Behind in life

Unless you are phenomenally successful with whatever you do, you may very well have moments that you feel behind in life. You check your social media, see postings of old acquaintances, classmates, distant friends and a range of celebrities you may follow and wonder why you are not where you thought you should be at this point in your life.

Why is seemingly everyone more successful than you, has ‘got it together’ and gets to post about it when you are stuck in your same old life, wanting more, more, more and having no clue how to go about it?

What is success?

This is probably the first question we should ask before we delve any deeper. What do we define as success? Owning a car at 25, getting a mortgage to our first home at 30 or 35? Having started a family by then? Being famous and rich in our chosen field? Or at least moderately recognised? Being able to afford five exotic vacations every year?

What is it you actually want for yourself? Are you keen on having a car and all the expenses that come with owning it? Do you want to be tied down by a 25-year mortgage? Were you planning on having 2.5 children with the next best person to show up?

Is your path in life defined by these conventional milestones?

Admittedly, I do wonder where I am at in life sometimes, if I couldn’t be more successful, completely debt-free, have published half a dozen books already and maybe think about buying an apartment.

But that’s not where I am. I’ve made decisions in life that took me down a different path. And you know what? I’m happy that I made those decisions. I got to travel and live overseas for ten years. I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life doing that and nobody will ever be able to take that away from me.

Yes, I traded in other experiences, but I can only have one life. I have to choose. We all do. I may not have had success by conventional standards. But I have incredible memories and made wonderful experiences and they brought me happiness. They will continue to make me happy for the rest of my life. That is what I call success.

Why do we feel the need to compare ourselves?

Because here we are, comparing ourselves to others. This is easier than ever thanks to social media. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, we follow people we know and don’t know, those we want to stay in touch with or whom we admire.

You see an old classmate, who is obviously your age, posting about their accomplishments and inevitably feel that twinge of envy because they have more than you do and are already ‘further’ along the road.

Why? Do you truly want what they have?

Why do we compare ourselves to others? The only standard that should count is the one we choose for ourselves. If you have a goal and don’t reach that, you can still beat yourself up over it. But don’t set it arbitrarily based on conventions others may have set.

Is there a way to ‘catch up’?

Look only at your life and set expectations that are realistic. You want to be rid of your credit card debt? Come up with a payment plan to pay off a reasonable amount every month. Set goals you can achieve. There’s no point to set yourself up for failure.

This goes for every other goal you may have as well.

We don’t have to catch up to anyone else. Their lives are none of our business. However they got to where they are, you can bet they have faced their own struggles, probably still are. And no life is ever as happy or successful as social media makes it out to be.

If you feel the need to ‘catch up’ to anyone else, don’t let yourself be driven by envy. If anything, find someone who is already at a point you hope to one day reach but let them inspire you. This isn’t a race.

Nobody is keeping score and if you are, you should stop doing that.

You get to define what counts as success to you. Sometimes it is a success to get out of bed, shower, eat and do some chores. Other times it is finishing a project at work and receiving well-deserved praise for it.

I firmly believe that we are never behind in our own lives. Not if we manage to be happy with where we are at. And that is only possible if we own our past decisions and accept that we chose this path for a reason.

Sure, we all go wrong sometimes, we make mistakes and stupid decisions. But we need to own those too. Our failures are as important on this journey as our successes.

Sometimes I look back at the path I took, wondering how I got here and what it would look like if I had made a different choice elsewhere. I can identify some key crossroads, where fundamental decisions would have changed my trajectory.

Then I realise that I am happy with where I am at. And I can never know where else I may have ended up if I had chosen differently. If the multiverse exists, another version of me made that decision, which is strangely comforting. But I will never meet her so that she may tell me of her experiences. I have this life to worry about and work on.

And yes, I do still have goals to accomplish. Plenty of steps to take to get there. If I never manage to reach some of those goals, it’ll be okay as well. Because whatever I do to get there, I will make sure that I live my life well and that I am happy. That’s all the success I ultimately need.

