Stop Marking Time In Your Life

When I was in high school I was a band geek. Go ahead, make fun but I loved it. Music has always been a part of my life and marching band was perhaps one of the most important experiences in my life. I believe in a lot of ways that it defined me at an important age and taught me certain life lessons that I still follow today. The band director was former military though and so the marching band was somewhat militaristic, with designations such as squads, squad leaders and fleet commanders. This bled onto the field with our marching drills, a painful yet necessary part of any marching band experience. Recently I remembered a term from those days of my youth and it’s one that I think defines where I’ve been lately and I suspect a place where many of you all find yourselves as well, marking time.

The Problem

In marching band, just like the military, marking time is defined as: to march in the same place, moving your legs up and down without going forward. It’s to hold your current position on the field without making any progress. And that’s where I think a lot of us find ourselves at various points in our lives. It’s not the result of laziness or dispassion, hardly. For many it’s just the comfortable thing to do until you wake up one day and realize that you’re still in the same spot where you were a few years before. It can be with your job, relationship, kids, community, whatever, but marking time is a common thing in the lives of most of us I think. While some moments of marking time are bound to happen, too much of it can be lethal to our personal well being. It doesn’t mean that unless you become CEO of a company by age 40 you’ve missed out on something big, but what it does mean is that you always have to challenge yourself to be a better person.

We all measure success in different ways, but no matter the way in which you define your own personal success, standing still is lethal to progression. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, and that’s true. And yet so many of us do this every day in our personal lives expecting things to magically change, to get better all on their own. They won’t, not unless you stop marking time and walk down that field.

How do you know if you’re guilty of personal inaction? Take personal stock and ask yourself what in your life makes you unhappy or frustrated. That’s usually a quick and easy question for people to answer, but don’t make the mistake of lying to yourself.

 Ayers Rock Sky

Work Arounds

Don’t Accept the Immutability of Life – When you first ask yourself what you don’t like about your life do not tell yourself, “Well there are just some things I can’t change.” That is absolutely not true and is just another way we get sucked into marking time even longer than we should. We say that there’s no way I could change my job, or have a hard discussion with my spouse or make any changes that will improve our lives. But there is nothing in our personal lives that cannot be changed. Sometimes it requires drastic change and that’s frightening, but it is possible. I’ve been guilty of this many times in my life and it has held me back for longer than I’d like to admit.

Last year I lost a job that I should have quit years ago. I hated it, I routinely called it soul sucking; which it was. But it was also comfortable. It provided me with a good salary, benefits and a lot of personal flexibility. It was the perfect situation, or so I thought. What I didn’t take into account was what doing something I hated for so long would do to me emotionally, intellectually and even physically. I found myself not caring about a lot of things, just going through the motions to get the job done. I stopped being a go-getter and instead just reacted to problems as they arose. This led to a certain level of depression, which affected every other aspect of my life. It wasn’t until the ax fell that I realized what a burden this had been on my soul. The next day I woke up feeling light and free. There were no nagging thoughts in the back of my head about emails to write or issues I had to resolve. I smiled for the first time in a long time and knew right then that I had stopped marking time and had begun to move forward again. Granted, someone forced me to realize that my job was not a necessary constant in my life, that I could change careers and be happy and successful, but it happened and being thrown off track like that only made me go further and faster than I ever thought possible.

 Maui Easy Riders

Set Fair Goals – We tend to be our own harshest critics and almost always the reason why we mark time is self-inflicted. If you want to lose weight, don’t set a goal of twenty pounds in one month. It’s not realistic or sustainable and when it doesn’t happen, it will ruin any attempts you’ve made to get out of that rut. You’ll be back marching in place once again and the next attempt to move forward will be even harder. No matter what you’re trying to change be it your job, relationship, or whatever you must be fair to yourself about setting goals. But goals are important; they’re actually a critical part of moving forward. Humans think better in segments, or at least I do. It’s easier for me to make incremental goals that I can realistically achieve instead of setting my sights on one massive, crazy objective that while it may be possible one day, won’t happen without a lot of intermediate steps. Let’s take the example of this blog. Sure, when I first started I wanted people to read it and like it and one day be successful at it. But if in that first month I had said, “If this isn’t a worldwide success in six months I’m quitting” then I would have been a failure. Instead I set small goals like creating an editorial calendar, reaching X number of people on Twitter, writing guest posts for other sites, and so on. Each time I achieved one of the baby goals I didn’t just feel good about myself, but I inched myself closer to that larger goal of being successful. This holds true for anything we want to change in our lives. If you don’t like your current job or career set small goals to get out of it; if you aren’t happy in your relationship think of baby steps to help you work harder at making it a success. Anything is possible as long as you don’t lose the forest through the trees.

