Setting clear goals and measuring your progress will lead you somewhere. The question is whether it will take you to where you want to go. No matter how specific, measurable, attainable, reachable, or measurable your goals are, they won’t get you to your desired destination without a crucial element. If you’re missing the foundation, you may find yourself working hard and not feeling the results you truly desire.
What’s Your Image of Success?
Last week, while scrolling Instagram, I saw a post that said this:
Picture this: It’s 10 years from now. You’re married. Nice home. Good job. Your kids are asleep. You and your spouse are on the couch having a drink and watching TV. It’s snowing outside and tomorrow is Saturday. All the hard work was worth it. You made it.
My immediate thought was: if that’s what you want.
Unless your life vision was completely aligned with that description, if you found yourself on that couch on a Friday night you would likely not be feeling that “all the hard work was worth it” or that you “made it.”
What are you working towards? Is it what you truly desire?
Cultural Expectations Shape Our Internal Expectations and Beliefs About Ourselves
I have no doubt that many people would find themselves in that scenario and feel like they had arrived at their destination. And I also know many who are there already, and miserable.
This scenario is what our culture promotes as the ideal, the one we should be striving for.
If you don’t have this life and you want it, you may wonder what you’re doing wrong.
If you have it and don’t feel happy, you may find yourself in a self-judgmental state. You might feel that you should be happy for reaching this place that defines success.
And if you don’t want it, and dare to speak that aloud, many people will question whether your priorities are in the right place. They will speculate on whether you really mean what you say, or whether you disclaim a hidden desire because you think it’s out of reach for you.
You may question that too.
Sometimes, perhaps often, what we think we want is not really what we want.
All of us are influenced to some extent by external expectations of who we should be and how we should live. Parents, teachers, cultural paradigms, and other external influences shape our attitudes and beliefs about our desires long before we ever reach a state of consciousness about what we really want.
We often internalize these expectations and try to conform to them without thinking about where they originated.
And then we wonder why we’re not feeling happy.
Did they truly come from within us? Or are we trying to live someone else’s dream?
It takes a journey of introspection and self-awareness simply to reach the place where we can separate the external expectations that have shaped us from our true internal desires.
Check Your Vision
Many people preach the importance of setting goals. You can find the advice all over the web: put your goals in writing. Make your goals SMART. Break your goals down into small steps. Keep track of your goals and measure where you are.
That’s all great advice if the goals are designed to lead you to the life you truly desire.
Your goals must be aligned with your vision.
Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a journey to a destination that isn’t where you want to go.
It’s like packing swimwear and getting on a plane to Antarctica.
And if your vision is shaped by the shoulds of cultural expectations and the values of other people, you will not find what you seek even when you get to your destination.
It’s like packing your swimwear and heading to the tropical island that everyone is raving about: you’ll have the right clothes for your trip, but you’ll be pretty miserable if you hate hot weather and don’t like to swim.
Alignment Comes First
The key to all of this is alignment.
Your goals must align with your vision. Your vision must align with your values.
What’s important to you?
What brings you fulfillment?
What is the life that you desire?
This week, as you look at the goals in front of you, perhaps it’s worth a pause to check in with the big picture.
What vision are you working toward? Whose values are shaping your choices?