Counselor self-care: The social clock ticks

Our friends have kids and houses. We have pets and textbooks. Or pets that are compelled to lie on textbooks.

One of the most intriguing concepts I learned about in my lifespan development class was that of the social clock–the socially acceptable timeline for life events to occur. It’s culturally determined, and some of us stick to our culture’s social clock pretty closely while others don’t at all. Not keeping up with the culturally-prescribed schedule can be a source of angst.

This concept resonates with me because I’ve always felt about three years behind in life, at least socially. I could play a clarinet sonata and write a killer newspaper article in high school, but I had trouble landing a prom date. In college, my music education friends were starting to get engaged and I was in the library, analyzing Beethoven. I graduated a year later than most of my friends and remember how sad I felt on their graduation day. Yes, I knew I’d finish up with a master’s degree, but still…It has all worked out, but that sure didn’t take the sting away from watching friend after friend leap right past me in life.

Today, the social clock ticks loudly as friends start families, buy houses, buy second houses, get promotions, and go on vacations. I was hit with this in the face yesterday when a very good friend called with some very good news. I am so happy for her! And so envious!

In a few short months, Louie and I will be leaving our lives in Nebraska for someplace new so that he can earn his doctorate degree. I know he’s excited and not looking back. I’m excited too–and also feel like we’re taking a giant step backward. We’re selling our house, giving up our jobs, and will be pretty broke for a while. It’s going to be a great adventure, and at the same time, I’m pretty frustrated with every person that proclaims it as such. Will we ever be able to catch up?

Louie and I aren’t running with the social clock. This time, it’s our choice, but earlier in life, it wasn’t my choice to do so. I imagine this might be a common problem. In my very limited counseling experience, I’ve run into this twice already. Feeling out of sync with the world around you really stinks–it’s sad, and frustrating, and isolating, and a bunch of other emotions that maybe I haven’t experienced but others have.

I hope I can impart to my future clients that it’s okay to follow a different path, if that’s where life is headed. That’s really hard, considering I’ve had to convince myself of this every day lately. It’s a lot harder than simply saying to someone, “Cheer up! Just don’t compare yourself to others!” That’s pretty dismissive. For now, I bury myself in school work, writing, housework, walking, reading, and mindfulness practice in those tiny quiet moments. Anything that forces me to stay in the immediate present helps. Focusing on present achievements helps, too–I’ve had a lot of good, unexpected things come my way recently. They’re not the same as the good things coming my friends’ ways right now, but my recent accomplishments are pretty significant to me.

Just like in times past, I know we’ll do things on our own time and end up exactly where we need to be. The journey is important–it will shape who I am as a person and as a counselor–but yeah, I do wish I could speed it up a little sometimes.

Have you ever felt way behind (or even way ahead) of those around you? How do you handle this?

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3 thoughts on “Counselor self-care: The social clock ticks

  1. I can 100% relate to this post. I have trouble with my birthday each year because I view it as a ‘deadline’ of sorts for those social accomplishments. Yesterday was my 28th birthday, I am unmarried (I know, almost), have not started a family, have not bought a house, or settled down into a career path, where as I have friends celebrating 5 year wedding anniversaries, having their first and second children, buying and selling houses and in successful careers. I view their successes as my social failures, even though I know inside that everyone is different and on their own timeline. So I completely relate and thank you for sharing!

  2. Suzy, Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I think it’s interesting that you feel a strong deadline out there because I’ve noticed a much faster (?) social clock here in Nebraska than I ever did in PA. For both of us, it might be due to our particular social circles. I know what you mean by social failures, and it still stings even though we know we’ll end up exactly where we need to. Maybe we both need a reframe! (Not that I can come up with one at this moment…) Also, I can’t wait to see pictures from your wedding soon–you will be such a lovely bride and I’ve heard such nice things about your fiance!

  3. Pingback: Counselor self-care: Avoiding the social media insecurity trap « Feet in Two Worlds

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