Draft, delete, repeat

I feel like I should be writing. I have enough thoughts and ideas I want to write about or discuss, but nothing I come up with seems right.

For instance, I’ve been feeling quite happy lately – this deep-seated contentment that permeates my being most of the time. I’m not always aware of it, especially when I feel down for some reason. So, it feels precious when I do realise that it is just there and that things are good.

But how do you write about happiness without sounding contrived or preachy? I can only speak from my perspective, which may be helpful to some and appear idiotic to others. Does it even matter? This blog is called ‘The Story of my life’. I can only share my perspective.

Apart from sounding contrived, I could very well be in over my head as well. After all, so much has already been said and written about the subject, what could I possibly add?

Which takes us back to this being my story and nobody else’s. We may be nearing 8 billion people on this planet in the next year and a half, but no two people will ever live the exact same life. Each story is unique.

Still, I can’t quite decide on how to pursue one subject over another and end up deleting what I’ve written and start on something else.

I’ve done this several times already and here we are. The latest draft discarded and on a new subject that somehow combines everything I’ve attempted to write about before. Will this be the piece that gets published?

Sometimes I feel like writing and nothing much will come of it. I will end up jotting down thoughts, discarding them and end up frustrated at having achieved nothing. Eventually, I simply shut down the laptop and turn to something else. Maybe next time.

Perhaps I shouldn’t just delete my ideas, though. Keeping a draft won’t hurt. It gives me the option to come back to it later when I may have something more coherent to say or discover what my point is.

And I know I shouldn’t let this frustrate me. Every word I write is an achievement, even when it ends up being deleted again. Sitting here and trying to get something done is better than avoiding it altogether. I find that frustrates me more than trying to write about three different topics and being overly critical with what I’ve written.

Right now, I just have to get over myself. I probably won’t be writing anything of any significance. But I have tried, and I have written about something that occupies my mind. If nothing else, it is good exercise.

This is true for everything we try to do. Whether that’s playing an instrument, learning a language, or any other challenge we face. As long as we keep working at it a little at a time, we can get where we want to be.

So, what if I go through several drafts that I end up deleting? I keep going and won’t let my frustrations stop me.

Doing our best on any given day may not always approach anything we would even consider ‘good’, but it may just be enough.


Three years ago today, I was informed by the person I loved that she needed a break. Things had been getting pretty serious between us, but then she met someone else and apparently realised that there are other people out there she could crush on.

I’d always known she was a flight risk, not ready for a serious relationship. I’d always known she’d never chose me. I was too different from anyone else she had relationships with before or had dated.

I was hopelessly in love with her and would have wanted more. I thought giving her the time and space she needed, she would eventually realise that I was right for her. And whilst she admitted that I was good for her in many ways, what we had was probably too ‘boring’. Because there was no drama between us.

Until she created it and ran off.

There is more that happened after she first left me hanging just a few days before my birthday. But it no longer matters. She not only broke my heart, she also ended our friendship and ghosted me for an entire year, followed by a self-serving email for my next birthday, which I didn’t take well and blew her off.

It took until the pandemic hit and lockdown was imposed for her to check in with me, more genuinely caring this time. After sporadic contact over the next four months, we caught up in person last August and it was actually good to see her. I thought things might have changed.

But no.

Until that point I had already done a lot of healing. I had grown so much stronger than when she had first ditched me. I’d gone through all my failings, of which there were a few, though I did not take all the blame.

I had chosen her and allowed myself to fall for her fully aware of what I was getting into. I had known three months into our acquaintance that I would be the one to end up in heartbreak. I couldn’t resist falling for her. I didn’t want to.

And she had feelings for me too.