 Reykjavik Iceland statue

Look Sideways (Not to the past or future) – So many times people tell me to either learn from my mistakes or keep my eyes on the prize and focus on the future. Well which is it? Actually it’s neither, instead I think everyone needs to spend more time looking sideways. What do I mean by this? At any given time there are opportunities for change all around us, yet so many of us refuse to look for them. Instead we tell ourselves that maybe things will be better tomorrow, maybe tomorrow everything in the universe will magically fall into place. Well, it won’t, not unless you make it happen and you can only do that by taking stock of your situation and finding ways to help yourself move out of stasis today. I once had a friend tell me that she wished she could travel as much as I do and yet we both made the same salary. What that told me is that she hadn’t made travel a priority like I had. I save, I research and I find ways to travel to new places. For her it sounded like a nice idea, but she just couldn’t look around her to figure out how to make it happen.

Another friend was in a relationship that just wasn’t working, they both knew it and yet they stayed together. Why? It was easier, it was more comfortable and both believed fervently that maybe tomorrow they would be happy, maybe tomorrow they would rekindle that love affair. It wasn’t until they both stopped marking time and actively worked at making their relationship better that things actually started to improve. They looked around them and saw the poisonous influences in their lives, the things that had bred contempt and anger and sought to change them in order to save their relationship. And I know we’ve all had this happen in our work lives. Hopeful for that promotion or raise and believing that it will just happen because surely everyone knows how good we are. Well they don’t, not unless we tell them. It’s a hard fact but in most aspects of our lives we are our only cheerleader, we are the only ones who will speak up on our behalf and if we don’t then how can we expect the world to realize our contributions? If you believe you deserve that raise, tell your boss and back it up with the facts. Make a case for yourself and don’t go down without a fight. That’s what I mean by looking sideways.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

I find it personally ironic that I have written an article like this one as I have failed so many times to follow the advice I’ve laid out here today. But all that means is that none of us is perfect, we will all mark time in our lives. What is important, and what does improve whatever situation we find ourselves in is the ability to realize our inaction and find ways to change it. We have but one life, one existence and no one is going to make it awesome for us. In order to have the happiest and most successful life imaginable, we have to get out there and force it to happen through shear perseverance and force of will. It’s hard and can be a drawn out process, but in the end our lives are made all the sweeter for it and better yet, you’ll never look back and wonder why you were marking time for so long.

When have you marked time and how did you get moving again?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

22 Responses

  1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    I’m in the middle of a big change: I’m about to lose my job, and I planned quite a bit of post-layoff travel. I’ve been unhappy there for a few years, but it was comfortable, paid well, provided good benefits. The layoff is catapulting me into action. The travel will be fun obviously. And it will help me recover from being in a soulless job for so long.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Congrats on deciding to do something positive with that time Kay! Funny how similar of a position I found myself in. I’ve never done long term travel, but I imagine I will one day. I bet whatever plans you have in mind post-travel will change as a result of the trip. Good luck and have fun!

      Reply
  2. Rachel A Davis

    Great post, I find myself totally fretting about how fast time is flying and how little time I have to squeeze everything in, especially career wise. I only ever think as far as the next big trip! Knowing that I can travel keeps me sane to some degree! I had a meltdown a few years ago, had got myself stuck in a poorly paid retail job for almost 10 years because it was comfortable, we lived in a nice apartment in a lovely town on the coast. But there must be more to life, we sold up everything and went travelling. The greatest thing was breaking the cycle. We’ve since re-trained and got so much more out of life. Still no big career but I’m glad I’m not still retailing!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well done Rachel! Breaking that cycle is so hard, believe me I know. I’m a firm believer though in short term suffering for long term happiness :)

      Reply
  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    Traveling has always gotten me though big changes! On a side note, love that last shot!!!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      oh thanks, took that near Cape Point in South Africa

      Reply
  4. Jeremy Branham

    I can really relate to this on a job level. I’ve been in the same position for 11 years. It’s comfortable, pays well, has good benefits, but no longer challenges me. I am bored with what I do and don’t in as much effort as I did before. I may not a new position but I know what it means to be marking time. Honestly, it’s more than just my job too.

    At my age, I am going through a bit of a mid life crisis – looking both ahead and behind and trying to figure out what I need to change in my life. Sometimes I want drastic changes, other times subtle. I am a bit all over the place but I completely understand how you’ve felt.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I hear ya Jeremy and I’m still feeling those exact same things you are. Not easy at all, and even harder to make decisions to move on but necessary for long term mental health.Good luck my friend!

      Reply
  5. ehalvey

    Yes! A million times YES!

