How do I feel less disappointed and ashamed about my life?
November 9, 2020 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm in my mid-30s and am ashamed about how poorly my life is turning out, despite having education and other advantages. How does cope with the embarrassment and disappointment, especially if one seems to be unable to change?

I'm a 36F who has had episodes of depression for much of my adult life, feeling more depressed at certain times than others. With the pandemic, I figured my low moods were just the same feelings of anxiety and disappointment everyone else is having. Now I realize these feelings are more embarrassment and shame that I'm a failure in both my personal and professional lives. I'm having difficulty is accepting this, especially because I'm the only one to blame for my circumstances. Achievement makes me happy, so the lack of it makes me miserable.

The shame comes from being both a failure in my personal and professional lives with no chance of that changing in the near future. It's my own fault for being single, I haven't been successful in forcing myself to online date and dating the old-fashioned way seems impossible. I am happy hanging out with friends, but I feel stupid always being the single one and doing nothing to change that. To be honest, I should be single due to not wanting to make the necessary sacrifices for a relationship.

While things are looking up in my professional life, I've had setbacks after being unable to find work in the field I studied in and having failed at an unrelated job I took to get away from my low-paying one in another field. My job is OK now, but I'm way overqualified for it, isn't in my field, and doesn't pay much. As a young adult, I valued professional success above personal but I got pigeonholed and had a hard time moving up in my field. I went back to school, a waste of time although I did well in the course.

I'm fortunate that my mom let me move in with her last year (she was alone after my dad died) so I can save money to buy property and pay off school debt. I'm not happy about the work needed to maintain a home, but I think it will make me happy because it is something of my own. Of course I feel dumb about squatting at my mom's, but know it is an opportunity.

I know many (most) people's lives end up being disappointing, how does one move on and occasionally not feel embarrassed and ashamed?
posted by greatalleycat to Human Relations (29 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I heard a few years ago that really resonated with me is that middle-aged life is about the grief and mourning of coming to terms with the future that hasn't (and won't) happened, and being at peace with it. We're told all our lives growing up that our future can be anything we want it to be, but no one tells us what life is like once doors start closing. It's sometimes hard to see the good things that have happened or choices we've made and I think it's somewhat human nature to dwell on what isn't, wasn't, or won't be. I'm a huge proponent of counseling/therapy - maybe I just grew up in an environment that wasn't emotionally fostering, but counseling was the key to my being able to recognize and cope with certain emotions. If you don't have someone you can talk to about these sorts of feelings on a deep level, please consider counseling as an option.

Middle age disappointment and ennui is a thing - you aren't alone. Quarantine probably isn't helping any but I'm hoping we're approaching that light at the end of the tunnel. Stick with it, don't be too hard on yourself, and remember that what you are feeling is normal and probably way more common than you think. Talk it out, don't be afraid to name and acknowledge your feelings, and above all, learn to love yourself as you are.
posted by _DB_ at 6:47 PM on November 9, 2020 [52 favorites]

Sometimes when I'm feeling that way, I say to myself, almost like a mantra, "in 100 years, nobody will know my name." It sounds depressing but I find it to be the opposite. YMMV of course.
posted by less of course at 6:51 PM on November 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Your life sounds pretty good -- you have stable housing that's allowing you to save for something else! You have steady employment (even if you don't love it). And there's nothing wrong with being single, especially right now! (There is also nothing wrong with wanting a relationship! But it's not a personal flaw that you're not in one!)

I am not saying that to guilt you into feeling OK about your life because I get it. I absolutely get it! I live in the DC area where the first question out of everyone's mouth is "What do you do?" (until I stopped interacting with people who would ask that). I had a long series of crappy jobs that underpaid me. As of now, I'm still renting a basement in someone's house (but it's comfortable and I like it! I won't be here forever but it's good!).

I have a much better job that is only vaguely related to what I was doing in my initial career path (I was in journalism -- I'm now in web development) and that has taught me that my job is not my life. I always thought that but I really know it now. I also realized how much trying to pursue a field I loved made me hate it. I like my job and what I do (and I sincerely like my coworkers) but I also like that it's just a job.

