“It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready.” ~Hugh Laurie
Throughout our childhood and early adult years, we’re conditioned to think we need to be “ready” to take the next big step in life.
Our teachers won’t let us get too far ahead of where they think we should be in terms of knowledge.
Our parents try to protect us from ideas and truths they think we’re not ready to learn about.
We, ourselves, hold back when faced with major decisions that we don’t believe we’re ready to make.
We’re constantly told we’ll understand certain things, or be able to do certain things, when we’re older—as if the passage of time alone is enough to teach us everything we need to know about life.
This way of thinking has a hugely negative impact on the way we live our lives.
For one thing, some of us feel we are ready to move forward in life, but are constantly being held back by societal norms. Additionally, there are those of us who never take the first step toward our goals because, despite being told by society we are ready to do so, we don’t believe we truly are.
The night I graduated from high school, I broke down into tears.
It hit me all at once as I returned home from the school-sponsored “All Night Graduation Party”: I had no idea what I was going to do with myself after walking across that stage.
Throughout my first eighteen years on Earth, life simply happened to me. I didn’t need to make decisions on my own. As long as I did the work that was given to me, I was passed on to the next grade.
Though I did well enough in school, had succeeded at many after-school jobs, and felt pretty good about my life in general, I didn’t feel as if I was ready to take the next step.
It was intimidating to think that everyone around me had a plan for the rest of their lives while I had no clue what I wanted to do. I figured if I was going to move away, spend thousands of dollars, and commit to learning a specific set of skills, I had to be 100 percent certain that it wouldn’t end up being a mistake.
It never once occurred to me that most of my peers were just as apprehensive about their future. But while I wasted time waiting until I was “ready” to dive into college, they dove in knowing they’d figure it out along the way.
I ended up attending a local two-year community college that fall. I figured I would “get the prerequisites out of the way” before narrowing my focus on specific coursework.
If I’m being honest, that’s what I told others—and myself. In actuality, I spent two years doing the bare minimum to pass my classes. I barely gave any thought to my future.
It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the material. It’s that I didn’t see myself ever doing anything with the information I learned.
I continued to believe that I’d know what to do “when the time came.”
I failed to realize that I should have been using the prerequisite classes to help me figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, rather than simply taking courses just to fill up my schedule. Instead, I skated through four semesters of community college without truly learning anything that would help me get anywhere in life.
I was one of the last of my friends to move out on my own. For years, I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to make it in the “real world.” The thought of living paycheck-to-paycheck and in debt scared me to death.
Once again, I never once stopped to think that all of my friends also owed thousands of dollars on car payments, college loans, and more, but it didn’t stop them from taking the next steps in their lives.
While my peers were well on their way to building a life for themselves, I spent my early twenties mistakenly believing it’d be better to put my life on hold and have money saved up for when I was “ready” to move out than to just do it and get busy living.
We all know that hindsight is 20/20, and time is our greatest teacher. But if we wait for time to teach us how to live our lives, we’ll have missed the opportunity to take advantage of these lessons.
We need to have confidence in our abilities, and faith in the notion that taking immediate action will result in much greater gains than if we were to wait until “the time is right.”
There are a few ways we can make this happen:
Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone Else
If you constantly compare your accomplishments to others, you’ll always find a way to be disappointed. This disappointment can lead to self-doubt and feelings of unpreparedness.
As I mentioned before, I wasted an enormous amount of my twenties thinking that everyone else around me somehow had it all together while I was barely staying afloat.
I kept wondering when I would finally have the confidence and abilities needed to move forward in life—as if these things would just come to me one day.
I now realize that confidence and ability comes from active practice, and the reason many others around me may have been more successful was because they didn’t waste time hoping for something to come to them; they put in the effort to make it happen.
Identify and Challenge the Excuses That Hold You Back
“I don’t have enough money.”
“I don’t have a well-paying job.”
“I don’t know what I want out of life.”
“I’m not quite ready yet.”
Since there are innumerable ways things could go wrong when stepping out of our comfort zones, it’s possible to create an inexhaustible list of excuses to stay stuck, and seemingly safe.
But we must realize that most, if not all, of the excuses we make are temporary roadblocks, not concrete walls. Even if it takes a little extra effort, there are ways around them.
If you don’t have enough money to go back to school, or are stuck in a dead-end job, you might default to thinking you’ll never make something of yourself. But instead of wallowing in your sorrows during the time you have to yourself, you could sign up for cheap (or even free) online workshops to help you spring into the next chapter of your life.
If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, chances are it’s not because you don’t want to do anything. (It’s more likely that you want to do everything!) Unfortunately, too many of us allow our indecisiveness to manifest in stagnation, and we end up letting opportunities to try new and exciting things slip away from us.
Yes, we should be wary of the possibility that things won’t always go swimmingly in life. But if we let the fear of being unprepared for such contingencies stop us from taking steps forward, we’ll never get anywhere at all.
It’s okay to not feel like you’re ready to make big moves in life. We all feel that way at times.
But sitting around waiting to “be ready” won’t get you anywhere. You need to actively go out and get the experience that will prepare you for the next step.
Maybe you aren’t ready to take a giant leap into the next chapter of your life, but that doesn’t mean you should stop taking baby steps in the right direction altogether.
We tend to measure our worth by our major accomplishments: graduations, first jobs, marriages… the list goes on. But we often fail to realize that none of these things happen overnight. It’s through the little steps we take leading up to these major events that prepare us to take the giant leaps that define who we are.
As long as you continue to press forward, you’ll eventually get where you want to be.
Time will not prepare you for what’s next in life. Only your experiences, and the lessons you learn from them, can.