But just because I've reached that conclusion doesn't mean that I am a defeatist. Quite the opposite. In the process of accepting that those specific goals are unattainable, I have reached a deeper understanding of what my fundamental goals are -- and, therefore, how I should go about attaining them. You see, we make goals because we want to grow, and we pick certain achievements to signify that we have achieved that level of growth. Thus, the18-year-old girl in me wanted to be loved for a lifetime and, therefore, said she would be married by the time she was 25. (She couldn't even imagine 30.) Likewise, that same 18-year-old girl wanted to make a difference and be both respected as competent and successful. And so it was that she set the goal of becoming Teacher of the Year.
But life isn't quite as simple as that. Over time our specific achievements we aim for change as we grow as people, but our core goals often stay the same. For instance, I no longer want to be a teacher (outside of once a week). While I respect that profession immensely, it's not the best fit for me personally. It's neither where my passion lies nor the area in which I am gifted. So, while I set out to be a teacher when I went to college, it took me less than two years to figure out that that wasn't my life's ambition. But when I decided I didn't want to be a teacher I didn't throw up my hands, figuring myself a failure. Instead, I adapted, picked a new goal, set out to become a successful lawyer -- because I still wanted to be successful. Of course, when I graduated from college I decided I didn't want to be a lawyer, either, and less than two years after finishing grad school, I find myself once again uninterested in WORKING IN the specific field I studied and am intensely interested in.
Now, you may look at that narrative and weave of its details a story of failure. But I see something different: I see me honing in on my objectives, ever growing into the woman I want to be and more in line with my fundamental values and objectives. I see me learning that my passion lies not with teaching others but in helping them outside of the classroom, and figuring out over time that that means not advocating for justice in the courtroom or fighting for them through international affairs systems, but rather fighting for them in various, micro-level ways. And those activities are separate from my job at present, but they won't always be. Right now I'm just doing what I do best in a healthy environment, building up the organizational know-how, professional contacts and financial wherewithal to start my own non-profit in five years. And on the sidelines I'm engaged in a number of activities that meet my need to help others. One day the two will be joined, but for roughly the next five years they need to be separate.
When I think about that, then -- my specific professional goal (becoming teacher of the year) vs. the trajectory I'm on and my actual job -- I see outstanding success. And I'm proud of it. And the same is true of my other specific goals: getting married, being debt-free, and being skinny. No, I'm not going to achieve those things by next week, but I am going to be well on my way toward them. I've been in love with the same man for almost 9 years, and we have grown together more than I can explain, even fathom. We're closer today than we've ever been, and along the way we've learned thousands of important lessons. If and when we do get married (and I hope it's when), we will have the understanding, humility and capacity to make it last.
Likewise, over the past five years I've made lots of little decisions to put me in a good long-term financial position (and a lot of not-so-good decisions prior to that, which taught me a lot of equally important lessons), and I'm making many decisions every day to be healthier and more active (and, based on a history of taking those things for granted and reaping the rewards of that, I now appreciate the need for it).
The point, of course, is that our short-term perspective is limited. And so is our capacity to change our short-term station. All we can do is make good decisions today that set us up for tomorrow OR learn from the not-so-good decisions we made yesterday. If we do those things we will end up with love, success, finances and bodies that benefit from experience and sustainable processes. Therefore, if I measure my success by my fundamental goals (am I en route to a lifetime of love and happiness with one person? am I on my way to being successful and out of debt? am I taking appropriate care of my health?), I have achieved immeasurable success. And I feel lots and lots of hope for my long-term success as well.
All of this got me thinking about Laura Munson's latest post, "Wabi Sabi Love" (#407) in which she discusses Arielle Ford's new book by the same name, which is about "the ancient art of finding perfect love in imperfect relationships." What if I looked for perfect success in imperfect circumstances? Wouldn't I necessarily find it no matter what?
You're right: I think I just did.