The other day I picked up an old journal and started reading.
I wrote the same thing throughout, page after page, month after month, and it went something like this: I don’t exercise enough, I don’t write enough, I don’t read enough, I don’t travel enough. Nothing I had accomplished thus far meant much to me—because there was always more to do.
This is not an uncommon feeling. I call it the “Silver Medal Syndrome.”
Here’s what I mean: Winning the silver medal obviously isn’t as satisfying as winning gold. But bronze medal winners are actually happier than silver medalists because they almost didn’t medal at all. It’s all about perspective.
Research done in 2012 back this up: It’s a phenomenon explained by something called counterfactual thinking, when people compare their objective achievements to what might have been. Silver medalists look at how closely they missed the gold; bronze medalists see how close they were to not medaling at all.
If you compare yourself to, say, someone who seems to do/have/be everything—social media only makes this information more accessible, whether it’s accurate or not—you’ll never be satisfied with your life. You’re chasing what you don’t have. But if you stop and take stock of what you’ve already done, you might realize just how much you’ve accomplished.
I know this—but I rarely do it. And I don’t have any good reason why.
But as Dec. 31, 2019 approaches, I find myself thinking back on the past decade. So many things happened between 34 and 44 for me. I moved three times, adopted a second dog, taught college journalism full time. I surfed in Ireland, hiked in New Zealand and rode bikes through Amsterdam. I managed a full-time freelancing career, got married and divorced and married again, hired a therapist, ran a marathon, did a handful of triathlons, suffered two concussions, broke a rib, had my appendix removed, had a baby, wrote a children’s book and survived a tax audit and a ballistic missile alert. That’s a lot, wouldn’t you say?
And those are the big events, the one I didn’t have to sift through old journals or Facebook albums to remember. Imagine all the stuff I can’t readily recall—the first-times, the last-times, the great meals, the new friends, the old friends, the scores and finds, the books I couldn’t stop reading, the movies that I still think about, the awards, the handwritten letters, the leaps of faith, the disappointments, the surprises, the decisions that turned out better than I could have anticipated.
Do I still think about all the things I haven’t accomplished? Of course. And I always will. I can’t help it. (And thanks to Instagram, I’ll be reminded all the time about how uninteresting my life is! Yay!)
But I’m going to start appreciating all the things I’ve already accomplished, no matter how small, and stop beating myself up for not writing a New York Times bestseller or filling up my passport with stamps. Sometimes getting out of bed without snoozing the alarm is a huge accomplishment—and I need to starting giving myself more credit.
So that’s my plan for 2020. Hindsight is always perfect. So maybe my reflections this year will be 2020, too.