Don't wish your life away

“I just need to get these next four years of university done and out of the way!”

This is something that I’ve heard a few times recently which is ringing alarm bells. When a client says this to me I’m initially saddened but then I feel the need to challenge it.

A Fictitious Counselling Session With Larry

Mark: “Ok, I hear that you’re eager to get these next four years out of the way with, but why is that?”

Larry: “It’s so I can go out and get myself the dream job and the career that I want. I will be earning good money to buy the things that I want and to do the things that I want to do.”

Mark: “that sounds like a rewarding goal to have.”

Larry: “Yeah, it will be like the past four years have been worthwhile and it will all pay off.”

Mark: “So what will your life be like when you have this ‘dream job’ and you’re reaping the rewards?”

Larry: “Well I’ll work hard to establish myself and get promoted to maybe a management position.”

Mark: “You sound really focused and committed to your career. What will your life be like when you’re working within management?”

Larry: “Oh it’ll be fantastic, I’ll be getting noticed and recognised for all my work. Who knows, if I work really hard then maybe I’ll be asked to become a director.”

Mark: “Wow I really feel your excitement and that certainly would be a great reward for all your hard work. What will your life be like when you are director?”

Larry: “Well why stop there, maybe I could become the M.D and be right at the very top.”

Mark: “By the sounds of how hard you’re going to be working, I could certainly imagine that you would deserve that. So what would your life be like when you’re right at the very top and there are no more steps on the ladder to take?”

Larry: “Mmmmm, well I don’t really know.”

Lost Years

What started off as, “I just need to get these next four years of University out of the way” has now become a sad but unfortunately all too common story of a life not fully lived. Firstly there was four years to finish off Uni, then there was maybe another four years establishing themselves to get that promotion to management. After that there is another four years to become a director and yet another four years to become the Managing Director.

These numbers are of course hypothetical but it is the principal that is the key here. Without realising it, Larry has potentially lost 16 years of his life. 16 years of life which is arguably his peak years of which cannot be relived.

Life Direction

Throughout this short vignette the counsellor consciously asks Larry, “What will your LIFE be like,” not, what will WORK be like? Larry, along with so many other people has become too focused and fixated on what they believe society expects from them. This constant institutionalisation of individuals is slowly stripping away their ability and desire to focus on the ‘Here and Now.’

For some reason, Larry has a burning desire to be at the top of the ladder. This is of course incredibly important as the mind operates in such a way that we are constantly craving direction. However, the problem is that it is the direction that we need and not necessarily reaching the destination.

If you reach your goal or destination, like Larry has, then you may find yourself struggling to gain a sense of meaning in your life. A great example of this is when we consider people trying to adjust to retirement. Some may struggle to adjust and thus find themselves slipping into depression. This is because they simply don’t know how to live outside of fulfilling their purpose of working.

Balance

So how do we address this issue? As mentioned, we all need direction, but not at the cost of our ‘Here and Now.’ It is important that we find balance in our lives and we need to look within ourselves and look for what’s important right now. We need to establish a distinct difference between our purpose for living and our meaning in life.

Mark Walsh (MBACP) BA(Hons)

CEO & Founder of Lighthouse Therapy Group