Last week Friday was the anniversary of my high school graduation. It was more than two decades ago now and I still remember it like it was yesterday, though my memories are spotty and lacking in the areas one might deem most important on such a day. For example, I don’t recall any of the speeches or a specific bit of inspiration or encouragement or even the moment I crossed the stage to receive my diploma.
I do, however, remember driving barefoot most of the way to the school after nearly causing a crash when the slick sole of my shoe slid off the brake as I approached a red light. I remember a classmate hitting a crazy high note during a jazz choir performance, that without advance planning my best friend and I wore nearly identical dresses, and the flower that sat on an empty chair representing a peer who was not in attendance because of severe injuries sustained in an accident a week or so before.
Thinking back on that day, I’m not hit with any particular emotion. I don’t recall feeling especially relieved or triumphant. I don’t associate it with excitement for or confidence in my plans for the future. Though I had chosen a college and declared a course of study, I did so without much thought or research—a minor oversight that proved major when I realized neither was very practical and ended up backing out of both less than a month later. That wasn’t the first time I’d withdrawn from a decision. And it wouldn’t be the last.
I was the queen of quitting and that same MO followed me for the rest of my teens, through my twenties, and even into my thirties. I abandoned goals, resigned from jobs, and gave up on anything and everything that didn’t immediately match my expectations. The second I got bored, scared, or faced a challenging obstacle, I was done.
For a long time when I reflected on this zigzagging path of waywardness, I would cringe with embarrassment, especially with the omnipresence of social media, which has made self-loathing and self-criticism for apparent mistakes and missteps even easier. Being constantly inundated with a highlight reel of amazing accomplishments from the world over seemed to magnify my lack of them.
I wanted to be like those real-life Doogie Howsers, the twenty-something published authors, those people who made a seemingly effortless leap from birth to living out their destinies. The problem was that I wasn’t those people and their stories were not mine and the more I dwelled in that place of desire and yearning to be someone other than who I was, the more stuck I became. I clung to blame and bitterness, pointing my finger elsewhere when really it was my own shoulda, coulda, wouldas that kept my head turned toward the past and my own envy over what other people were achieving that blinded me from my own capabilities.
It wasn’t until I climbed out of the circular trench I’d dug myself into and shifted my focus to self-compassion instead of comparison, responsibility instead of resentment that I could finally move forward. I took that first step more than a year ago now and though I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace away from old habits and toward a healthier way of thinking and being, I celebrate each and every breakthrough no matter how small.
My point is, dear friends, that if this graduation season has you reflecting back on your life, lamenting over all you wish you would have done, there’s still time. Whether it’s been a week, a decade, or half a century since you sprung forth into the world as an adult, you don’t have to stay on that same spinning wheel you’ve been stuck on. You’re not too old (or too young) to jump off of it. You can change your mindset, accomplish that goal, forgive that person, let go of unhealthy patterns, and just move forward.
Don’t worry about what others your age are doing. Don’t worry about feeling behind the curve or trying to keep up with someone else’s pace. You’re on nobody’s schedule but your own. Yours and God’s. And when we approach life from a place of growth and self-betterment, we can’t help but be right on time. So make a move today. Take a small step, then take another and another and a year from now when you look back at how far you’ve come—even if you’ve barely moved an inch—celebrate, because slow progress is still progress.