Tell me if this sounds familiar. The new year is here and everywhere you turn you are bombarded with messages of reflection and gratitude.
Your social media feed becomes a highlights reel of everyone else’s accomplishments, accolades, and achievements. And every sparkling photo and #blessed you see hits you hard like a knife to the heart.
Because for you, there’s a different song playing in your head. It’s stuck on repeat, it’s getting louder, and the lyrics sound a whole lot like:
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Ouch. Is there actually a more gut-wrenching feeling in the world?
Whether it’s that audition you were supposed to win, money you were supposed to make, or goal you were supposed to achieve, you can’t shake the belief that something went horribly wrong and you’ve been served a reality that wasn’t made for you. You are scared, humiliated, deflated, and wondering, “What now?”
I’ve totally been there
One year ago, I was riding the gratitude wave straight into the New Year. I had figured it all out—my work, my life, myself. I lined up all of my ducks through the month of December, setting myself up to have the year I wanted—the year I DESERVED—after decades of struggle, hard work, and sacrifice.
And then, right before the New Year, it all came tumbling down. One tiny loss triggered a cascade that spread to every corner of my life. As each carefully placed domino fell, I watched the future I so clearly built up in my head dissipate into thin air.
All that remained was a simple statement looping through my brain: “It was supposed to be different.”
The common advice that doesn’t work
When we experience an IDidn’tSignUpForThis™ moment, a lot of the advice is retrospective.
We often hear:
“You will see it’s a blessing in disguise.”
“These are the moments you look back on and realize you really found yourself.”
“It all works out in the end. What is meant to be will be.”
If you’re anything like me, this well-meaning advice is eye-roll inducing, because even though it’s valid, it doesn’t exactly answer the immediate question at hand.
“What about now? What do I do now?!! This is awful and I’m sure it will be fine one day but it isn’t now and what. do. I. do. right. this. second?!!!!!”
If you feel like you’ve been hit by a ton of harsh reality bricks, here are some steps to help bring you some immediate relief in a productive way.
Regain your control
Control issues! We’ve all got them. And, if your current reality isn’t quite what you had predicted it would be, your pain is likely due to a perceived loss of control.
Sure, you can’t control a lot of things that you wish you could. But on the flip side, there is one thing you always have control over: your actions.
What does that mean? It means it’s time to get consistent. Whether that means sticking to a practice schedule, creating a morning routine, or spending ten minutes a day doing something that brings you joy—pick an action, make a plan, and see it through day in and day out.
Instead of dwelling on the things that you can’t control, this will help you to focus in on the things you can. Little by little, you will regain your balance.
If you were to suddenly break out into seemingly incurable hives, your doctor might prescribe an elimination diet in which you cut out every possible allergy-inducing food for a set period of time.
Why? So that your body could fully rest from any aggravating stimuli.
Emotionally, you know what is good for you. You know the people, places, and things in your life that are good for your soul beyond a shadow of a doubt.
However, when you take a good hard look at your time, are you mostly spending it on activities that fill up your energetic tank? Or have you let a few too many energy-draining items into your daily life?
Listen, we all do it. I’ve done it.
I’ve scrolled through my Facebook feed internalizing everyone’s accomplishments as my personal failures. I’ve done the deep dive Insta-stalk of that person I love to hate, harshly comparing my reality to their airbrushed, curated photos. I’ve peer pressured myself into going to that party full of people I don’t like, only to return home totally drained, deflated, and down on myself.
You could do that.
Or… you could not.
You could log off. You could surround yourself with the places and things that nurture you. You could say a polite “not today” to the people in your life who are draining and a “you free?” to the people that make you feel excited, rejuvenated, and empowered.
You could choose to give yourself the space, love, and care you need. Because if you don’t, who will?
Replace the voice
One of the hardest parts of the “should have been different” spiral is the stage it sets for self shaming.
When things don’t go turn out how you expected do you speak to yourself with compassion and understanding?
Or do you say something along the lines of, “It’s all your fault. If you had just practiced that extra hour. If only you had seen that red flag. You should be more aware, be more driven, be more perfect, be more.”
A negative internal dialogue is something I struggle with on a daily basis and it sure is a tough nut to crack.
If you aren’t able to speak to yourself with compassion just yet – don’t worry. You’ll get there.
For now, just ask yourself, “WWYBFFS?”
What Would Your BFF Say?
And if that’s still too hard, practice a little role reversal. What would you say to your loved one if they were speaking to themselves the way you speak to yourself?
Write it down, read it back to yourself, listen, and repeat.
Last but not least
The final and most important trick up my sleeve is: Just Do It
You may have heard some of this advice before. You may have even given some of it! But how regularly do you follow it?
We live in a world and time of instant gratification. And as humans, when the going gets tough, instant gratification can be insanely addictive. It makes us feel good… for a moment.
This advice is not an instant remedy, it’s a new set of habits. Forming new habits takes time, commitment, patience, and compassion. It takes falling down, getting back up, and being willing to learn along the way.
The indulgent option of engaging in wallowing or destructive behavior is also an option, for sure. But is that what you really want for yourself? I’d bet that you want better and you want more. You are better and you deserve more.
So don’t just stand there and read this—do something about it!
Your next steps
Sometimes things work out the way you planned and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, it doesn’t mean you are broken. It doesn’t mean you have failed. It doesn’t mean this is forever.
But, the journey to a better, brighter future begins with you making yourself a priority, bringing yourself back to center, and giving yourself the tools to move forward along your newly paved path. If you do, you’ll be back in the game, swinging full-force in no time.