I wrote this to the people on my newsletter back in December of 2018. I saved it because I thought it could come in handy for my blog. I feel like now is the right time to post this, when so many people have had a pretty shitty 2020 and are potentially asking themselves “What is the point?”
I edited the text for readability and to better address the current context.
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It’s the time of the year when business owners and bloggers flock to reminisce on their past year, highlight their biggest achievements, and plan for the year ahead. I feel that this practice can sometimes create pressure that only makes you feel inadequate, instead of inspired.
I only did one of those posts in 2012, but most years I wasn’t motivated to do it because I felt there was nothing to write home about. I can’t be the only one feeling this way. So let’s talk about that, shall we?
This year (2018) was pretty great for me. I could list all the great things that happened. Like, I self-published “The Human Centered Brand”! I did a few paid speaking gigs. I raised my prices and had some amazing clients that have found me through my website, which was a rare occurrence previously. But I didn’t achieve those things this year—these achievements were years in the making.
My book was actually a 2017 goal. I’ve pursued paid speaking and teaching opportunities since 2016. I’ve been busting my ass on this website and waiting for more international clients to roll in since forever.
Years ago as I was preparing to start my own business, and in my first 1-2 years of flying solo, I was immersed in business and marketing blogs by entrepreneurs I looked up to because they appeared to be successful. At the end of each year, these gurus would reveal their big yearly financial goals, and how they’ve exceeded them by Doing All The Right Things. I was in awe, and a bit jealous. (Ok, pretty jealous.) I also felt deflated, because my goals were so much smaller than theirs, and still I couldn’t even get near them.
I thought, if only I work harder next year, maybe I’ll meet my goals. Maybe I’ll even surprise myself and exceed them by far!
The end of the year rolled by and again, I wasn’t doing as well financially as I hoped I would, and haven’t completed the creative projects I wanted to complete. Despite the hard work. Despite doing all the things I thought were “right”. Despite being committed to my values and not backing down when it was convenient.
I made one change, though: I stopped reading blogs that made me feel inadequate.
My tolerance for hype became so low, that I literally can’t stand those voices anymore. Luckily, I found many others who have what I consider a much healthier approach to life, business, and sustainable growth. These folks have had a taste of the make-big-goals-get-shit-done kool aid and said “No thanks, not for me.” Their approach is radically different from what we’re used to in our culture. It goes against everything we’ve learned in our homes, school, and in the workplace.
I can’t know if they feel successful in their business or not, or whether they meet their yearly financial goals. What I do know is that I love their content and I buy their stuff because I think it’s pretty awesome. They’re my right people, and I’m theirs. I believe they’re doing the best they can, and deserve all the best.
What I mean to say is:
It’s OK if you can’t seem to live up to some standard of success others around you have set.
It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you as a person, or that you’re doing something wrong. Some things just take time, and you can’t make them happen any faster, no matter how hard you push yourself. Your right people still care about you.
I asked my former therapist once: “But why were those other folks able to do it?”
“You don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. You don’t know who they know. You don’t know what opportunities they’ve gotten that you didn’t. You don’t know how much support from other people they have. You don’t know what their situation at home is like. And sometimes… it’s just luck. You shouldn’t be blaming yourself if things don’t work out the way you wanted.”
(We all need someone in our life who will set us straight when we start guilt-tripping ourselves.)
One of the tenets of the personal development world is that everyone is responsible for what happens to them. This feels empowering in a way, because it puts the ability to achieve whatever we want in our hands, instead of playing the victim. On the other hand, it also makes people blame themselves for things that are outside of their control. And there are a great many things that are outside of your control.
Setting goals that include a component largely out of your control can work against you.
Like earning a certain amount of money, or finding a soul mate, or moving into your ideal home, or having a certain number of art exhibitions, or getting your book or a music album picked up by a major publisher.
On the other hand, setting a goal that is within your control and that you’re personally motivated to do is empowering and challenging in the best way. For example:
- Talking to 100 people.
- Transforming your current living space into a beautiful nest.
- Creating 50 new paintings.
- Self-publishing a book or a music album.
At the end of the year, you’ll know exactly why you didn’t succeed: either you didn’t show up regularly to do what you needed to do, or you did your very best and still fell short, which means your goal was too ambitious. Even if you don’t succeed, you’ll learn valuable information about yourself.
There are goals you could have achieved in ideal circumstances, but those might have changed drastically this year, so you can no longer devote your time, attention, and resources to your goals. Things like:
- Switching to a more demanding job, or a job with longer commute.
- A family member falling ill and being in your care.
- A new child arriving into your family.
- Small kids being at home all the time and demanding your attention.
- Your income dropped so you had to use your savings for living expenses, instead of investing in your creative project.
- You moved to an apartment where you don’t have your own private space to create.
When circumstances get tough, goals are the first thing we drop, because they’re not essential. We just need to weather through this storm. We’ll return to goals once we’ve found our footing again.
If the big outside-of-your-control goals are making you miserable, screw them.
You don’t need to listen to anyone who says you’re a slacker if you don’t play along. (Screw them too!)
There’s so much wrong with this world, and the markers of success are one of those things. Let’s collectively rebel against this and craft goals that are fulfilling in and of themselves, regardless of whether they bring the results we wanted.
There’s value in just being present here and now, and choosing not to set any future goals.
If you’re burnt out on goals, I encourage you to take a break from them and instead focus on creating a fulfilling and restorative habit. For me it’s a daily creative practice. For you it may be gardening, or reading one interesting book every week, or taking a long walk every evening after dinner, or calling one person you love every Sunday night.
If you’ve been immersed in business and personal development media for a while, it may seem like you absolutely must set ambitious goals. But there’s a whole different world out there they’re not telling you about, and a whole different way of being.
Besides, the results of the seeds you plant sometimes grow when you least expect them to. There may be an opportunity brewing because of something you did years ago that you’ve completely forgotten about. Your world won’t fall apart if you choose to slow down now.
You’ve done plenty.
Take good care of yourself, and I hope you have a great year.
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