I remember when I was a kid, I imagined who I would be as an adult- as a mom, as a partner, as a professional, as a community member. I wanted to be fully present, highly involved, and known for my kindness and wisdom.
When I entered high school, I remember thinking about “getting out”. I couldn’t wait to be freed from the mandatory education system so I could become who I wanted to be in college. I wanted to be an independent, highly educated, successful woman, learning how to make positive changes in this world.
When I got to college, I couldn’t wait to graduate. I was excited to think about who I could be as a degreed, working adult who was done school and able to choose her own profession. I wanted to find the love of my life, get married, build a successful business and be the best mom ever to multiple children!
When I became a mom, I couldn’t wait to complete my graduate degree so I could live the life I wanted to live with my daughter. I wanted to complete that degree so I could make better money doing what I love and then enjoy the house, the car, and the time that was sure to come once I was done with graduate school.
When I completed graduate school, I focused on growing professionally. I couldn’t wait to show my daughter and the world what I was capable of. I wanted to be the best at work and at home, compromising nothing, and succeeding in everything!
When… I couldn’t wait to… and then I did… and then I couldn’t wait again.
Most people can relate to this in their own way. Whether you apply this “when and then” framework to love life, work life or home life, it is a widely applicable model.
“If only I could accomplish/gain/experience this, then life would be better”
“When I do/get this, then I can show up for these other parts of my life that I care about the way I really want to.”
There’s this constant pressure to move forward and to be more. To be better. To achieve enough to be able to say, “Okay, I’m allowed to rest and live my life now”, “Okay, I can show up as me now that these outside circumstances or goals that I have, have been achieved…. now I can stress less, spend time with you, and slow down enough to enjoy my life and enjoy just being me”.
It’s an easy cycle to get sucked into. It’s how our system is set up. Work hard, do well, and focus on reaching that goal. You either reach the goal, feel momentarily good, and move on to the next goal, or you don’t reach it, and feel bad and then create some kind of different goal. Some goals serve us and others don’t, we create them nonetheless.
Either way, the goal achievement (or lack thereof) gets tethered to and locked into our identities.
“If I do well and achieve these goals, I’m a successful person.” Therefore, we believe we have to keep reaching goals to be considered a successful person. We keep making choices to reinforce this belief about ourselves.
“If I don’t reach my goals, I’m bad or a failure in some way.” We wind up making choices that reinforce this belief about ourselves.
I am guilty of doing this.
I believed if I worked hard and did well with each goal I set, then I would be a successful person. I tied that success to my identity, and therefore had to keep setting and achieving goals to be considered “good enough”.
I see this happen all the time. It’s common, so if you can relate, you are in the majority.
This sets people up for burn out and low self worth.
It sets us all up to live rushed, disconnected and worried about the future, rather than fully connected to ourselves and present in the here and now.
It sets us up to live off-balance instead of balanced lives.
At what point do you stop chasing goals, and start living in and enjoying your current life? At what point do you choose to enjoy BEING WHO YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, and stop basing your worth or identity on the next thing you do or don’t achieve?
Goals are not bad. I repeat, goals are not bad.
The issue is when the successful completion of each goal gets to determine your success as a human being. The issue occurs when the route to each goal becomes the unilateral focus of living your life, and then the other bits of you and your life aren’t fully experienced.
Life is a journey, and goals are sprinkled along the way, but too often goals are treated as emergency destinations. “I must get there, or else”, “I can’t focus on that now, I have to do this thing to accomplish this goal by this time … or else”.
I can tell you that when goals are treated like emergency destinations in life, everything else gets the scraps of you. When in an emergency, the brain goes into survival mode and focuses only on getting to safety.
- That present, emotionally-involved, patient parent you wanted to be, becomes an impatient, not enough time, short-tempered workaholic.
- That caring leader you wanted to be, becomes an anxiety-ridden, too busy to slow down and check in with staff or colleagues, irritated, type of leader.
- That fun, supportive, openly communicative type of partner you wanted to be, becomes an on edge, emotionally reactive, cynical partner that’s not content with the state of your intimate relationships.
Here’s the kicker, most of the goals people tend to set, are often guided by who and what they don’t want to be like. Then, when in emergency operating mode, they become what they had intended to avoid all along.
It can feel like you’ve worked hard all your life, only to end up feeling a void inside.
If this is you, the good news is that the way you’ve programmed your brain and set up your life, doesn’t have to be permanent. Our brains are malleable and circumstances are ever changing, which means the possibilities are endless.
The first step is choosing to call yourself out.
What does it really mean to live your best life?
Are you actually living and enjoying it?
Are you living emergency destination to emergency destination…?
Or, are you embracing the here and now, taking time to connect with yourself and those you love, and experiencing your life as an ever evolving journey…?
Whatever it is, you get to choose to stay there or try something different.
Ready to get more fully present in your life, but know you need some support with that? Dr. Toni Warner is a mom, a transformational life, wellness & leadership coach for the Burnt Out ambitious, and a psychotherapist. You can connect with Dr. Toni using any of the below options:
For therapy in PA: www.authenticallymepsychotherapy.com
For transformational life coaching: drtonicoachesllc.vipmembervault.com
***Please note that coaching and therapy are not one in the same; they are separate services and the above mentioned are separate business entities. If you are unsure which service best fits your needs, simply reach out and ask: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Toni Warner, LCSW, MSW, MeD, is a transformational life & wellness coach for the ambitious seeking balance and a licensed psychotherapist in Pennsylvania. Dr. Toni is the founder of Dr. Toni Coaches, LLC, a coaching and consulting business. It’s mission is to inspire and enact positive change in the world by helping heart-centered impact makers and leaders to create balance, allowing them to more deeply and meaningfully live, love, connect and share their gifts, enhancing the lives of others. She is also the founder of Authentically Me Psychotherapy, LLC, where she supports high achieving and creative individuals who are struggling with anxiety, depression, burn out and disconnection, to get in touch with their core selves so they can live more fully and authentically aligned lives.