The typical Brit spends about 42 minutes of their day waiting. Whether you’re at a bus stop, in a queue, or sitting in traffic, you could spend up to two years of your life on standby.
But some of us risk losing much more time not because of delayed tubes or long waitlists, but because of something more existential.
Psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Rosalind Miles says that many of the clients she sees have spent years waiting for their real life to begin.
“Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it,” wrote Sally Rooney in Normal People.
It’s a sentiment I’m all too familiar with ― so I thought I’d speak to Rosalind Miles about why we might feel like our life hasn’t begun yet, and what to do in order to reclaim control.
It’s a common concern
When it comes to taking full ownership of our lives, Miles says “I notice that a lot of people are waiting for the right moment.”
“There can be a variety of reasons why clients are waiting for their life to begin,” she adds. She finds that these include:
1) A fear of rejection
The fear of rejection can be a paralysing thing, Miles says, as it can inhibit peoples’ ability and desire to take risks. Those of us who are scared of rejection “may be afraid to take action in the present moment, for fear of failure,” she says.
Waiting for the “right time” to enjoy your life or follow your dreams might mean you never get to take part in it fully at all, Miles warns.
“If [a perfectionist] thinks the present moment is not ideal to follow a dream or chase a goal,” they might not do it at all, she says. However, “There may not be a ‘right’ time to wait for that all-important ‘right’ moment.”
3) Low self-esteem
Some of us simply don’t feel that we deserve to belong to the life we have, or the one that we want, Miles suggests.
“Some people consider that they need to reach a certain level in order to start living their life exactly how they want to,” she says ― in other words, some of us might (falsely) believe that there are entry requirements to staying present and enjoying our own lives.
4) Having an unclear sense of direction
While some might not feel worthy of enjoying, or staying present in, their lives, others might feel like an unplanned life is too chaotic to engage with. This can lead some, who might not be 100% sure about their life path, to feel “stuck” and zoned out.
“If someone is unsure about what they truly want in life, they may be delayed in taking action,” the therapist shared. “Therefore, they may feel like they need more clarity and a clear plan of action so that they can move forward.”
5) Good ol’ procrastination
Sometimes, the responsibility of starting your supposed “real life” is simply too much for people, the therapist says. We can get used to a familiar routine, no matter how little we may enjoy it ― and procrastination kicks in.
“The old art of procrastination can take hold in the form of habit,” Miles says. This can “stop individuals from moving forward” as they “are waiting for the right moment” ―“they put things off instead of taking that step towards living the life that they want to achieve,” Miles told HuffPost UK.
“As a therapist, I can understand that some of these elements I have discussed can be linked to each other, depending on an individual’s situation,” she added, saying “As you know, we are all unique!”.
OK, so what can I do about it?
“Overcoming this... can often involve self-reflection, setting realistic goals, building self-compassion, and sometimes seeking support from a professional, whether that’s a counsellor, life coach, or perhaps a support group,” Miles says.
But it’s worth trying to engage more with your own life if you feel alienated from it, Miles shares. After all, “Developing a present, focused mindset can be valuable for us to learn to live more fully in the moment and enjoy the here and the now.”