I turned 40 this year and yeah, that feels like a lot, but at the same time, I do think that I possibly have as much life ahead of me as I have had behind me. Maybe some doors are closed to me now, but there are still plenty more doors that can be opened.

I still am working through a lot of my regrets and the messes I've made in my past. But I also feel like I know myself so much better now. I know so much more about what I'm capable of because I managed to get through all of that hard stuff in my past. I'm working with my flaws. I can do this. I have a lot of friends and family that love me and support me (and sometimes, I think, indulge me in my pursuits, but I'll take it). You can do this, too.

We are all doing the best we can. It may seem like some people are doing a lot better than you, but you don't necessarily know that for sure. It's good to want more and pursue it. But don't let that lose sight of what you currently have. No one is judging you as much as you're judging yourself (and if they are, they're assholes and you should ignore them).
posted by edencosmic at 7:03 PM on November 9, 2020 [22 favorites]

I don't have advice for you but just that I could have pretty much written an identical post only that I'm a few years older than you. So really, I'm just writing to let you know you're not alone in your situation/circumstances and in feeling this way. Sending love. Be kind to yourself.
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 7:14 PM on November 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

Figure out who it is that you want to be. Every day, look in the mirror and tell the person that they are that person you want to be. Come up with reasons to persuade that mirror person to believe you. And try to mean it. Eventually you will.
posted by aniola at 7:15 PM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Happiness is like 90% intrinsic and only 10% about our external circumstances. Do NOT get a house to make yourself happy.

It's just like how you're not supposed to have a kid to save the marriage. Make yourself happy first. Then if you still want the house, get the house.
posted by aniola at 7:21 PM on November 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: all of your experience in life has made you perfect to be of service to someone. are there some places or causes you've thought about volunteering for? being of service and building community in that way may help you see your value in the eyes of others.

it might be nice to have friends who are happily single. there are a lot of advantages to being single at this age - you know yourself in ways that younger people don't - so you can be a little more confident and free with others. the sex is better.

Some new studies have come out connecting therapeutic use of psychedelics to reducing depression This one around mushrooms, but similar reports around Ayahuasca. Not something to explore on your own, but if you ask around or are willing to travel for a short getaway, you can find a safe and legal option.

is there a small daily joy that you have? a walk around the neighborhood? phone call with a friend? favorite tea in a favorite mug? can you lean into that?
posted by jander03 at 7:45 PM on November 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

I usually try to think of these things as neutral conditions or descriptors.
The car is either on or off;
the weather is cloudy, sunny, rainy...

I am either married or not married,
I own a car or I don’t,
I have kids or I don’t,
I am in this job at this moment,
My hair is long/short/blonde/gray/black...

I try to keep the outlook that regardless of my status, job or circumstance I do still have the potential for a happy life.
posted by calgirl at 7:46 PM on November 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

TBH, people who buy houses, force themselves into relationships, and have kids because that's just what people do are the ones that usually make me cringe, not the folks who are doing their thing that (mostly) works for them.

As I've gotten older, I've realized a few things: Shit Happens so life almost never works out exactly as you imagined when you were younger, the "done thing" only works for a small subset, but society as a whole sends all kinds of messages about there being one true way of living and that's just wrong, and what other people think is completely fucking irrelevant, especially if they are people you don't actually have to see ever again if you don't feel like it.

If some aspects of your life are causing you distress, it's certainly worth doing what you can to change those aspects, but you need to make sure the distress isn't being imposed on you from the outside and also try to be satisfied with yourself for doing what you can, even when you think someone else might have been able to do more. Reward yourself for putting in the work, even if it didn't turn out quite like you expected.
posted by wierdo at 7:49 PM on November 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, reading this post felt like looking into a mirror. In my 20s and 30s, I've done a lot of work unpacking where my expectations for my life came from, where the current pressures come from, and how much the deck is stacked against people these days.

For me, it had a lot to do with perfectionism (and unresolved trauma), and waking up to the patriarchal and capitalist messaging that surrounds us. It also helped to connect with others in similar situations, both online and in real life, and realize how few people our age are actually achieving the old "american dream" these days in its traditional form.

