Wednesday, January 2, 2013

That's what I want.

Where do you see yourself in one-year? Five-years? Thirty years? We are encouraged to think about these things, set goals, and create strategies (we usually call them “plans”) to achieve them. For me this is an anxiety provoking activity because it directs my thinking only to professional accomplishments (the career path) and to specific personal accomplishments that are linked to things (buying a house, buying a nice car, buying a boat) or to fulfilling cultural norms (getting married, taking sweet vacations, having kids, etc).

Though thinking about where we want our career and personal lives to go can certainly be useful, I wonder why we don’t spend time reflecting on who and how we want to be in addition to what we want to have.

Especially because when we think of what we want to have or accomplish, it points directly to how we want to be, what we need and value and, the big one, how we want to feel.

What we want is directly related to the feeling we believe we will experience when we get it.

Here’s a personal example:
When I was a student, I never wanted to cease being a student. I excelled in the academic environment and was rewarded with good grades. Naturally, I decided to extend my education, attend college and then graduate school. Being a professor, I thought, would be supremely awesome because I’d get paid to hang out forever in the academic world.

There was one problem though. I hated graduate school. It was a rude awakening for me about politics in academia. It wasn’t just about learning, researching, reading, and teaching. I slogged it out for two years enduring all kinds of physical ailments (a good indicator for me that I’m out of alignment with my values) and mental anguish. It was difficult, but I finally decided to leave.

This happened four years ago and it’s taken all four of those years (and the 23 before them) for me to understand that graduate school and academia was a strategy.

It wasn’t that I wanted the PhD or the career of a professor, per say. It was that I assumed that those things would give me: a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and contribution, meaning in my life, a constant well of creativity and stimulation in ways that mattered to me, and a whole host of other things that would meet needs that I have. And when those needs were met I’d be happy.

It was difficult and devastating to make the decision to leave graduate school and walk into the great Unknown because I was so attached to that strategy as “the one” that would lead to happiness.

What’s so expansive to realize now is that there are infinite strategies that can stimulate the feelings we want to be feeling and to contribute to the needs we are trying to meet. The key is to be in touch with what we want to be feeling and then to examine many elements of our lives and ask ourselves: Are these activities bringing me more into alignment with the feelings I want to feel, or less? And then, make changes accordingly.

How do you want to feel?


  1. Thank you for this blog, Mary--I've been thinking similar things, although I'm still a plan-a-holic! I like the idea of planning and setting goals when it feels necessary... not in order to control or direct the future though, but rather to improve one's present-moment reality. In other words, if a goal doesn't make you feel happy, motivated-to-take-action, and excited RIGHT NOW, then it's probably worthless. :)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Matt!

      This was a huge relief for me to realize that planning CAN help but it can also hinder. Love the idea of following what excites you in the moment.