4 Ways You Shouldn't Be Measuring Your Progress In Your 20s

Remember when you were high school, and you had this awesome, idealized version of what your life would be like afterward? Whatever you did afterward — a job, a few years in college, traveling — you assumed was the next stepping stone to "getting there," wherever "there" is. We then spent the first few years in our early 20s utterly miserable with ourselves, not just because we couldn't get there, but because our idea of what or where it should be was shifting so constantly that we weren't even sure what to work for. All of your running felt like running in circles. You were working, but the scenery wasn't changing; it seemed like you weren't making any progress at all.

Then you slowly start to realize something: there is no "aha!" moment. There is no measurable, quantifiable moment in your life where something happens and you are going to be so sure that this is what was meant to be, that this is putting you on the path you were meant to lead. Sure, you'll look back, maybe, and recognize those moments retroactively, but in the murky scape of your 20s, they might just look like plain old moments. They might even be obstacles. They might be the worst things that happen to you, or the best, but that's the thing about progress — you can't measure it in the moment. You can't really measure it at all.

Still, there are some specific and unhealthy ways that we try to measure it anyway, because we are humans, and trying to bring order and sense into our lives is what we do. For the sake of your own sanity, though, try and avoid measuring your progress in any of these ways:

What Your Peers Are Doing Right Now

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Something that is unique to those of us in our 20s right now is that we are the first generation to get visually assaulted with every single one of our classmate's successes on an hour-to-hour basis, right during the most vulnerable time in our lives. We see glamorous pictures from events, we see LinkedIn prompting us to "congratulate" another classmate, we see weddings and babies and milestones that we haven't reached ourselves — and then we panic, because it's so aggressively in front of us that it seems like a reflection of what we don't have in our own lives.

Well, the first thing to remind yourself is that these aren't representations of what other people's lives are like. These are highlight reels. You don't see your friends' failings and insecurities the same way that you don't show them yours. And the second thing to remind yourself is a line I've repeatedly stolen from my mom, and will steal again: Run your own race. What is best for someone else right now is not what's best for you right now. If you are working toward something that you want, you are not any less likely to get it just because someone got it first; you have to have faith that it will work for you, and be open to it happening when it happens, or you're not going to enjoy any of the moments that get you there.

Where Your Parents Were At Your Age

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This is a double-edged sword. I personally took some supreme comfort in my own parents telling me that they were every bit as lost at 22 as I was, and but it was a little bit like clinging to a rope you were very quickly running out of. At some point (shocker) I wasn't going to be 22 anymore, and I wouldn't be able to take comfort from their misadventures in the past. In fact, to some degree, you might even start using it as a crutch to justify not working as hard as you can to move forward.

But the ultimate reason this isn't a good measure of your progress is pretty obvious. I mean, look at the state of 2015. The economy aside, this is basically a different planet compared to what it was when your parents were in their 20s and figuring their lives out. Most of the jobs we are gunning for wouldn't have even remotely made sense back then, and even the ones that did have been entirely restructured with all the modern trappings and technology. If your parents had been navigating 2015, they probably wouldn't have ended up in vaguely the same job or circumstances they had then — for better or for worse — because so much has changed that the times simply aren't comparable anymore.

Where You Were This Time Last Year

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No matter where you were or what you were doing last year, you from twelve months ago has nothing on you right now. Whether you were on top of the world last year and it all came crashing down on you in the meantime, or the journey was the complete reverse, the amount of progress you made isn't measurable just by the circumstances you were in last year compared to right now. When you evaluate things that did or didn't happen to you, you aren't accounting for the very real and significant changes that happen within yourself and your own mind, whether you noticed or not. You might think that the change isn't significant. You might even think that you're at an age now where you're "done growing". But the truth is, the last twelve months has been a huge amount of invisible progress — you know yourself better than you did then. You have a slightly narrower definition of what you do and do not want out of life. You are that much closer to understanding what you want to prioritize and achieve. So if you insist on looking back on the past, measure your personal growth — not the growth that happened around you.

Where You Thought You Would Be Right Now

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Think about all the big plans you ever had for yourself that fell through. Now imagine if they had all fallen into place and happened exactly the way you imagined them. Not exactly the most thrilling tale, is it? As the certifiable Hermione Granger of my friend group, I recognize that feeling that you're running out of time, that you're supposed to stick to a schedule and have measurable, satisfactory results. And true, following a path to a tee will be satisfying — for awhile. It will get you somewhere. The trouble is that it won't get you there. And yeah, you don't know where "there" is yet. We've established that. But if you don't take a chance on it and follow the opportunities when they arise, and follow your gut when it is telling you something it wrong or right for your, then you're never going to give yourself a chance to find it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t work harder, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t work harder than you already are — but although they expend about the same amount of energy, there is a monumental difference between beating yourself up about the progress you haven’t made, and striving to make more of it. Don’t waste your precious time and energy beating yourself up. Every second you spend scrolling down someone else’s Facebook timeline, or reminiscing about your good old days, or just plain feeling sorry for yourself is time that you’re wasting. Treat yourself better than that. You deserve it.

Images: Unsplash; Giphy