In hindsight, I know our dynamic was not a healthy one. She called the shots, decided the speed at which we moved ahead and strung me along. I didn’t mind because I am confident and secure in myself and had no immediate plans for our friendship/relationship (which would now be referred to as a situationship). I wanted to give us time and see where things were headed. I felt no need to dictate a path for us.

That probably looked passive to her, though it was not my intention to be passive. Since she was the hyperactive type (surely still is), there was an apparent imbalance. In reality, we balanced each other out, but she didn’t perceive it that way.

Things being what they were three years ago, I knew we didn’t stand a chance. We were ridiculously attracted to each other, but that wasn’t enough to hold us together.

The way she ultimately ended things remains inexcusable. She acted selfishly, cowardly and without any care for my feelings or opinions. I could accept that she ended things. Of course, it would have hurt not matter what. But doing so in an email, putting all the blame on me, broke something in me that took a long time to repair.

Seeing her again, made me realise that I had healed enough to move on. I also realised that I would probably always have feelings for her and that she would never be available for what we could have.

She needs drama. I don’t. I would only ever be able to offer her a grown-up, ‘boring’ relationship. That’s all I have to offer anyone at this point.

The last time I saw her, I told her that a friendship was not an option for me because we never were ‘just friends’. I was at risk of falling for her again but knew that she would never be able to give me what I needed. I also told her that.

I had the guts to face her and tell her how I felt.

Whilst she appreciated my honesty, she offered none herself. I only later found out that she was in a relationship with the person she had originally ditched me for. Had been almost the entire time.

It was the final blow, of course.

Whatever she wanted from me, has always wanted from me, I was and am no longer able to give it. The true imbalance between us was me being good for her and her being bad for me.

When I talk or write about her, I keep the pain and resentment at bay. It serves no purpose. I fell for her for a reason. There is much to love about her. I will never be truly able to purge her from my heart. But the memory of us will also always hurt at least a little.

I am happy now. My heart is scarred but free and nowhere near as heavy as it was for the longest time. My self-worth is not dependent on anyone. And no one will ever get to touch it again.

What she did and how she treated me says more about her than it does about me. I have enough flaws and shortcomings and certainly made mistakes. But I always treated her right. I never said or did anything to hurt her.

Though in my final message to her I told her that she would not be welcome in my life again. I’m done with her and will stand by that. Chances are, I haven’t heard or seen the last of her. We live in the same area, barely 15 minutes’ walk from each other.

My love for her was unconditional, but her presence in my life is not. There is no basis of trust or respect between us, which saddens me the most.

In her last message to me, she told me not to wait for her. That was never an option anyway. The problem is, me moving on means that she will never be able to catch up with me again.

But that is her problem, not mine.

Up, up and away

I recently wrote about ‘Fernweh’, the longing for the distance and missing travelling. At the time I was on my way to Berlin, looking out the window of a highspeed train, watching the landscape rush by.

Right now, I’m sitting at my desk, looking at hotels for the first time in almost a year. That’s a long time for me. Not that I look at hotels a lot. Often, when I travel I’m totally happy staying at hostels or guesthouses.

But it’s my birthday next week and I’m not celebrating. Instead, I’m thinking of a little getaway. Yes, on my motorbike, staying at a hotel somewhere and checking out the local sights and riding around on my bike.

The longing has just grown exponentially.

If thought I’d suffered from Fernweh two weeks ago, I really have it bad now. I don’t even know why it hit me so hard all of a sudden.

Perhaps because I haven’t looked at booking a hotel in such a long time and it is a feasible endeavour again. This is not just me dreaming about a possible future trip. This is me considering a booking for next week. The hotel I like best is about four times the price I would normally spend on two nights somewhere. But it would be my birthday present to myself, and I have rarely felt so much in need of a getaway.

I’m ready to just pack a bag and leave. Now.

Never mind that we’re reverting more and more lockdown measures, getting more and more freedom back and I am back at my secondary job as well. Which I enjoy immensely. Life is beginning to feel normal again.