It helped me realize there's no one right way to live your life, despite what the overwhelming majority of people will tell you. So yes, do some figuring out of exactly what you really want, and make sure it's genuine for you, and then go do THAT. (If you look in my history, I asked a question about being a dissatisfied millennial and got a lot of helpful responses, so maybe that'd be worth checking out too.) I feel like my answer here is kind of vague because it's just such a huge topic that I have so many thoughts on, so feel free to memail me if you want to chat about it further!
posted by carlypennylane at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2020 [11 favorites]

I'd trust your instinct that buying a place will make you happy. Look into "house hacking." You have plenty of time, but I think you'll feel better if you focus on being on the path to want to be on. Every time I've tried to psychologize or empathize (to myself) my way out of feelings like this, it hasn't worked as well as just getting back on the path.
posted by slidell at 8:11 PM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: All I can say is that, as you take stock of who you are and where you are, remember that nobody who is not you is keeping score. Nobody who is not you is judging your life choices. Nobody who is not you is saying "you're not doing/making/living enough".

From the sounds of it, you have nothing to be ashamed of - you've got a job you don't love, sure, at which you're underpaid but you've also just described the way a large portion of the adult working population feels about their job. Life isn't a set of questions to each of which there is a correct answer that, when added together, means you're doing life correctly. We all do the best we can with the tools we have, and we make the best decisions we can with the knowledge we have. The hard thing, as you're finding out, is being kind to yourself when things aren't going as you feel like they should be going, despite the fact they may be going OK.

As for your living situation, you kinda nailed it in your description of your situation. You're "squatting" at your mom's in order to achieve a goal of property ownership; you're not forced there by being out of work, nor are you stuck there, because buying property is the end game there. And that, for a 30-something, is to be commended, not to be embarrassed by. When I was in my 30's, I was nowhere near financially or emotionally ready to buy a place (we didn't buy our first place until I was well into my 40's).

especially because I'm the only one to blame for my circumstances.

Obviously I don't know you, and all I know about you is what you wrote here, but from what I read, "blame" is not the word I would use if I were you to describe the way things are right now. To use a really dumb metaphor from a world I know well: you're at a show that you have really wanted to see for a while now, but as of right now, the opening band has finished and here you are, in that 20-30 minute gap between bands where you're just...sorta...waiting. You're in the right place, doing the right things, but it doesn't feel like how you want it to feel, because the band you love isn't playing yet.

Take heart; the band will be playing soon, from the sounds of it. You'll reach your goal of buying a place, you may find someone to date/long-term-relate with (or you may discover that you prefer to be single!), and you'll work towards getting a more satisfying job. In the meantime, as I said, be kind to yourself, because, especially this year, self-kindness is the key to a lot of steps you'll take both now and in the future.
posted by pdb at 8:26 PM on November 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

You say your life is "disappointing," which is a state that can only exist in contrast to some expectation. Whose expectation is that? Because I think it's probably your expectation, and good news: you are the person in charge of what you expect and how much weight you give it.

There's nothing actually wrong with your life except in comparison to some idea you had. You live with a parent: that's great, a lot of people do that by default or choice! It's only disappointing if you think you're supposed to be owning a home. You're single: that's great, you're not beholden to anyone and as you say, you don't have to sacrifice! It's only a problem if you think you're supposed to be partnered. And you say you're not working in "your field," meaning the field you trained for and envisioned. But you're working—and isn't the field you work in definitionally your field too?

You can't actually fail at these things because the benchmarks are fake! I'm not saying they only exist in your head—there are clearly things we valorize as "achievements" as a culture. But we're pretty fucked up as a culture, so I wouldn't necessarily give too much weight to those! All the suffering you've described here is suffering that arises solely from the gulf between expectation and reality.

I don't mean to sound like a Pollyanna, and the truth is I'm much more like you, in my daily life, than I am like this comment. But I still believe it and I'm still right! It might be worth looking into some basic Buddhist principles about suffering and attachment (I'm not a Buddhist but my former therapist was and I found a lot of the frameworks really helpful).
posted by babelfish at 8:29 PM on November 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the though-provoking responses. I did read the thread started previously by carlypennylane in 2018, and it has lot of similarities which I will also revisit in the future. My goal is to figure out what I want my future goals to be, this is the tricky part it seems.
posted by greatalleycat at 9:29 PM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'd trust your instinct that buying a place will contribute to your happiness. Some wishes are illusory. A desire like having a stable place to live is pretty fundamental.

