“What’s your end goal?” one of my long-term friends asks via text message. I stare blankly at the screen, dumbfounded, as I don’t have an answer (or at least not one that’s concrete in any sense). It’s a question I have been asked countless times in the past 32 years, and one that I used to have a solid answer to. The answer has obviously changed over the years — from wanting to be a marine biologist, to hoping to be a mom at the ripe ole’ age of 25. Although I still have a secret love of dolphins, and still want to be a mom, these “end goals” never came to be. Heck, at one point in my life I thought it was plausible to be a professional golfer, simply because at one lesson the instructor told me I was a natural.
Motherhood at 25 was buried at just around the time I ended things with my high school sweetheart, and realized my inability to keep a plant alive did not make me the strongest candidate to raise a living and breathing human being any time soon. This “end goal” has disguised itself in many forms over the years, from the early renderings of the game MASH, to the career quizzes you completed as instructed by your guidance counsellor. For some reason we feel inclined to continually uncover the answer to this question from a very young age, when frankly we have been exposed to so little it’s not even plausible to think we could come up with a legitimate answer.
Although not all who wander are lost, many of my friends knew from the very beginning exactly what they wanted their lives to look like — here’s a big cheers to you, as the rest of us walk around blind folded carrying a bottle of wine and a toppling pile of self-help books. Without experience, how is one truly to know — and even if we do name our end goal, is it ultimately what we want when we arrive?
We place these ideas atop an indestructible pedestal in hopes that we can continue to keep our eye on this “ultimate prize.” Head down, full steam ahead, eliminating any distractions or detours that may take us off course. We construct our to-do lists of what needs to be done in order to reach this magical end point, tackling each task with such unrelenting focus that we often forget to look around. There is no time to pause and smell the roses, to take inventory of what life looks like, to question if this life we are building still represents what we want; it’s not possible that the road map we built at age 18 could lead us off course — it’s laminated, and saved in our iCloud.
However, as I sit here at 32 I realize that the map I built no longer serves me, and no longer suits the life I hope to live. In fact, I have begun to even question what the “end goal” really represents? Does this end goal really represent happiness and success, or is it simply a pie-in-the-sky way of thinking that helps us to believe we are working towards something and that we are moving forward? To be honest, I wonder if this idea of the “end goal” has the power to prevent us from living the life we wholeheartedly want to live.
For someone who has always been a planner, a to-do list maker, and a lover of goals, these questions are new to me. There wasn’t one specific point in time that led to this new developing revelation, it was a number of things rolled into a big ball of who knows what. Most recently I was inspired by an article sent to me by one of my dearest friends (the type of friend who holds the mirror up to you when you don’t want to look). Anyways, the article, called upon you to go through an exercise they called a “life audit.” It involved 100 post-it notes, and thinking of 100 wishes that you want to come true in your life — big, small, whatever you can think of, in no particular order. From there you categorize your wishes, itemize which category held the most, and reflect on the way you are living currently and if it is conducive to helping these wishes come true. I was obviously intrigued, so the next day I selected my favorite color of post-it notes from my beloved drawer of office supplies at work and headed home to brainstorm my 100 wishes. I flew out of the gates with wishes coming from all corners of my mind, until I hit about 45, where I started to struggle to pen anymore. I sat staring at my somewhat organized pile of wishes, placed in groups of five, and found myself amazed at how focused they were on life experiences, on moments, and so much less so on materialistic items, money, and career.
All the things I was working towards over the last almost five years were no longer my sole focus. Instead, these big title careers and letters behind my name were secondary. I had uncovered that I wanted a life full of moments that opened my eyes and broke down the walls of my heart, all things I was unlikely to experience within the confines of an office.
I will admit that I have yet to reach the magic mark of 100 wishes and complete the full exercise as outlined in the article, but I plan to. I believe it will be a wonderful starting point to guide me towards building this “new” perspective of life and ensure that I maintain my peripheral vision — and don’t forget to look around.
What to focus on instead of the end goal?
Focus on the process rather than the goal.
- Society trains us to set goals, to see them as the next milestone, and until the milestone is reached, that happiness will not be found.
- Too much focus on the final goal can rob us of present happiness.
- Instead of consistently focusing on the big-time goal, focus your attention on the daily practices that you need to complete to achieve this goal.
- Remember no coach won a championship without focusing on the practices and games that led to that championship.
Eliminate the word “should” from your life
- “Should” is a word attached to obligation, expectation, regret, and procrastination.
- I challenge you to reflect on the “shoulds” that exist in your life, and question why you feel you should.
- Does the shoulds align with your values and wishes? If so, then turn the should into “I will” or “I could.”
- If it doesn’t, then why do you feel you should? Step away from the obligation and choose something you want, not something you think you should want.
Practice daily gratitude.
Everyone does this differently, and there is no right way. This practice asks you to reflect in the morning about the following questions:
- What are three things you can be grateful for today?
- What would make today great?
- A statement of what you want in your life (a daily affirmation).
At, night you are to answer the following:
- Name three amazing things that happened during your day.
- How could I have made today better?
It is a wonderful way to keep you present in the daily happenings of life, and to remain attuned to how your daily activities feel.
Be proud of how far you have come and how much you have grown
We consistently do not give ourselves enough credit where credit is due. Just because we haven’t magically developed the six pack we’ve dreamt of since high school does not mean we haven’t seen improvements. It’s important to reward the little achievements you’ve made
Take the time to reflect on the moments that comprise your every day
- In what parts of your day did you feel joy, connection, fulfillment; or on the opposite side, sadness and frustration?
- Are these moments linked to a daily responsibility you have in your day? If so, what percent of your day is made up of such responsibilities that lead to such feelings?
- In evaluating these connections, is what you are doing really serving you and allowing you to live your most fulfilled life?
- Steve Jobs made it a daily practice to ask himself every morning, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
Stop comparing where you are to where everyone else is
Social media has the ability to hurt us more than benefit us. Posts are more often than not based on a perfect moment or situation, and do not tell the story of all the blood, sweat, and horrible selfie attempts that went into that perfect post. We all started from different blank slates, and therefore should not even attempt to compare ourselves to anyone else. Stay true to what you want — it’s meant for you, no one else. Always remember we have all done so many wonderful things, if we just allow ourselves to see them.