Stroll with Nicole

Are we falling behind?

The corporate obsession with results can do us a lot of harm if we try to apply it to our personal lives, thinks Nicole Law.

Laufey, an Icelandic-Chinese jazz singer-songwriter (now how’s that for the global world?), captures the zeitgeist of the past few years very well indeed with her single, ‘Falling Behind’. 

The lyric that has caught on and travelled around social media is ‘Everyone’s falling in love but I’m falling behind’. A lyric that hits home on the collective anxiety of searching for love but finding it elusive. 

I sense a tone of resignation and wistfulness in Laufey’s breathy voice, a tone shared by various friends whom I’ve recently caught up with. It’s not about ‘searching and not finding’ or the disappointments linked to love, but an undercurrent of fear of not going down an ‘accepted’ life path. 

Yes, we fear missing out, we fear being different, we want what others have – these are aspects of our humanity. We want what is in and of itself good – including a loving romantic relationship. 

But does a time of solitude necessarily mean we are ‘falling behind’? Inherent in the thinking is that there is a hierarchy of life paths and that life is preferably linear. I understand, we like formulas, the beaten track and we are also susceptible to comparison. 

I’ve become more aware of my own mental frame, and how I can focus on what I lack instead of finding joy in the things I do well and the many opportunities I have been able to pursue.

The way we perceive our present situation determines whether we see it as ‘falling behind’ or ‘finding joy in the present’.

As I exit my twenties, the anxiety has mellowed. My present looks different from yours, and so do my priorities. I identify very much with Jo March, the fiercely independent protagonist of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

In a particularly poignant conversation played out between Jo and her sister Meg, who was due to get married to the man she loved, Meg remarks, “Just because my dreams look different than yours doesn’t make them any less important”.

Meg’s wise words remind me that there is no ‘falling behind’, each pathway is equally viable and valuable. 

I have witnessed my friends move continents and start new lives, break off engagements, get married to their long-term partners, have their first child and pivot to a completely new industry. There are so many ways of living and finding meaning that I realise that at any one point we can be Meg or Jo or somewhere in between. 

Maybe we are at that time in our lives when we are busy chasing our dreams, we are hustling, doing and bringing to birth our ideas. We’re working hard, building our careers and pursuing projects. That’s the aspect of Jo in each of us. 

Or maybe we’ve fallen in love and see ourselves settling down in the near future. We’re looking for stability and working out the details with our partner. That’s the streak of Meg in each of us. 

With this renewed mental frame, I relish the freedom afforded to me in this phase of my life. I am free to give my time, energy and skills to where it is needed most. While I see myself as a mother someday, the idea itself is no longer tied to a timeline of my own making. 

Interrogating the idea further revealed to me that my inclination towards motherhood arises from the desire to nurture and care for others. But I can be well-equipped to do that by striving to be a better daughter and friend. I can offer a listening ear to people younger than me and give them advice. I can shape the charges that come my way and watch them grow and mature. 

Fears of ‘falling behind’ are rooted in the belief that we are all synced to the same timeline and that these KPIs are the final arbiter of living a life of value and purpose. 

The role of KPIs is to keep us on track with goals which we have identified as important. Borrowing from corporate language, we have deadlines to meet and deliverables. 

Yet if this language bleeds into how we live our lives in a broader sense, we will find ourselves enslaved by timelines we had no say over in the first place. 

The next difficult thing? Surrendering timelines and going with the flow. Letting yourself lie fallow and driving in a separate lane. It’s unnerving to be one of the few cars in that lane, but maybe it’s going to lead you to unexpected destinations. I wouldn’t say any of us are ‘falling behind’. Perhaps, instead, we are ‘falling into’ the life intended for us all along.

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Nicole Law is a writer for Adamah Media, who writes a column entitled 'Stroll with Nicole'. She is an educator based in sunny Singapore. Her calling is not only to mould young minds, but also to nourish souls through her faith-based podcast. She has a soft spot for burnt cheesecake, Dean Martin and swing dance. When she’s not engaging with her listeners, she’s planning new conversations for her podcast - she believes in the power of conversations and the beauty of our relationships.

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