Look into "house hacking." E.g., on the Bigger Pockets podcast. Educate yourself, find a way. May not be easy, but if you know you're on the right path, the sacrifice may feel worth it. (I say this as someone who worked a second job at night until I scraped together 3.5% down on a boarded-up house then put in years of DIY work.)

You have plenty of time, but I think you'll feel better if you focus on being on the path to want to be on. Every time I've tried to psychologize or empathize (to myself) my way out of feelings like this, it hasn't worked as well as just getting back on the path.
posted by slidell at 10:19 PM on November 9, 2020

With very few exceptions (such as a career as a ballerina or astronaut), 36 is not too late for anything. There's NO reason you have to accept anyone's ridiculous assertions that middle age is the time to come to terms with the idea that you can never achieve any of your dreams if you haven't already. Your life in a year might be much more satisfying to you, who knows. Showing up and putting in the effort despite discouragement will make it more likely that you get a better job, a relationship, and a house than will burying your head in your hands and contemplating some supposedly inevitable bleak future.

With that said, your life also may continue to fall short despite your best efforts. Most people believe in Just World Theory, we are indoctrinated with that idea in school, by the media, etc. But life is not fair and hard work and merit do not always result in success. If you look around you with clear eyes, you can see evidence of that... well, pretty much everywhere. Your successful friends have without question had a big dose of luck along with their talents and work. I can tell from your wording that you are accepting too much responsibility for the way your life has turned out. It can be scary to acknowledge the role luck plays, to acknowledge that life is chaotic and unfair. But it is a more accurate view, and it also prevents you from flagellating yourself (and others) over things that may not have been under your/their control.

For example, you could have done all the online dating in the world and still ended up single. Some people never put any effort into dating and just meet a great person in some random way.

Good luck. I hope you are able to enjoy what there is to enjoy in this part of your life and stop beating yourself up.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 10:38 PM on November 9, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Achievement makes me happy, so the lack of it makes me miserable.

Achievement is overrated, and one of the most reliable paths to achievement-related misery is comparing one's own with other people's.

The best kind of achievement is whatever does make us happy, which generally turns out to be something that has both open-ended goals and allows for satisfaction in the process of skilling up to reach those. But for most of us, most of the time, the kind of achievement we spend most of our time chasing is the kind that other people have told us is worth chasing, or normal, or both. And other people frequently get that wrong.

One of the things I did in my late twenties (I'm 57 now) was make a conscious effort to sort out what I needed and keep those things separate from what I merely wanted. This task was made easier for me by having had parents wise enough to refuse to have a TV in the house until all the kids had left school, and strictly prohibit any of the house radios to be tuned to any of the commercial stations, and leave Vance Packard lying around on a bookshelf for me to discover when I was about 16. Compared to most of my peers I have taken very little early damage from the advertising industry's relentless campaign to inculcate a universal sense of personal inadequacy, and have carried a keen awareness of both the prevalence and the corrosive effects of advertising with me for most of my life.

It seems to me that a good place to start with needs are these:

1. Air. Lack of access to this will kill you within minutes.
2. Water. Lack of access to this will kill you within days.
3. Food. Lack of access to this will kill you within months.
4. A secure place to sleep. Lack of access to this could kill you completely unpredictably.

All of these needs serve the primary goal:

1. Stay alive.

It sounds to me like you've made a really good start on addressing your most important needs by moving in with your mom. As somebody whose parents have both now died, I think you'd benefit from re-framing that as an opportunity to spend time with her (assuming, that is, that the two of you get on OK).

The goal that advertisers would have you take as primary is 1. Stay happy.

I recommend de-prioritizing this goal. There are far too many ways in which it can end up conflicting with the goal of staying alive. It seems to me that any life that could fairly be described as rich necessarily involves spending time in a wide range of emotional states, and prioritizing any one of these above life itself is a terrible mistake.