And travel is a part of my life. Even if it would just be a two-day trip to a town further up north.

It is late now, I’m tired and I had a glass of wine. But I’m fairly certain I’ll be making that booking tomorrow.

Sometimes when you need to travel, you just need to travel.

And I absolutely do.

Where do I begin?

Does it begin with an idea or with the mere desire to write something? I keep collecting ideas. I take a note on my phone. Or I use one of my many notebooks and jot it down.

To never return to it. Or to eventually return and wonder what I was on about. Or to discover that the idea had merit and might just be worth pursuing.

Then I do something else yet again.

Procrastination is the worst. One might argue that it serves its purpose. My all-time favourite writer, Neil Gaiman, is known to have taken ten or twenty years before finally turning one idea or another into a book. Coraline and The Graveyard Book spring to mind.

It’s not that I always just avoid writing. I mean, I love writing. I write every day. But working on an idea sometimes seems to require an incredible amount of effort. Deep down, I know it will be worth it to put in the effort. If only for my own sake.

Somehow, though, it seems impossible to even get started. An idea is not enough. I can keep collecting them until I have a whole book full of ideas. But that doesn’t make a story. It will never be more than a collection of ‘what ifs’. Starting points that never amount to anything.

That’s not what I want.

I had an incredibly lazy weekend. I don’t know whether I felt down or if it was the weather, which was too humid and occasionally too warm.

Perhaps I simply suffered too much sun on Friday, which is definitely a possibility as I was on assignment out in the morning and exposed to cloudless skies and a burning sun for more than three hours. I was pretty exhausted once I got home. Chances are, I needed the weekend to recover.

But I also promised myself on Sunday evening to be productive come Monday. I even made a to-do list for Monday and Tuesday. Thus far, I’ve ticked off all the items.

I also did plenty of writing, which was the main point. I kept the to-do list realistic and every time I ticked off an item, I felt satisfied. I’m planning on continuing that for the next few days and see how I go.

In any case, another item I will need to add is creative writing. Ages ago I had an idea for a story that has not left me, and I want to work on it. I’ve made a bunch of notes in a bunch of places and actually starting work on that might just be a good beginning.

When I started this blog, I had the idea of publishing the story in several parts here. It’ll be a while before I get there, but I certainly hope to have something publishable at some point.

I guess, when you don’t know where to begin, writing about it and sorting your thoughts is as good a start as any.

Dramatic afternoon skies over the North Atlantic.

Commit to yourself

If there’s one truth we can all agree on it is that there is only one person we each spend every day for the rest of our lives with: our very own selves.

Our first commitment should therefore be to ourselves. And I am not promoting self-centredness, egotism or even narcissism.

Any commitment should be a healthy one, this includes the one we must make to ourselves. I say ‘must’ with good reason because so many of us have a tendency to not just neglect ourselves but to also give ourselves an overly hard time.

We tend to be gentler and more forgiving with those around us than we are with our own selves. Why is that?

Of course, I have higher expectations in myself than I have in anyone else. But I also know that I can expect certain things from myself, which I can’t expect from anyone else. It wouldn’t be fair to them. That is true for many of us.

But how do we treat ourselves when we fail those expectations? Is it truly okay for me to beat myself up for failing in an endeavour of whatever kind?

No, it isn’t. It’s not okay to beat myself up over anything. I can be disappointed in myself, sure. I can be disgruntled. I can chastise myself. That’s all okay. But then I move on. I smack myself and let it go.

I have a bad day and waste it with doing nothing? Happens. Is it going to be any better if I also feel bad about taking some time out when I clearly need it? No.

We achieve nothing by being mad at ourselves. Except feeling worse than before.

So, how do we make a commitment to ourselves then?

Many things that apply to a relationship between two people and how they wish to commit to each other also apply to the relationship we have with our own selves.

Indeed, a strong case can be made that the better our relationship to ourselves, the better our relationships will be with our friends, family and partners in life.

