How many of us get to a certain age, look around and think, “This is not what I had planned.”
Whatever our age, when we evaluate where we are and how we got here, we often find a distinct gap between our fantasy and reality. Many of us have been on a specific trajectory — a clear path from A to B based on decisions we made when we were younger. Trouble is, once we get to B, we often find it’s not actually where we wanted to end up. We just didn’t know that when we set out.
Is our lack of progress* and that feeling of dissatisfaction due to a lack of commitment to the goal, change or outcome? Is this change designed to meet someone else’s needs — not ours?
So often our paths are dictated by others; from the subjects we study at school, to the career we choose, we are often taking direction from our parents or our peers. Some people react against this sort of parental influence and end up doing the opposite just to be rebellious. This can end up being equally dissatisfying as the final destination still has very little to do with who we truly are or what we truly want to do.
For some, the influence is far more insidious; subtle behaviour reinforcement can manipulate us into doing what’s acceptable to those around us. As children we learned through trial and error what to do to earn a favourable response. Certain ways of being, topics of conversation or activities can be judged (subtly or not) as ‘not good enough’, so we quickly learn to avoid them.
Of course, this behaviour modification is a vital part of growing up and functioning in society. We all learn what’s socially acceptable so that we can get on at school, in work or in social settings. Yes, learning the ‘rules’ of adult behaviour is critical, yet there’s a balance to be struck so that the uniquely creative spark of ‘self’ isn’t inappropriately suppressed.
So, back to the goal: is it yours or someone else’s? Really ask yourself: are these your goals?
Write down your goal. Now write down your feelings about this goal. Allow all parts of you a voice. How might you benefit from achieving this goal? What might it cost you? Look at this from all angles:
- What might happen if I do?
- What might happen if I don’t?
- What might not happen if I do?
- What might not happen if I don’t?
(I love these questions — they can be applied to any decisions to help gain perspective.)
How might achieving this goal or change benefit others? How much of it supports someone else’s perceptions of who they think you ought to be? Give that a mark out of 10. Give another mark for how much achieving this goal supports your own aspirations for yourself. What do those scores tell you? What else? What do you notice?
Here’s another way of approaching the same question: “If I knew I couldn’t fail, couldn’t be judged and couldn’t hurt anyone, what might I do?”
At the end of this exercise take some time to notice if anything else has cropped up. What else do you notice?
* I recommend you read my ‘Record and Reward’ blog post to get perspective on how much progress you’ve made.