When I was a junior in college, I got a job in one of the residence halls on campus, receiving and distributing packages.
Throughout the day, my co-workers and I would receive boxes and envelopes from UPS and the like, log them in the online system, notify students, and then sit behind a marble counter waiting for the residents to come pick up their packages. While most students would receive something every few months, if that, there were a few RHO (Residence Hall Office) regulars.
One of them was a kid from California, Mike.
Mike was a charmer. He had a broad smile and effortless style, at least for a sophomore in college. He was friendly and charismatic, quick to laugh and always ready with a heartfelt “thank you.”
But if you were to see Mike walking towards you, the first thing that you would notice — beyond his grin and California casual style — was his belt.
On his hip, Mike had clipped a cellphone and not one but two pagers (I know what you’re thinking. Pagers?! Yep. Remember, this was 2006, and the pager was still very much “in.”).
Apart from being a student in the Georgetown School of Business, Mike was a burgeoning entrepreneur. At just 20 years old, he had already owned and sold two (two!) businesses. His current business? To design and distribute t-shirts and sweatshirts to all of the California state schools. Just in case that didn’t sink in, I’ll repeat it. To all of the California state schools. His pagers were how all of his employees and distributors stayed in touch with him.
I’m not sure if it was the whisper of my inner perfectionist or some instinctive human inclination towards comparison, but all I remember thinking was… what have I been doing with my life?!
While Mike had been founding and selling his businesses, I had been trying desperately to decide on a major. While he had been establishing a distribution contract with the UC schools, I was distributing packages.
At the age of 20, I already felt behind.
The truth? A decade later and I still feel that way sometimes. I have friends and colleagues who have already lived half a dozen lives, classmates from high school who are now running multinational corporations, and college friends who own homes or have kids or got multiple degrees.
It’s easy to get caught up the swirling vortex of my assumed inferiority. To let others' successes (and my comparison reaction) to inform my beliefs around self-worth and value and impact. To hold tight to the limiting belief that, just because I’m not where I want to (ultimately) be, haven’t mastered all of the skills, and haven’t gathered up the trappings of success… I must have squandered my talent and time. Or must not have had much to begin with. Ego and insecurity all wrapped into one.
Every once in a while, a thought floats across the forefront of my mind: I’m smart, capable, and creative. I should have already found success, achieved promotions, established myself as a well-known leader in my field (or at least have a mortgage and 2.5 kids, right?!). I’m not where I’m supposed to be.
But here’s the thing. I’m not Mike. And, while I’m deeply proud of my friends, colleagues, and classmates who have accomplished so much, I’m also not them. And “supposed to be”? Where is that? What is that?!
I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Every single step has led me to where I am, and the truth is that to remove just a single one would have irreversibly changed the course of my life. Who knows, without that first data-entry job straight out of college — the one that sucked the life right out of me and showed me how deeply important human connection was to my happiness, I might not have met my husband or went to graduate school or learned that I had the potential within me to build a business that I love.
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you too get caught up in arbitrary expectation. Maybe you feel like you should be further in your career or have the white picket fence and 2.5 kids already. Maybe you’re dissatisfied with the state of your business or can’t believe you’re still not married. Maybe you feel like you’ve squandered your talent or your time.
The truth is that I shackle myself and my potential in a box of “shoulds” and “supposed to be’s.” I create arbitrary deadlines that have less to do with potential and process and more to do with perfectionistic expectations.
If you had asked me 10 years ago where I would be at the age of thirty, I would have answered you with a blank stare. I wasn’t ready. At the age of 20, I could never have imagined that I had the capacity and potential within me to create the life I have now.
And in another ten years? I have no idea what deep wells and opportunities are just waiting for the right time to emerge.
Life is about potential and process, love. You are not Mike, you are not me. You are not the highlight reel of Instagram posts or a list of “shoulds” and expectations.
Repeat after me: I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
You are exactly where you are supposed to be.
What matters now is where you take the next step.