First, we need to understand who we truly are. That means we need to commit to getting to know ourselves as fully as possible. Understand where we come from, what our damages are, how we cope with just about anything, why we have certain coping mechanisms.

That is the biggest task we have on this journey. You may think yourself emotionally stable and mentally healthy, but the truth is that we are all damaged goods. Some have it much worse than others, mind you, which means some need outside help whilst others get along with much introspection and reading various books or listening to Alain de Botton on The School of Life.

I do consider myself emotionally stable and mentally healthy and I am fully aware that I am damaged goods. I’ve been through a world of pain, felt worthless, doubted myself before doubting anyone else, asked myself what could possibly be wrong with me or why I am not good enough.

Which brings us to the second aspect of committing to ourselves: acceptance.

Once you truly understand yourself, your flaws, strengths, weaknesses, triggers and everything beyond, you need to accept each aspect of your being. This is who you are in this moment, for better or worse. These are your hopes, your fears, your past mistakes, your goals.

You must accept your brokenness and that it doesn’t define you. You must accept that you can behave erratically, irrationally, idiotically and like the most altruistic person on the planet. Every weird thought, stray desire, off-putting sexual fantasy is part of who you are, and all of it is okay.

It is important to accept that our thoughts are not the only thing that matter. You can have taboo sexual fantasies and never ever consider living them because those stray thoughts are just our brain going through its motions. Confronted with doing something about those weird thoughts or ideas you may have about murdering your neighbour for once again turning up the volume of their TV, you will likely find that you are not in fact a sociopath and don’t want to go to jail for murdering someone over something that can be handeled in a more mature way. And if you simply send a petty little note, you are still a far better person than the one who decides to take a knife upstairs and get to it.

Having weird thoughts or elaborate murder fantasies does not seem to overrule our core values of not actually murdering people.

So, yes, you may wonder what’s wrong with you for having these thoughts but ask any psychiatrist or psychologist and they will tell you that everyone has these same thoughts.

Accept that they are also a part of you and move on.

The third commitment we must make to ourselves is this: growth.

When you’ve understood who you are at this point in time and have accepted that this is you, you can begin to truly grow. Understanding and acceptance are already part of that journey. How you continue is entirely up you.

There is no direction we must take, there is also no final destination. We all remain a work in progress for as long as we live.

And the goal is not to attain perfection. That is impossible. It’s also really not a desirable goal to have. Flaws are what make most things interesting and unique, including us.

The things you may wish to work on are likely the things that annoy you about yourself. But remember to be gentle and that it takes a while to break old habits and develop new ones.

If your social media consumption annoys you, begin by reducing it in small steps. Make an effort to not check your phone every five minutes but perhaps only once every twenty minutes.

Whichever goal you have, it will require mindfulness and it is certainly an effort.

Develop strategies to reach your goal. Our brains are inherently lazy, going for the least amount of effort. Given how much they have to do every minute of every day, it’s understandable that additional effort is not desired.

But if we make achieving our goals fun, the reward mechanisms in our brains will kick in and make it easier.

Also, I once heard about this interesting approach of not just envisioning our goal and taking steps to get there but instead assuming we have already achieved that goal and start immediately behaving as we would if that were the case.

For instance, if you want to stop smoking, don’t think of the steps you want to take to become a non-smoker. Instead think of yourself as a non-smoker who really doesn’t like the taste of cigarettes and therefore won’t touch them.

That doesn’t mean you’ll stop smoking instantly, but you may actually find that even the thought of another smoke may be quite disgusting, and you won’t enjoy having a smoke at all.

Of course, it doesn’t quite work if your goal is to become rich because you hate being broke. You can’t simply think of yourself as rich (in terms of money), but perhaps it helps to stop thinking of yourself as broke. Something worth trying.

As for me, I’ve gone through the understanding and accepting of myself. I am working on growing, every single day. And I don’t beat myself up for my shortcomings. I also accept them and vow to do better.