Circling back: lack of achievement does not, in and of itself, make anybody miserable. What makes people miserable is the conflict between a lack of achievement and the value attached to that achievement. Once you can get some clarity on the fact that making those attachments can be a choice, I expect you'll experience a substantial decrease in achievement-related misery.

Also worth bearing in mind: the act of choosing not to buy into such of your culture's own norms as you've recognized as sources of misery is a courageous act.
posted by flabdablet at 12:07 AM on November 10, 2020 [19 favorites]

Best answer: It's my own fault for being single, I haven't been successful in forcing myself to online date and dating the old-fashioned way seems impossible.

I lived with this feeling for years, and it's a cruel stick to beat yourself with. Online dating is horrible (IMO) and God, what have we come to where the only perceived route to happiness is to force yourself to do something you viscerally hate, and to beat yourself up if you choose not to do it? There's such a massive trope in our culture that coupledom is the finish line, the one route to happiness - especially for women - and I think the cultural trope causes far more unhappiness than the actual being single bit.

I absolutely recommend trying to surround yourself with other single female friends so that you can go off and do interesting things together and forget that couples exist for long expanses of time. And I also recommend getting older (good news is, that'll happen of its own accord!). One of my single friends said that once she'd reached the point where having children was definitely off the table, she suddenly felt like she was in her 20s again, with decades of freedom stretching out ahead of her. The biological clock that had been ticking down had finally been removed and it was a such a weight off her shoulders. I mean, who knows, you still have time to fall in love and have kids, but if it doesn't happen, you might not go up in a puff of miserable smoke (Little aside: I bought this lovely little book after seeing it recommended on AskMe, I have yet to get round to reading it, but you might enjoy it!)

My goal is to figure out what I want my future goals to be, this is the tricky part it seems.

I'd also second the notion expressed above, that you might in fact find that owning your own place helps a lot. It really did for me. People will tell you that material stuff can't bring happiness, but having your own little patch of the world, which you can decorate exactly as you like, be surrounded by all your favourite things, and you know you never have to leave, is huge. For me it was a major shift in my satisfaction levels and general orientation to life. I was never sure I'd have the opportunity to own somewhere, and achieving it was a Big Deal for me. I think it helped calm my need for ambition and striving in other areas and made me generally more contended.

And finally... I wouldn't totally discount the effect of covid/lockdown-fuelled rumination, and/or depression, in the way you're feeling. They're both capable of adding that extra 20% of intensity that can shift you from "Life's not what I originally planned but it's pretty OK, and I'm saving for a house and spending time with my mom, so that's cool" into "I'm overwhelmed by disappointment, I've failed."

Best of luck!
posted by penguin pie at 2:38 AM on November 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I feel you on a lot of this; I've managed to cultivate a slow-growing sense of "says who?" about my own life and achievements and whether they're "good enough", but it's taken me a lot of time to get there. I did my undergrad degree at a very prestigious university and for most of my twenties had this nagging sense that I was failing or underachieving compared to my peers. I also have a background of trauma and abuse that led to severe mental illness during the same period, so for a lot of that time my life felt like this weird tug of war between what I "should" be achieving based on my aptitude and educational background (as much achievement as society can offer!) and what I actually felt capable of achieving given my health and mental state (managing to stay underemployed and just about keeping the lights on!).

flabdablet puts it well above: "the act of choosing not to buy into such of your culture's own norms as you've recognized as sources of misery is a courageous act". This took me years of therapy and probing on my own to get more comfortable with. My partner has a very strong sense that the point of being alive is to go along for the ride, and to try to have the best time you can while you're here. My own background and upbringing was much more rigid, infused with a deep sense of obligation to others, down to things like dress and personal hygiene, with the goal of being as appealing to others as possible while eliminating or mitigating any chance that another person might feel disgusted or inconvenienced by me.

