I’m the type of person who likes to start on assignments the day they’re assigned rather than the day before they’re due. And I have let that run rampant since I came to seminary. I’m currently at least one class session ahead on my assignments in every class. I’m not saying that to brag. There are reasons (specifically, the fact that I’ll be traveling the next two weekends) for why I’m working to get ahead. But that’s just the way I prefer things to be in all areas of life. I like to be ahead on things. This characteristic has its benefits, but it obviously has some drawbacks, too.
For example, once I get ahead on something, I become extremely worried about ever falling behind. And by “falling behind,” I mean becoming less ahead in that area than I already am. In fact, I try to push myself to get even farther ahead, and it turns into a sort of snowball effect that can leave me feeling stressed and anxious if I don’t keep it under control. While trying to fight off this feeling over the past week I came up with a name for it. I call it Not Ahead Enough Syndrome.
Not Ahead Enough Syndrome can affect anyone: students, people in the work force, even people who aren’t working or going to school. I think it’s part of our human nature (or possibly just our culture) to have periodic freakouts about where we are in life and how we aren’t as far along as we would like to be. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story in which the main character, who suffers from sever anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, has a flashback to when he was five and declared that he was a failure at life because he couldn’t draw maps freehand. His mother lovingly responded by reminding him that he was only five years old, and no one can accomplish something like that at five.
I think that deep down, each of us has something like that inside of us. A voice constantly telling us that we’re behind and that we have to keep pushing ourselves and pushing ourselves to the next level and never letting it even become a possibility that we might fall behind and face the worst possible outcome: failure. We all fear failure, and so we get this idea that we’re not as far along as we should be, and if we don’t catch up soon, we’re going to lose everything.
But here’s something I try to keep in mind: Very rarely in life will you ever find yourself so far behind that you can’t catch back up. There are people in their sixties who are going to college to get an education. Opportunities to catch up are available. Deadlines can sometimes be pushed back if there’s just a little bit of grace involved. And when it comes down to it, most people can catch up on whatever it is they’re behind on with a good dose of hard work.
So don’t constantly stress yourself out with feelings that you’re falling behind. Look at what you’re trying to accomplish over the long-term and set manageable, short-term goals that will get you there in time. And then hold yourself accountable to those goals. If you can follow that simple plan, you’ll get to where you need to be in the desired amount of time.
And here’s an extra step that I’m going to put out there even though I often struggle with it: Don’t try to get ahead of your plan. You may finish a step a day or two early. That’s great. Give yourself a break. But if you try to get ahead of your plan, you’re constantly going to be concerned about when you’re going to finish the next step. You’ll fall into the trap of Not Ahead Enough Syndrome, and you may end up burning yourself out.
You are not as far behind as you think you are. You can and will accomplish your goals if you just take a few simple steps to set yourself up for success. Not Ahead Enough Syndrome is completely preventable. I’m not letting it rule my life; don’t let it rule yours.