not like there was anything particularly wrong with her new city. But her new job was more demanding. And her roommates weren’t exactly “her people.”
You have to learn to fully appreciate what you have and where you’re at while you have it and while you’re there, because when you’re constantly thinking about the “next best thing” you’re setting yourself up for a never ending cycle of disappointment and thanklessness.
If you’re waiting to lose 20 lbs or get a boyfriend or a new job or a new apartment or a new city to be “happy” — you literally never will be. Because you’ll get what you want, and you still won’t be satisfied. The gratification will come and go, and you’ll be left wondering why it was so short lived, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself back at Square One, telling yourself that something else will solve your problems and make you happy.
Chelsea realized this about herself, and is actively working to become a more present person that cherishes where she is in life while taking the necessary steps to get where she wants to be. Now, she’s so much happier than she is when she first made the move. Not because she’s complacent, or she’s lost sight of what she wants. But she’s made a conscious effort to stop and smell the roses. She found a new apartment with roommates she gets along with. She’s making time to explore the city, and take full advantage of it. It doesn’t hurt that work slowed down for her.
To some degree, we all need to take a page out of her book.
There’s nothing wrong with looking towards the future, or thinking about what’s next. But happiness and contentment aren’t something you can afford to wager on a life transition — especially one without a definitive date.
There are certain periods in all of our lives where happiness and contentment just come to us naturally. And there will be other periods in our lives where we have to actively seek them out, and remind ourselves of just how lucky we are to be who we are — even when we don’t feel that way.
When we challenge ourselves to find joy in those “other” days — when we’re tired, and defeated, and empty — we prepare ourselves for whatever it is we’re waiting for. We’re able to get the new job, or the new apartment, or the promotion, or that goal weight — without saddling them with unrealistic expectations that just leave us confused and disillusioned. We’re able to appreciate what we were waiting for for what it is instead of a fix-all for all of our problems.