“I wish I could have gotten to know him better.”
“I should have paid more attention in that class.”
“If it weren’t for my part-time job, I would have spent more time writing.”
And the list, probably, goes on. And on. And on. No matter what we accomplish – in that internship position or working for this company or earning some degree – we will always ask the “what if?” questions. What if I’d majored in journalism instead of English? What if I’d spent a little more time studying and a lot less time cramming everything under the sun into one page’s worth of a resume hardly anyone might ever read?
The answer to these questions, and the millions out there just like them, is always the same: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you could or couldn’t do, what you apparently should or shouldn’t have done, what you would have done if this or wouldn’t have done if that. What matters is what you can do, and will do, right now.
So you didn’t graduate from college summa cum laude or climb aboard the “ring by spring” bandwagon your senior year. You can’t go back and change that (no matter how much you might claim you would give up to do so). What you can change is your attitude – and the goals you tack onto that Bucket List I mentioned yesterday. You won’t get anywhere in life if all you do is wish things were different. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re always looking straight ahead instead of over your shoulder.
Spend a little time reflecting.
There’s a big difference between reflecting and regretting. Whether you’ve recently graduated college or you’re just in a suitable place (literally or figuratively) to do some healthy looking back, take advantage of the opportunity to remember both good experiences and not-so-good ones. It really is true what they say: we learn from everything life tosses our way, whether it makes us smile or shudder. Everything we go through has the power to pave the way to the future we’re meant to indulge in; all you have to do is take a deep breath and walk that unfamiliar road.
You don’t have to let what you didn’t accomplish send you into a dangerous plague of remorse. When you think about what you didn’t accomplish, consider the reasons why. What sorts of barriers prevented you from crossing that goal off your list in the past? Is it a goal you can still work toward now, with a little motivation and support? If it’s a goal you literally cannot achieve (i.e., publishing a novel before graduating college – and no, this wasn’t actually one of my goals, I promise), you might still be able to get it done another way, no matter how long ago it might have been.
Pick a goal and make it your “current project.”
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we try to do too many things at once. While there’s nothing wrong with learning to multi-task, don’t try to accomplish everything on your list right here, right now. Think of it this way: if your Bucket List has five things on it (and it might, and that’s 100 percent acceptable) and you accomplish all five of those things in the next six months – well, for one thing, you’re a pretty epic individual and I’ll probably want to meet you just so I can soak up a little of your awesome just by being in the same room as you. But if you all of a sudden sit back and realize you’re [insert relatively young age here] and have already accomplished everything you ever wanted to….now what?
For now, pick one of those five goals (or however many big dreams you have stored up in that smart-person head of yours) and make it your work in progress, your “current project.” As you read in my last post (or maybe you didn’t, but you totally should now), any bigger agenda you have is going to have to be broken down into a multitude of smaller tasks if you’re ever going to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Make those smaller tasks your main focus. You might not feel like you’re accomplishing anything at first, but just wait until those smaller completed tasks start adding up. Which brings me to my next point.
Learn to be content with slow but steady progress.
This is something I’m definitely in the process of working on, so if nothing else, you’re certainly not alone. If you’re one of those people who wants everything done now, to see results now, to do it all now now NOW (guilty), and I mean it figuratively when I say this, take a good-sized chill pill and sit still for awhile. Breathe in the fresh air. Close your eyes. Think about everything you’ve done since yo woke up today. More than likely, you’ll realize you’re doing more than your to-do list says you are.
I think we all need to learn that slow and steady is better than quick and messy. The little things you do every day, even if it’s just writing down a few ideas for a new scene or chapter or a doodle of a character on your napkin, eventually become the puzzle pieces that make up your biggest accomplishments in life. You never know what that chicken-scratch note or cruddy napkin sketch could lead to. You might think you know – but oh, no. You don’t. No one does.
The absolute truth is, we are not superheroes; we physically cannot accomplish everything we will ever want crossed off our Bucket Lists. You can try to be Super [Insert name here], but more than likely, you’ll burn yourself out before you get a chance to do that one thing you want to accomplish more than anything else. I’ve learned the hard way that even coffee can’t make it happen (and for the love of God, don’t even try proving me wrong). The book of your life will one day come to the final chapter, and there will be things you suddenly realize you never did. That’s okay, and more importantly, that’s human.
All you can do right now is live in the moment, keep your dreams at the corner of your eye and dare to refuse to give up. Never define yourself by your failures or by what others tell you they wish they could have seen you accomplish. Put the past behind you; write that book, or start up that company, or whatever your dream is. The only person holding you back is – you guessed it – you.