Let's Stop Beating Ourselves up Over Unmet Goals
I had the great joy of sharing lunch with a friend and colleague today. Our deep, rich conversation could have gone on for hours if not for the demands of family life. I walked away feeling the warmth that grows from a connection. And of course, I was already overthinking the entire conversation.
The thinking this time, though, was mining the beauty of the depth of our sharing. A few topics really stood out to me as great teachers. They can all be run together in one strand of consciousness: I always wanted to...by now...but I'm still...
First, we explored those things we always said we wanted. We wanted the career, we wanted the accomplishments, and we wanted the stature of having fulfilled our dreams.
My friend was lamenting the unmet goals of her life. So, I asked, "Have you taken a good look at the thing you wanted (notice the past-tense), and determined if it's still what you want today?"
I ask because not too long ago, I too was recalling the dreams I once had for myself. I wanted to be a high-powered executive. I can still see very clearly the image of success: blue suit; crisp, white shirt; killer heels; and, expertly manicured fingernails. It's pretty easy to see that I haven't hit that mark.
I wanted to be the suit-wearing executive by now. Hell, I thought that was going to be me 20 years ago. But I'm still working part-time in what could be considered an entry-level position.
When I look at the course of my life through only this lens, I feel like a failure. And yet, I know I have lived well. How can both of these statements be true? To understand the paradox, I broke that self-defeating statement into the following three components: “I wanted”… “by now”… “but I’m still”….
First, what exactly does "I wanted" mean to me today? I came to realize that my 20-year-old-self's vision of success doesn't have to be my vision of success now. And, I can be gentle and accepting enough with myself to go within and create new visions for my future. I can do this every day, every hour, every minute if I desire. That's the beauty of our co-creative nature. May we never stop changing, growing, and setting new visions of our highest possible self.
Then, there is the hurtful concept of, "by now." This self-imposed concept of time highlights only those things left undone. Like if we haven't done or achieved something by the date we put on our college timeline, then we have failed miserably and all that time was just a waste. That, too, is a hurtful thing to think about ourselves. The last twenty-some years were not wasted because I hadn't achieved that vision. Those decades are flooded with life experiences that I would never trade. Not even the painful ones. May we honor and bless all that has gotten us to this point.*
And finally, there's the, "I'm still." Oh, this one gets me on so many levels. Especially because in this context, its intent is to belittle and demean us. “I'm still”… stuck. “I'm still”… not over this experience. “I'm still”… in this job. “I'm still”… not using my degree. You name it, and we can use it to "I'm still"-ourselves into a state of self-blame and paralysis.
"I'm still" brings weakness to the surface. It tells us something must be wrong with us because we haven’t broken through our current situation. But whatever it is that you're still doing is a part of you that needs to be acknowledged, respected, and honored. We can recognize it, and ask it what it wants us to experience, feel, and learn. We can thank it for its lessons. And, we can let it go. May we come to know deep within ourselves, that all experience is a teacher, and that we can head to another classroom whenever we want.
I look forward to the next conversation with my friend, and seeing how the landscape of our classrooms have changed.
* I want to name that these concepts are difficult at best for victims of abuse or other trauma. No, you don't have to bless what happened to you. If you haven't already, please find a network of support that includes professionals who can guide you through your return to your self.
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