As I watch my friends get married, have kids, and start new jobs, it’s easy to feel like I’m stalling – even though I love being a freelancer. Once I finished my PhD, I was no longer in pursuit of major achievement. My e-book will be an accomplishment, but not to the same degree. What’s more – I’m having to put marriage/kids on the back-burner until my career takes off.
I hate that I feel like a comparative failure because I truly love the work that I do. I love playing different gigs, teaching in different settings, meeting all sorts of interesting people, and getting material for tons of fun stories. But it lacks something – like an official job title or affiliated institution. Ultimately, I’m still dealing with internalized feelings that I need to prove myself and be measurably better than other people – more popular, successful, rich, loved, etc. And as I’ve said before, I’m really trying to avoid falling into that trap.
I was talking to a friend who reminded me that milestones are a “one-off” thing. You get congratulated by everyone on your new degree, job, marriage, or child and then starts the less glamorous reality of everyday work and family life. We turn life into a race and feel a sense of emptiness once we’ve passed the “finish line.” I definitely felt this way right after I graduated and it took a long time for me to rebuild healthier relationships with my work and loved ones.
I think rather than focusing on milestones, we should be more focused on stepping-stones – the smaller achievements that help us get from one point in life to another, to change and grow. My aforementioned e-book is a stepping-stone in that it will inevitably develop into other instructional materials and allow me to grow as a gigging bassist and instructor. When you think of it that way, life starts to become much more meaningful and exciting. As an added bonus, you start to become genuinely happy for other people’s successes once you no longer feel in competition with them.
What would you do differently with your life if you viewed accomplishments as stepping-stones rather than milestones?