Over the last few years I've been trying to make my peace with what I feel I'm here for. Before, it was "achieve as much as I can, whether I'm actually interested in pursuing the thing I'm achieving or not", not least because overachievement was basically the only way I could get any positive attention in the environment I grew up in. Now, I'm much clearer about what I want. I feel lucky in that I love to write and have a strong sense of purpose as a writer, so I feel like the main reason I'm here is to do that work. I feel that way even if I never publish anything. I hope to, but that's a secondary goal. I want to get to the end of my life and feel like I spent as much time as I could spare working on writing that was meaningful to me, regardless of whether anyone else ever sees it. Beyond that, I want a nice comfortable life, if I can have one, but everything else on my list beyond writing is a want now rather than a need.

When I was still trying to work my way through this stuff, my partner's "we're here to have the best time we can while we're here" philosophy used to rub me up the wrong way, like, didn't he know that that couldn't possibly be true and my job was to squeeze as much raw achievement out of this existence as I could, no matter the cost to myself? Didn't he get all the harsh memos about this stuff that I got growing up? But the older I get and the more I sit with it, the more I've concluded that he's right.

At the same time, there are immensely strong ingrained social narratives in the west around what a good life looks like, often very narrow and prescriptive. It can be really hard to move beyond the conditioning you've received all your life to at least some degree about what "success" or "a good life" is supposed to look like, but I believe it's critical to being able to start constructing your own ideas about what kind of life you want, what success on your own terms means to you. It can be terrifying to reject received narratives, but if the fear of doing so prevents you from doing so, you're going to spend the rest of your life beating yourself with someone else's stick, not your own. If you're going to beat yourself at all, it's got to be better doing it with your own idea of what your life should be like rather than someone else's.

Another analogy, in case it's helpful, was my experience of figuring out my gender identity (non-binary) and rejecting a lot of the intense socialisation I got growing up as an AFAB person about what someone with a body and chromosomes like mine is supposed to be like, how they're supposed to look and behave and all of that. I tried for almost thirty years to be someone else's idea of what someone like me was supposed to be, and it was slowly eroding me. I feel so much better now being something that feels truer to myself, even if it meant taking big risks and stepping outside of boxes that other people had automatically sorted me into. I no longer feel like I'm constantly failing against an exterior standard, I'm just being myself, and it's easier to be myself having formally said "hey, that box you're all trying to cram me into actually isn't right for me."

I think the same is true for constructing your own idea of what you want your life to be like, what success and achievement actually mean for you. It's easier when it's actually your own desires that you're measuring yourself against, rather than some nebulous cultural ideal. Don't get me wrong, I still get anxiety spikes that I "should" be doing more with my career, as an example, but I don't hate my current job, it pays enough to support the kind of life I want to have and it leaves me enough time to write, which is the thing I care about more than anything. By my own standards, I don't actually want a more impressive career, and I've started trying to be more consciously aware when this kind of anxiety pipes up that it's not actually my anxiety, it's fear that someone else's idea of what good looks like has projected into my brain. The fact that I feel it doesn't mean I need to pay attention to it or act on it.

Sure, it's true that some of the people I studied with immediately walked into £80k/year jobs after undergrad and have only grown their careers since there. Most of them came from more money than I did in the first place, and most of them didn't spend their twenties primarily trying to stay alive while dealing with the impact of significant trauma. It's not fair of me to compare myself to them, and it's not useful, and it doesn't make me feel any better, and it doesn't make me do anything different, so I've tried to stop doing it.

So what do you actually want from life? It sounds like you want to own your own home, which is a great goal (and I agree with the folks above about the renewed sense of security and having your shit together that this can bring if you're in a position to do so). What else? Not what you think people like you should want, or what you see other people pursuing, but what you actually want. I don't think anyone talks enough about how it's fine, admirable even, to take stock of this world and say, "you know what, I don't want to climb right to the top, but I think I'd be happy over there". 'Over there' might be career, or it might be having a home where you feel safe and comfortable and have enough money to cover the necessities without constantly striving for more, it could be a relationship or a family, hobbies you really care about, or simply optimising your life so you spend as much time as possible doing the things you love and as little doing the things you'd rather not do. It's not for me or for anyone else to define what those things are for you, but it is for you to say, so don't feel shy about wanting something other than what you've been conditioned to believe you "should" want and then pursuing that however sits best with you.
posted by terretu at 5:17 AM on November 10, 2020 [13 favorites]

I think it's an accomplishment to acknowledge feelings of shame! People are so concerned with projecting an image of being ok and satisfied with themselves. If there's a trick, I think it's not to let shame influence your current behavior too much.

