I’m a planner. Whether or not I want to be (or choose to be), I’m a slave to my ambitions and their arbitrary timetables. What that comes with, then, is a certain amount of pressure to achieve said plans and even more stress when they’re not yet reached. Like most college-educated millennials, I’ve spent the past decade in a competitive, relentless bubble surrounded by Type-A colleagues and stubborn perfectionism. I would ask if it’s the life I’ve chosen but the answer is far too deep for my comprehension and we’ve been bred since childhood contrarily.
In response, a gentleman and a scholar recently gave me the following advice: At the end of the day, aren’t you really just working on building the foundation for a fulfilling life and family and career? Your end-goal isn’t an amazing 26th or 27th year of life but a complete, holistic existence spanning over decades.
Hear me out for a minute. The move is setting systems instead of goals. Imagine you could take the pressure off of yourself to improve/climb/develop and use that energy instead to actually improve/climb/develop. Crazy, huh?
As opposed to setting vague, overly-ambitious positions you want to reach in the next week/month/year (professionally, monetarily, etc.), try telling yourself that you’re heading in the right direction for where you want to be at 30 or 40. Instead of creating unnecessary stress from lofty goals, the result might allow you to simply live your life while simultaneously keeping that same intensity that helped you set those goals in the first place. It would be like shooting a free throw to win a championship but mentally putting yourself in a quiet gym; the shot counts for just as much but you cut out the insanity and pressure surrounding it. We’ve all seen you go 9/9 at practice, so why not make it an even 10? Focus on doing everything you can and making the right decisions to be the best 30-something-year-old you can be, and then celebrate that success while working to be the best 40-something-year-old you can be, and so on. Instead of fretting the little things, if you can keep the consistent mindset each day or week or month that you’re building yourself toward something greater, who cares if a task or step takes an extra six months, year, or more.
The issue is by putting stress on yourself to have something by a certain time (this title by this age, this amount of money by this year), you discredit the present you’re living in – you put off your happiness now by convincing yourself you’ll be happy in the future. What that turns into though is waking up five or ten years later and realizing you didn’t enjoy the the past decade because you were so focused on pursuing something you probably/realistically don’t even want anymore. We’ve all had those moments of looking back on college and thinking, “Man life was so simple, why did I ever stress?” You thought the same about high school while in college, and I guarantee you in ten or so years when you have children and a mortgage you’ll think the same thing about right now.
For you finance folks out there, there’s a reason you tell clients not to look at their portfolio every day; the dips shouldn’t faze you because you’re betting on the market long-term, and as long as the graph keeps moving up and to the right it doesn’t really matter how it gets there. Now visualize that system, but with you actually in control of the end result. Of course there’ll be dips, but if you have the confidence to get there, you’ll get there.
Let me make it clear that I’m not saying flail around wildly. It’s impossible to achieve greatness without putting in the time, work, and sweat. I’m proposing that there are infinite paths toward that same achievement and neglecting the journey may dampen the destination; it coincides with the notion that when you’re not looking for something, you find it. The journey almost has to be everything – the accolades and rewards come along the way when you’re confident in yourself and where you’re headed. Didn’t make 30 Under 30? Your options are either feeling dejected or realizing that you’re right on track for the nonexistent 31 Under 31 and the result you’ve been working toward will be just as sweet with or without the plaudits. At the end of the day the age itself is just an arbitrary beacon based on our love of even numbers. After all, how many nominees’ primary motivation to go out and accomplish such incredible things was for an award? How many recipients thought to themselves, “Well, I guess now that I made the list it’s time to hang up the boots because I’ve done what I set out to do.”
None. That’s the entire point. The award isn’t a recognition of the destination, but of an extraordinary point reached while on the journey. In appreciating the journey there’s no moment that can truly sink you because, like an investment, it’s about the bigger picture. You may only ever enjoy a transient happiness if all you do is work toward a goal because you know that lurking in the back of your mind is that next goal right around the corner to replace it.
Think of it like riding a roller-coaster to an ice-cream shop on your way to a beach full of puppies – each step is an important (and enjoyable) destination in itself and you STILL get to end with puppies.