Embrace Your Pace: Overcoming the Fear of Falling Behind


by Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Have you ever felt that you are falling behind in life? Many people describe this feeling with the phrase, “It feels like everyone has their stuff together but me.” It’s ironic, considering that everyone seems to be saying this about everyone else.

This feeling might prompt you to search Pinterest for motivational quotes, purchase self-help books and bullet journals, or create vision boards of your ideal life. Maybe if you just tried harder, you could propel yourself into a life experience that will bring success and happiness. The belief that we’re not “doing our best” can also trigger shame. When we assume we have ultimate control over our lives, any inability to change our circumstances can lead to self-loathing. From this perspective, our unhappiness stems not necessarily from the way things are but from the belief that things could and should be different.

How it Impacts You

The fear of falling behind in life can prompt people to act out of a sense of urgency. However, making rash decisions can lead to more problems and unhappiness, such as:

  • Comparing Themselves to Others: Constant comparisons to peers or social media influencers can create anxiety and a sense of inadequacy, resulting in a negative self-image and decreased mental well-being.
  • Impulsive Decisions: Fear of missing out or falling behind can lead to hasty decisions, such as taking on debt to buy a house or car before being financially ready or investing in risky ventures without proper research.

  • Neglecting Personal Life: Prioritizing work or career advancement over personal relationships, hobbies, and self-care can lead to a lack of balance and fulfillment in life.
  • Chasing External Validation: Seeking approval and recognition from others, often through social media or other public platforms, can become a priority over personal satisfaction and intrinsic motivation.
  • Educational Pursuits: Pursuing additional degrees or certifications, not out of interest or career necessity, but to feel like they’re keeping up with or surpassing peers.
  • Anxiety and Stress: Constant worry about not measuring up can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, impacting both mental and physical health.


Getting Unstuck

While taking responsibility for self-growth can be empowering and productive, you also need to give yourself permission to let whatever happens, happen. Give yourself permission to put forth your best effort and not be so personally tied to outcomes. Stop comparing yourself to people in different life circumstances and stages. Ask yourself honestly: is the problem due to a lack of motivation toward reaching your goal? Or is the discontentment a result of the shame you carry while trying to reach it? If it is the latter, try to accept these feelings instead of resisting or avoiding them. Participating in a tug of war with your emotions only leads to more needless struggle.

Techniques to Help You on This Journey

  • Practice Self-Compassion: Instead of berating yourself for perceived shortcomings, cultivate self-compassion. Acknowledge your efforts and setbacks with kindness, recognizing that growth takes time.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Break down your aspirations into manageable steps. Focus on progress rather than perfection, allowing yourself room to learn and adapt along the way.
  • Mindfulness and Reflection: Regularly check in with yourself. Are your goals aligned with your values and passions? Reflect on what truly matters to you and adjust your course as needed.
  • Seek Support: Share your journey with trusted friends, mentors, or a supportive community. Opening up about your challenges can provide perspective and encouragement.
  • Embrace Imperfection: Understand that setbacks and obstacles are natural parts of life. Embrace the lessons they offer and see them as opportunities for growth.

Key Takeaway

Feeling left behind in life is a common and often distressing experience, but it doesn’t have to define your journey. Recognize that everyone progresses at their own pace, and there is no universal timeline for success. Embrace self-compassion, set realistic goals, and seek support from those around you. Give yourself permission to be human, to grow at your own pace, and to trust that where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.



Seeking Mental Health Support

Consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!

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