Sunél's Blog | Feeling left behind

Sunél Veldtman, | 26 January 2024

In a conversation with my daughter about further studies, she mentioned that delaying post-graduate studies would feel that she was falling behind her peers. It isn’t the first time that a young person has said this to me. Many express fears about taking a gap year for travelling.

I have also heard this from my older clients. They feel they are behind in their retirement planning. Whilst many are, for my clients, the feeling is often uncorrelated to the sufficiency of their retirement funding or the progression of their careers.

Women too, sometimes feel that they ‘disrupt’ their path by choosing to have children.

The notion of falling behind seems to be a universal feeling.

As many of you know, I stumbled upon a career. Other than having a family, I started my adulthood with no big dreams for a career, status, or wealth. When I tell my career story to others, it sometimes feels surreal that this has been my life: That I obtained four post-graduate qualifications, climbed the corporate ladder, founded a successful business in mid-life, studied writing, published a book, and now write a weekly blog. Somehow, I carved a way without a preconceived path.

Had I been more intentional on my path, I could have been further along with my retirement planning. I also could have amassed more wealth, and more career success.  But this would have meant that I sacrificed the one dream I did have - my relationship with my children.

The notion that you can fall behind, is therefore foreign to me. However, it now seems pervasive. Just recently I caught sight of blogs, reels, and podcasts on this topic. Many report that it leads to dissatisfaction and even burnout when people feel pressured to catch up. I have seen it result in inappropriate risk-taking.

Whilst there are real financial reasons why people feel pressured to keep up, some of this burden may be because of how we measure our success.

You can only feel you’re falling behind when you measure yourself against a preconceived idea of what a path to success looks like. But such a comparison makes us lose sight of our individuality. How can we all follow the same path when we are uniquely shaped by our DNA, gender, race, culture, religion, geography, privilege, and histories?

When you feel that you’ve fallen behind, it’s worth asking yourself, ‘Who am I comparing myself to?’ You may realise that you are comparing yourself to those with perfect Instagram feeds or to those who are seemingly wealthier or more successful. The key word is seemingly, because as we know, rationally, all that glitters is not gold.

As a financial planner, I often see the discrepancy between the apparent perfection of clients’ lives and the insides of many of those admired people’s lives – the lack of retirement planning or real assets, or deep personal connections and meaning in life.

The idea that everyone will follow a similar linear path through life stages – work, marriage, children, and retirement - is becoming outdated. Longevity, artificial intelligence, and climate change are just some of the forces that are increasingly changing our timelines. As these external disrupting forces of change impact our plans, perhaps we need to disrupt our internal preconceived thinking and planning about what our lives should look like.

What might be better is if we set our own measures for success. What matters most to you? How fulfilled do you feel on a regular basis? What is the quality of your relationships? How well do you take care of your health? What are you learning? How much fun are you having? How financially secure do you feel? These are better measures of a good life.

If you can do this, you free yourself from the shackles and limitations of ‘the path’. You can design your path – your unique way of being, living, and striving that is in line with your values. It will be a life of deeper satisfaction, one that enables you to face the challenges of our times ably, rather than feeling left behind.  

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Kind regards,