Learning to Not Be Goal-Obsessed

By Renata Leo

We’re constantly bombarded by the message that we need to have goals. We need to strive for success or we’re stagnating. Nothing good comes from staying in your comfort zone. Those who have big dreams are those who change the world, after all, and don’t you want to change the world?

Especially in a world where everyone has social media and we all have a limited view into the lives of others, it can be hard to keep from feeling like I’m not doing enough. As they say, comparison is the thief of joy, and as I say, seeing all of my successful friends on Facebook makes me feel like an utter failure as I sit on my couch watching reruns of The Office and gorging myself on parmesan goldfish.

Like many other millennials, I had my life mapped out for me through the age of 22. Everything was planned for me through college. My goal in life was to graduate, and it didn’t dawn on me how scary it would be to be directionless after that. I applied for jobs right out of college, but I had no idea which I would get and where I would end up. This lack of direction unsettled me. Once I got a job, I at least had some stability, but I had no other real goals than to wake up and get my butt to work every morning. It felt weird.

When I decided to go to graduate school, I felt much more comfortable. My need to have a goal and a direction was being fulfilled. I finally had a purpose again. When I decided that graduate school wasn’t right for me, however, I had to adjust to being completely direction- and goalless. And learning how to deal with that has been challenging.

After struggling with being without a goal or direction for some time, I realized that I am “goal-obsessed.” This generally means that I set goals pertaining to everything. Big things, small things, inconsequential things, it doesn’t really matter. I just feel more comfortable with a goal in mind. How many books I read, how much blog traffic I get, how much I eat. I think that goals can be a good thing, but I also think that being goal-obsessed has proven to be detrimental.

For me, being goal-obsessed means that I am constantly creating new goals for myself. I turn everything into a goal. Some of them are important goals that will affect my future, but for the most part, they’re meaningless and arbitrary goals, the results of which will not affect my life in the slightest. I am even hesitant to incorporate new habits and activities into my regular routine, because completing them automatically becomes a goal, whether or not they will actually benefit me in any way. What’s wrong with making arbitrary goals, you may ask? Nothing, unless you are plagued by crippling feelings of failure when you can’t achieve a meaningless goal for yourself! See if you can guess who that is…

While I come up with the smallest goals for myself, I enter into a horrible phase of self-loathing when I don’t complete them. On the other hand, completing a small, meaningless task leaves me with a lovely, fleeting moment of success.

So, you know, at least I’m balanced.

While this weird goal cycle is obviously unhealthy, it has also made me addicted to setting goals. This means that, as soon as I complete (or fail to complete) one goal, I immediately create the next one and start again. No “good job, Renata” or “you made it, Renata.” Nope, just a proverbial kick in the butt to get moving on the next thing. What I would really like to work on is celebrating the small victories. Any improvement should be celebrated. Any time that I make myself better in some way, or take one small step towards a goal, or put my own mental health first, or do something new and scary. These all deserve to be celebrated, but they get overlooked when all I can do is create a new goal for myself.

Once I realized how goal-obsessed I was and how arbitrary my goals could be, I did some classic Renata over-correcting and decided to strive to set absolutely no goals. If the goals and results were meaningless anyway, what did it matter if the goals existed or not? I have been working on keeping myself from creating goals, but as you can imagine when your entire life has revolved around goals for 26 years, this is not the easiest thing to do. I’ve found that it helps to check how meaningful my goals are in order to decide whether or not I will hold myself to them. Sure, some goals are important, but when you create goals about every little thing, some of them are bound to be absurd.

The most helpful thing that I have done on this journey, however, is to learn how to forgive myself. Failure is inevitable, especially if you have a bunch of tiny, insignificant goals that you have no control over. With the odds of failure set that high, the stakes obviously very low, and it’s important for me to learn how to forgive myself. Feeling disappointed in myself for every little thing is no way to live.

At this point, I haven’t had much direction in my life for years, really. I’m finally getting comfortable with the fact that not every moment of my life needs to be planned out and that I’m not a failure if I miss the mark on some random goals that I create for myself. No need to create a plan or come up with some crazy thing to complete, I’m just working on finding what makes me happy and doing it, even if it doesn’t mean that I’ll achieve some impressive goal. I’m learning to be comfortable with just being.

renata leo

Just an open-minded, overly-sensitive, optimistically cynical feminist millennial who secretly prefers chestnut praline lattes to pumpkin spice lattes.

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