I am having a lot of sliding door moments these days.
What would my life look like?
…If I had applied to that job I badly wanted.
If I hadn’t been afraid to try something physically demanding.
If I had written that book when I said I would.
If I hadn’t had that hospital admission in 2018.
I have an embarrassing habit I’m going to admit to. When meeting a professional peer for the first time in my 20s I was obsessed with age. I used to try and work out exactly how old they were and whether they had ‘got further’ in their career at the same point in chronological time or if we were on the same trajectory. As it happens I’m lucky enough to have met and worked with a lot of extremely talented, dedicated individuals many of whom certainly had far surpassed the trajectory I was on. How had they started a successful business aged 22? How were they managing a team in a large corporation at 25? How had they worked at the UN, written a book, started a ‘movement’ in social change and become a wealthy influencer by 27?! Dear reader, has it occurred to you that I also may have been a little gullible at a younger age?
This constant comparison used to make me feel very downhearted and like I’d never amount to much. I felt like I had been left behind.
Then I started doing this weird little equation in my head, that represented what I believed was the delay in years to my career progress thanks to being born with cystic fibrosis. I somehow worked out a number of 3.5 years. To me, it summed up the twice yearly hospital admissions, the daily fatigue, the thousands of pills, nebulisers, injections and the cumulative side effects. I cannot show you my workings for that figure. Perhaps if I had worked harder at maths in school I could better substantiate it. While this was an unhealthy way to think, the coping mechanism of adding a 3.5 year handicap to my trajectory made me feel better at the time.
I’m just being honest. Fortunately these days those thoughts are in the past. Comparison is probably not only the thief of joy, it’s likely also the thief of a lot of workplace friendships, good times and spontaneous Friday night outings. But I’m happy to report I haven’t felt that way for a long time and I know how to deal with thoughts like that if they do come up.
But, to stick with our reductive paradigm for a few moments longer. What has ‘being left behind’ in a career sense taught me?
Some people really are smarter and some really do just work harder.
Some people are blessed with perfect lungs, a relentless work ethic, and a zone 2 rental in London courtesy of a wealthy parent.
Some people are economical with the truth.
Measuring yourself by someone else’s yardstick is fruitless. If you had what they had you might not even want it.
If you really, deeply want to write that book by age 25 you will find a way to do it. But if you haven’t got around to it yet there is probably a good reason. Perhaps by the time you do write it – armed with more life experience and a healthy appreciation for what makes you feel fulfilled – the book will be all the better for it.
For the times I have felt left behind I’m glad, the view from here is beautiful.