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The Hard Truth About Achieving Your Goals

I’m a big believer in setting goals. After all, how can you expect to “get” anywhere without first having a clear idea of where you want to go?

Only, the problem with goals is that achieving them isn’t always all its cracked up to be.

How so, you ask? Well, here are three common experiences (I know them well) and what you can learn from them.

1. “Wait. This isn’t how I thought it would be.”

Sometimes, when we set a goal, we create an almost dreamlike idea of what life will be like once that goal is achieved.

Everything will change! The world as we know it will shift! I’ll be a brand new person!!

And then, once you reach the finish line, you realize it’s not exactly what you pictured.

Author and Zen Buddhist, Brad Warner, describes this phenomenon in his book, Hardcore Zen:

Once we achieve our goals, when our dreams become real, we see that they aren’t quite as thrilling or as fulfilling or even as interesting as we’d imagined them to be.

Personal Example: My goal to become self-employed. It took me about four years to get to the point of being fully on my own, and I love it. But it’s nothing like what I expected. Some days, I look back and wonder if I would do it again knowing what I know now. (Yes, I think I would…most days….)

Lesson: Keep a realistic perspective. Don’t convince yourself this is the one key element that will make everything else fall perfectly into place. Life is more complicated than that. Don’t create an impossible vision of the future. Remember, it’s not about the destination; it’s the journey. Focus on the process of reaching your goal and the joy that comes with progress.

2. “Oops. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Often, we put so much time and love and energy into reaching our goals, we forget to check in along the way. Instead, we just keep pushing forward, focusing on the end result, and we never stop to really make sure that the goal still resonates.

As human beings, we’re constantly growing and evolving. So it only makes sense that our goals may tend to shift over time as well. All to often, we get caught up in the “race to the finish.” We don’t give ourselves the gift of reflection or a moment to breathe. It’s like we’re on autopilot, aiming straight for that goal, no matter what.

Personal Example: My goal to go to become a nutritionist. I think about halfway through nutrition school, I “knew” (on some level) it wasn’t for me anymore. It might have been a good fit in the beginning, but I had changed. However, because I made the commitment and things were rolling full-steam ahead, I never stopped to think it over. I never asked myself, “Is this still really what you want?” Instead, I kept on pushing. Only once it was finished and my goal was reached did I realize how little I cared.

Lesson: Look up. Stay focused on your goal but don’t put on blinders. Question your motives along the way. Make sure it still makes sense. If and when it’s needed, give yourself permission to course correct.

3. “Okay. Now what?”

This last one is very common, particularly amongst over-achievers. We hit one goal and head on to the next. We never take time to celebrate our success.

Sometimes, by the time we get to our goal, we don’t even care anymore. Our sights are set on something else entirely. So “this” goal is old news. Yawn. Who cares?

Personal Example: Um…well…like everyday of my life! I’m incredibly guilty of this. I have to force myself to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. It seems like life moves so fast; I don’t want to waste a minute. I’m always trying to “step up” my game. Of course, the problem with this is that I’m never really satisfied. I’m never simply content. That’s a horrible way to live! So I’m actively trying to break this pattern by living more in the present moment.

Lesson: It’s great to always be looking ahead, but reaching a goal deserves a little acknowledgment. Stop and pat yourself on the back. Appreciate everything you went through to get to this point. Don’t discount how far you’ve come just because you’ve got the next step in mind.

Have you ever experienced these kinds of things after achieving a goal? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Angietorres (Flickr)

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9 Responses to “The Hard Truth About Achieving Your Goals”

  1. Natalie says:

    In my pursuit of changing careers, it is without doubt, that I have “changed my mind” a few times. I get so excited about so many different things I can do! I really have to look for consistency, over time, in order to see what compels me the most to throw myself in to.
    Thanks for the article. It is a good reminder of a few important points.

  2. Erin says:

    I’ve been in the same situation, Natalie. One thing I had to realize for myself is that I like learning. So, each time I went back to school, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the subject, but it wasn’t an actual career that fit me. I’ve had to do a lot of analysis and soul-searching to figure out what really works for me and what “nourishes” me in a career. I’m still working on, but I’ve had a lot of realizations the past few years.

  3. Chris says:

    I can really relate to all three of these things. I’ve experienced them all (and several times at that) during my life. Now the trick is to learn the lessons that you’ve listed here – and keep re-learning them. I’ve always been bad about #3. It *is* good to stop a savor the moment a bit.

  4. Tamika Tonge says:

    Great article! I read your blog on PR Log. I am an aspiring Career Coach. Keep up the good work!

  5. April says:

    I’ve changed my mind so many times regarding what I want to be when I grow up. I’m stuck as an Admin and can’t get out. I’ve set goals but only accomplish one, finishing up my masters, and you know what…I never celebrated that accomplishment. I just checked it off my list.

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  7. Finola says:

    I achieved a big goal of running a multi day ultra marathon. Since then it’s like I have been through a grieving process, and I am still constantly surprised that I don’t really want to run long distances any more. Achieving my goal did allow me the time and confidence to pursue other goals though, and I now have a full time career I never thought I would have.

    The article is great I am guilty of all those things, especially “Okay, now what”. But I like to see myself as really lucky, by always needing a challenge, always being less than satisfied with what I currently have I am constantly striving. This has meant I have had some really fantastic experiences. Always wanting more, means you get a lot more out of life!

  8. James says:

    I worked for years and years to achieve my biggest goal; now that I’m living it, I feel slightly lost, wondering what I should do next?

  9. […] the process, focus on small achievements as we already know that when you reach your target might not feel as good as you actually imagined initially. But when you enjoy the rideyou might get much more back then […]

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