    I would have never quit a job that wasn’t working for me without something lined up, but after my lay-off in 2011, I knew that this wasn’t a cycle to get back in. While I’m still conflicted about what to do with my life (I’m the poster child for someone who will have multiple careers), I’m not afraid to break out and try something else.

    Web design? Pastry? Professional organizing? Museum work? They all appeal to me, so I’m trying to take classes and attend workshops. The biggest change though is to prioritize my health and happiness over the security of a job that’s not the right fit.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I’m with you. I recently had someone approach me out of the blue with a traditional job and I just couldn’t say yes, even though it would be the logical thing to do. Gotta follow those dreams!

      Reply
  6. Sofie

    I think the first step is knowing what’s wrong, what needs to be changed.
    I’m at a moment in my life where I feel I need to do something, go somewhere, but I havent figured out yet what ‘something’ and where ‘somewhere’ are. I can define some things I’d like to see different, but I still have to figure out in what way I want them to be different and I must admit that I’m afraid that if I would make a change now, it might turn out not to be the right change.
    I know there’s usually a way to make things right again and you can always think ‘if it’s meant to be, it’ll be okay again’, but still…

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Sofie, and I would argue that that is just another technique that we all use to avoid moving forward. We tell ourselves that there’s a reason we can’t affect change, in this case it’s the fear of making the wrong choice. We all make plenty of wrong choices in life, it’s how we deal with them that matters.

      Reply
  7. Grace Lee

    Really enjoyed reading this post yet so glad I found ur blog, thank u!

    Reply
  8. Ian Rhodes

    So easy to fall into that trap, and I suspect I’m a little bit there now. Easier to take risks and make changes when you are younger and it’s just you. Things like mortgages and people who depend on you make it a lot harder, but you’re right, always good to challenge yourself and keep moving.

    Reply
  9. Cheryl

    Did that, back in 2001 when spouse got pneumonia between jobs and here I was working retail to support both of us. Put myself in college, fought the kids for the scholarships and walked into a challenging new life.
    And yes, it was cube work and started sucking my soul out. Found out one position might offer travel, got the hell into it – and made it to Europe!
    Now things are getting old once again. Time to ditch the travel benefit and familiarity for something new. Don’t know what. But I have a half-baked budget to get to Barcelona. :)

    Reply
  10. Meaghan

    Phew what great timing to read this! After spending three years at a job that had a lot of positives (similar to yours: flexible schedule, good salary, etc.), I slowly become aware of how it negatively affected me, “emotionally, intellectually and even physically”.

    I finally summoned the courage to leave, and my last day is this Wednesday. I’ll be spending the next two months traveling a bit and teaching yoga, and keeping my eyes and ears open to the opportunities that life presents.

    Thank you for validating my decision – it was the hard one, but I’m convinced it was also the right one.

    (I’ll also work on setting those “little goals” you mentioned as I try my hand at teaching yoga full-time!)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      That’s Meaghan and congratulations! It’s scary, no question there, but ultimately we have to do what is best for us. My partner just left his toxic job and took a new one that will finally provide a work-life balance. Sure, we’ll make less money but we’ll be happier and ultimately that’s what is important – personal enrichment.

      Reply
  11. Lone Traveller

    I think this can be summed up with: “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.” – William Hazlitt

    Reply
  12. Zoe

    This is a really interesting post, and I like the marching band analogy as I “do” the band thing too. I do my best to live up to my mantra – “life is all about the journey” – I believe we should be making the most of each individual step. I’ve never really considered looking sideways, though, and agree we should do that more often.

    Reply
  13. Abby

    You have recognized all the feelings I have but that I then question, doubt and put off. Inspirational words very well said. Now it’s just a matter off stopping dreaming, excusing and pondering and doing some DOING! Thank you Matt. A great post and a great introduction your your fab blog.

    Reply
  14. Monique

    Never have I read someone else describe their job as being a burden on their soul…or, as I had described mine, as soul-sucking…thank you for that description! I didn’t quit the job, instead I did what you said, looked from side to side to find the solution. What made it a bit more difficult for me is that I work for family…mother/father-in-law…and my husband. However, I changed my job duties to something that I would enjoy doing and still be able to serve our customers AND the ‘management’. I took on a HUGE amount of responsibility in order to keep my obsessive-compulsive mind busy and buzzing with detail, which I love. I continued the accounts receivable end of things, yet added several layers all while nudging my father-in-law in the direction I wanted to take. (You know the type…old dog, new trick…he wasn’t convinced a ‘girl’ could estimate/quote machining jobs and talk with burly male customers…blah blah blah). It’s been three years and no longer do I feel my soul dying inside as we arrive to work each day. I came upon your blog quite by accident and am thoroughly enjoying it. You’ve hit a lot of nerves with me (good nerves) with your insights. Thank you for being so honest and thoughtful.

    Reply

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