The most important commitment I am currently making, the promise to myself I wish to uphold, is to write more. It’s one of my biggest struggles right now, which is also why you’re getting these roughly 1,300 words from me.

Thanks for checking in 🙂

What do you do when you feel stuck?

Given that we’re still in a pandemic, feeling stuck has pretty much become part of almost everyone’s lives. Stuck at home. Stuck alone. Stuck with family. Stuck without perspective. Stuck without a job. Stuck on furlough. Stuck in your worst fears and anxieties. You name it.

I’ve been stuck in several ways during the past seven months, which is how long Germany was in lockdown. Now that we’re opening up again, things are seemingly returning to normal. We can go shopping, visit the museum or a concert, go out for dinner (at least with outside seating). We are allowed to see several people at the same time again and travel restrictions are also easing.

But having been stuck at home for such a long time, stuck in a funk perhaps, or simply living in our own tiny world, it feels strange to simply return to whatever currently passes for normal.

Things have changed. Our mindsets and behaviours have changed.

I have a friend who has retreated from almost everyone during the last seven months. Only her family, housemate and dearest friends are allowed in, and not even all the time. We’ve communicated regularly, though I’m not part of her inner circle, which is fine. We’ve only met a year ago but do get along quite well.

We’ve both been on furlough for most of these seven months, though she returned to do some work again in March and intermittently throughout. But it was only last week that she returned to her usual work. Perhaps contrary to what she believed, she is still stuck in the funk that has had a grip on her since last November.

Her first shift overwhelmed her emotionally. That’s quite understandable after hardly socialising for almost seven months.

My first shift back at work made me feel right at home. I also barely socialised this entire time and I am an introvert.

Clearly, we cope differently with the situation, and it may take her a while longer to find her groove again.

Whilst I handled the return to work well, I feel stuck in other ways. Motivating myself to get writing is difficult. I sit on my sofa and think about what I could be writing about. Nothing comes to mind. Or I start writing something, go off on a tangent, nothing feels right, and I delete everything.

I am frustrated.

So, here I am trying to figure out how to become unstuck.

Another example is the mood I was in yesterday after having woken from a dream about someone who is no longer part of my life. I was emotionally stuck for much of the day, did not work at all and went on a ride with my motorbike instead. Distraction was the only thing that helped. It got my mind off of this awful feeling, though it took until mid-afternoon to turn the tide.

Of course, one might argue that I should have dealt with the emotional upheaval caused by my dream. Well, I did. I have dealt with my feelings for this person for the past three years. I’ve actually made my peace. But my subconscious apparently likes to screw with me occasionally and I become stuck again.

I have no longer any unresolved issues regarding the situation or my feelings. But I do get triggered and then I have to deal with that. So, to become unstuck I have to do something I enjoy, something that takes me out of my head.

Other times, such as when I’m stuck with my motivation or writing, I have to sit still and let my thoughts roam or challenge the blinking cursor on an empty page, let my fingers dance across the keyboard and allow them to do the talking.

When I’ve felt stuck at home for too long during the past few months, it usually helped to go on a walk or even a ride with my bicycle. Physical movement helped. Fresh air.

I guess, my point is that when we feel stuck, regardless of what it is that makes us feel this way, we have to find coping mechanisms and they are going to look different for everyone.

My friend, who is still stuck in her funk, may benefit from a proper hug or someone simply sitting with her for a while, letting her be still or listening to her rant. I don’t know. Ultimately, she will have to figure that out for herself.

Yesterday, I didn’t realise when my mood shifted. I just noticed that it had and appreciated feeling better. My strategy had worked out eventually. Sometimes we simply become unstuck all of a sudden and can move on with our lives. Other times it takes a lot of work.

It does help knowing why and how we feel stuck. From there, we can begin to figure out how to move forward. And whilst we have to do most of the work, we don’t have to do all of it alone.