What to Do When You Feel Like You’re Too Behind to Catch Up

If the ship is going down, don’t just frantically bail water–fly

People do a lot of comparing themselves to each other. It’s all part of trying to answer the age-old question of where you stand and what you’re worth, and it’s not necessarily horrible if you can be objective and gain some insights about how to grow. But when you pair the comparison with the frantic pace of…well, everything, a pretty nasty feeling can growl in your stomach that’s even worse than the one from too much bad beer and cheese.

It’s the feeling that you’re busting your behind only to have earned $0.99 when the price is $1.00 (and only going up). It’s the sense that you didn’t do something, that you can’t do something, even if you can’t put your finger on precisely what that something is. (It’s even worse if you canand the something is your dream.) And it’s the anxiety that the fingers of the universe somehow lowered in front of you to declare, like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, that you shall not pass.

That there’s too much.


That you’ll never catch up.

Never finish.

Never win.

To be clear, this feeling isn’t just straight up fear of missing out (FOMO). It’s FOMO wrapped up in disappointment and guilt and a sense of shattered justice and the anticipation of having to keep struggling when you’re already exhausted. There’s a huge difference. And when you’re a leader in an environment or culture where people preach about authenticity but research proves it’s still considered “professional” to be “tough” and not express your inner turmoil or cry, it’s hard to know where to turn.

In my own experience, four key steps are successful at handling this.

First, look at whatever it is you were (or are) hoping to do. Identify something you immediately can do toward that, even if it’s as simple as looking up a phone number. Then do it. The idea here isn’t so much to start the long series of steps that can move you to the goal, although that’s a good natural consequence, too. The idea is that, by taking even that small action, you temporarily regain a sense of control and capability again. That can allow you to breathe, refocus and get perspective. This method, which essentially is finding a temporary, objective-based distraction away from an overwhelming thought or emotion, is the same technique professionals use when they are trying to coach addicts and other individuals away from negative, harmful behaviors. Once you have accomplished the task and can think a little more rationally, you can do an intentional deep dive into how you’re feeling and explore longer-term strategies for change.

Secondly, seek out positive relationships and do good for others. That could mean volunteering, donating some vacation time to someone, or just recommending a great book to the person next to you on the subway. Because as Maya Angelou once revealed to Oprah Winfrey, you can have any dream in life, but your real legacy and purpose is to connect with other human beings and to make a difference through that connection. How you do that is entirely your choice, and it doesn’t necessarily have to take the path you initially had in mind. And if you can see that you really do matter, that you have influence, then it becomes less necessary to chase one particular concept of what success is to be happy.

Third, get organized. While everyone can have their own system that works for them, your goal is simply get rid of whatever inefficiency crops up from not having a good one of your own. That’s because every time you encounter that inefficiency, it can worsen the sense that the clock is ticking. You’ll have more time to think, rest and pursue the opportunities that relate to your goals, too, which ties back to good emotional regulation. If you can, organize yourself based on just three major priorities or so and don’t veer from them.

Lastly, call in the calvary. I’m a firm believer in the idea that grit takes you only so far. You also need advocates who can go to bat for you. I’ve seen determined, qualified, hardworking people with exceptional integrity fall short far too often not to accept this as truth. Find mentors and other individuals who not only can teach you, but who are willing to take real action to bridge the gaps between you and people at the next level. If you know someone has your back, it’s harder to get lost in the lonely, desperate feeling like nobody else gives a darn as you get buried in still-have-tos.

As a bonus tip, remember that all of this is based on one thing–expectation. Yours. Your team’s. Society’s. The problem at its heart is that we fear we’ll never reconcile reality to those expectations, and that we believe our worth and happiness and survival somehow depends on doing so. It doesn’t. It depends on seeing that your place is not conditional, and on simply not taking any moment for granted. If you can start to accept and believe that, you’ve got time for anything.

All Rights Reserved for Wanda Thibodeaux

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.