You might enjoy this TED talk by Brené Brown.
posted by BibiRose at 6:08 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Happiness is like 90% intrinsic and only 10% about our external circumstances. Do NOT get a house to make yourself happy.

I agree with the first part, mostly, but also don’t not get the house just because it might not solve all your problems. You don’t have to fix yourself or solve these feelings of inadequacy before you do stuff that you want to do.

I might look into ACT therapy (Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life is the canonical self help text there) — specifically values work, which is aimed at finding your life’s compass, so to speak.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:15 AM on November 10, 2020

About the house thing. My parents bought a Nice House when I was a teenager. They wanted a Jeep, they had a Jeep. They wanted a hot tub, they had a hot tub. They wanted kids, and a dog, and a cat, and they had all those. And my mom looked around and was like, "what now?"

And that was when I decided that I wasn't going to wait until I had the house and the car and the hot tub and the kids and the dog and the cat to ask myself "what now?".
posted by aniola at 7:21 AM on November 10, 2020 [9 favorites]

I know it isn't an easy thing to do, but is there any way that you could look at the time spent living with your mother as a good thing, and not as an embarrassment?

Trust me, I understand where you're coming from. I'm about the same age, and I understand the huge pressure that society places on us to accomplish certain things by a certain age. I have my own share of regrets about certain decisions that I made in my twenties.

The one huge benefit of living at home while working is that you can pay off your students loans and save money way more quickly than those of us who have to worry about a rent payment each month. In that sense, you're much closer to financial freedom than the rest of us student loan debtors.
posted by carnival_night_zone at 7:45 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It helps my mom is in Florida with her boyfriend right now. She is able to do this because I'm here watching her dog, so my presence is useful and makes me feel less squatter-like.
posted by greatalleycat at 7:55 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Either you hold 99% of the people around you in contempt, or you are judging yourself by a far higher standard than you do everybody else.

High standards are good, but unrealistic high standards are evil.

Let's say you felt that being single was a reason for shame, so you compromised your high standards in partners and became paired off with someone who was visibly high status but otherwise a poor choice. Let's say before you made the pairing off official you knew that the person you were zeroing in on was a bad choice so you married them not out of ignorance about their capacity or lack of imagination or because you want the feeling of belonging and being committed to someone so badly you were prepared to live with their faults and deficiencies, but only because at least temporarily it would make you look better and more successful to other people. Would you still be ashamed of yourself?

Instead of shame for not being paired off consider if you deserve credit for not settling. Consider if you are judging yourself by standards of another time and place, or by the standards of fantasy wish fulfillment. If you do worse than the previous generation by only ten percent you will be doing way better than your peers.

Consider if your shame is anger turned inward, and if perhaps you are angry at not having the same opportunities that so many people had in the past, but which your generation has been thoroughly denied while being told that it was not only still possible, but would be easier for you in an era with more information and equality. As a female you grew up with the story that women before you had much fewer rights and many more challenges than you have, and the path to achievement was open in front of you. Which is kind of true. Women now can earn as much as men did then, except the purchasing power of what you can earn now is way, way lower than it used to be, and guys can still earn more than women. The people who sold you that narrative believed it and you believed it from them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:15 AM on November 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Humans have a real talent for deciding "the way things are right this second are the way they will be forever", despite billions of examples to the contrary. I'm making some big assumptions about your life here, but I'm going to guess you can eat solid food and do a reasonable amount of math and get yourself to places you need to go without a chaperone, which are all things you could not do at previous points in your lifetime, and you're barely into it, you've likely got another 70 years to go.

Where you are right now (and to be fair, where many people around the world are right now this year, unexpectedly) is a way station on the long and winding road that will be your life. You're likely not in a situation to know a lot of people 10-20 years older than you, but early-mid 30s is most people's first official developmental shift as adults who have some experience being adults, and many people have to stop and regroup here. A lot of people take an austerity break here to save money and course-correct a career that largely came together by happenstance in their 20s. So so many master's degrees (many of them terribly ill-advised, but that doesn't become obvious right away) start here. A lot of first marriages end here, starter homes get sold with the planned renovations half-finished.

