“I’ve been thinking of a plan of action to remove myself from the situation without feeling like I just wasted 2 years.”
Katie shared this in a recent blog post comment. We’ve all been there — feeling regret or frustration about a work or relationship situation, and feeling like we’ve wasted years.
Katie’s comment got me thinking. Is that thought, “I wasted years” ever true? Can we in fact “waste” years of our lives? And whether it’s true or not, what do we do with the thought that we’ve “wasted years” since it’s upsetting and de-motivating—a self-esteem-deteriorater and a joy-killer?
When I first read Katie’s comment, my optimistic, be-loving-and-encouraging instinct kicked in, and a little voice in my head said back to her, “Oh, honey, of course you haven’t wasted two years! That was part of your jooooooourney. No time can be wasted, because it’s all part of the processsssss. What about your learrrrrnings? Think of all that you learrrrrned along the way!;
(Spellings meant to convey goopy tone life coaches and therapists and self-help-book-reading folk use when talking about “journeys,” “process,” and “learnings.”)
But then I heard another voice in my head. It said back to the first one, “Blech. Please. Katie deserves more than the kind of pat answer about learning that always made you roll your eyes when someone said it to you. And besides, you know that’s kind of a cop out. Sometimes, time really is wasted.”
That voice said, “learnings, journey, process…sure, but in some sense, didn’t she also “waste” two years — toiling and suffering in work that wasn’t a fit? Didn’t she waste two years slogging when she could have been living with a lot more joy? ”
On the one hand, I get it: nothing is ever wasted, because it is all part of the process. On the other hand, all the time, I see brilliant gorgeous human beings wasting our time, our energy, our lives — suffering and slogging and hiding our true selves, when life can be so much more, and so much better.
Maybe both are true: we can waste years and we can’t. Maybe when that little voice our heads says, “I wasted years of my life” we should honor both truths.
Question the Thought
First, we can question and be skeptical of that little voice: “Really? Wasted? Can I be absolutely sure (thank you Byron Katie) that I wasted that time?” “What did I learn?” “What gifts did I receive?” “What role did this play in my journey?” This is the time to remind yourself that you aren’t omniscient, that we have no idea what contacts, learnings, or skills will play a vital role in our life’s path down the line.
Listen to the Thought
On the other hand, we can listen dearly, closely, lovingly, to the little voice that says, “I wasted x years of my life” because it bears a message.
When something in us is saying with great upset and frustration and pain “I’ve wasted years,” it is sharing an important and urgent message about what it looks like to waste your precious life and what it means to spend it well, about what kind of life you really do want and what kind of life you don’t.
What if we embrace both: taking the voice seriously and taking it not seriously at all? Taking the pearl of truth underneath it seriously, and taking the “let-me-beat-you-up” “it-was-all-in-vain” crap not so seriously?
“I’ve wasted years” can be truth or in illusion, “right” or “wrong” — it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we learn to discard the part of that thought that paralyzes us and beat us up.
What matters is that we hear the true message underneath, the hurt or hope or longing or vision for your life that is lying there at the bottom of the thought “I’ve wasted these years.”
Go there. Go to the real message— the picture of the life you know you’d like to live, the wisdom you have about what makes time well spent and worthwhile. Go toward what you want to build.
This article first appeared here. Republished with permission. Tara Mohr is an expert on women's leadership and wellbeing and the author of Playing Big. She's also the creator of the global Playing Big leadership program for women, and a lover of poetry, dance, dogs, art and mamahood. Download her free 10 Rules for Brilliant Women Workbook here.