You will know so so so many people in the future who spent 2020 and adjacent living with one or more parents trying to figure out what comes next. Some of those people will end up incredibly grateful they got that time with their parent(s), even if it felt frustrating and/or juvenile in the moment. (And some of that is on you: stop wallowing in your embarrassment and be an adult housemate to your adult parent and frame it as something that is working out pretty well for both of you. Most parents, you will find out later in life, consider being able to give their adult kids that kind of leg up on the increasingly difficult job of amassing savings a privilege and a point of pride. As long as you are being a fair and decent housemate to her, this is a good arrangement.)

You need to reframe the story you're telling yourself. You've obviously taken in a lot of capitalist messaging about the house and relationship and how it's "bad" to move home, but...none of that is actually terribly true, quadruply so for your generation, times ten for this absurd year. Leverage the living opportunity you have instead of burning so much energy on shame. Focus on the career situation, and on finding something to provide you with intellectual and social challenge for right now since you're not getting it from your work at all. Traditionally, volunteer work is a way to get those things and give back and be more grateful for what you have.

Volunteer work is weird this year, but I suggest checking around your local area for opportunities and to see what kind of safety precautions groups are taking around the kind of physical work that must be done and decide if you feel comfortable participating that way. I know the food banks and unhoused person support services in my area are desperate for people to pack up supply boxes for distribution and are using distanced workstations and drop points so people aren't having to work close together. But there's also literacy and tutoring programs that have gone online, there are mutual aid groups that just need volunteers willing to make phone calls for research and to help obtain resources for people in need, there are racial justice activism groups that are doing their training and direct action organizing in zoom meetings.

You're getting very little intellectual stimulation right now, and if you added some of that to your diet you might find it easier to feel motivation, make plans with actionable steps, and feel a little more in control of your life.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:25 AM on November 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

And that was when I decided that I wasn't going to wait until I had the house and the car and the hot tub and the kids and the dog and the cat to ask myself "what now?".

I get it, but these pressures cut both ways. My point is that you can keep saying things like “I need to fix myself before I have a relationship,” or get a dog or have a kid or change careers, until suddenly you look around and it’s a decade or more later and nothing has changed. I have a few regrets about ill-considered decisions like everyone else (oh boy, do I), but a lot of my daily regrets are really more not pursuing things that I wanted to do, because I didn’t feel ready or because I wanted to please other people or because it wasn’t the practical, responsible decision. You don’t have to wait until you and your situation are perfect to do things, and indeed this can be a form of avoidance that is actively corrosive to your mental health. Owning a house by itself isn’t going to make you happy, but if you place a high value on independence and you aren’t currently finding a lot of opportunities to live out that value, then moving out might be a step in the right direction. (Or maybe buying a house just really isn’t in the cards, but this longing is telling you that you really need to find another way to assert your independence, like renting or redecorating or something.) This is exactly why I suggested values work, so you can get a little sense of what you actually want your life to be about and start infusing your life decisions with some more vitality and agency.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:30 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

To elaborate, here is an example exercise of what I’m talking about (sweet, sour, heroes). Here’s another (values card sort)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:50 AM on November 10, 2020

My goal is to figure out what I want my future goals to be, this is the tricky part it seems.

I have a suggestion for this. Years ago I read EmpressCallipygos's comment here about an exercise which she used for this. You can see from the favourites (mine included) that I'm not the only person it resonated with!

Why don't you give this a go? If you can, find someone to pair up with. I recently helped someone do this exact exercise, and once they'd done stage 1, they needed a bit of help with bringing some of the factors into stage 2 - it was easier to see from an outside perspective.

Also I just want to agree with others here - it might not feel like it, but you're doing great. Sometimes control is the key to feeling good about things like career, life circumstances etc. - when everything feels out of our control, or your plans are not clear enough to make positive changes, that's when things feel bad, however generally good your situation is. So doing something like this above exercise might be just what you need to get some of that control back, and feel better about yourself, your life, and your future.
posted by greenish at 7:55 AM on November 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

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