It's easy to assume that the only thing standing between you and a sense of fulfillment is achieving a couple of goals -- building a successful business, finding the perfect spouse, or having a rewarding career.
Often, this idea that happiness is only a few accomplishments away drives us into an obsession. We become so fixated on attaining a milestone as a means to be happy, that it becomes our identity. I.e. John, the entrepreneur. Jane, the Vice President.
It's too easy to place false hope in trivial things. You start a business, and then the stress of running it drives you crazy. You get married, yet have never felt more alone. You get a promotion, but for some reason, feel less respected. When you base happiness on achievement, you will always want more. And every accomplishment comes with its own problems.
It's important to have dreams and ambitions. But, it's also important to put those aspirations into perspective. If we're not careful, we can inadvertently lose ourselves in the pursuit of "short-term" endeavors. We can become so addicted to the chase that we lose sight of who we are and never feel content.
It's counterintuitive, but when things are going well, the chances of derailing our dreams can be at their highest.
As far back as I can remember, I played football. From the age of nine to the age of nineteen. Every day, month, and year was dedicated to perfecting my game. Football had become my life and if I'm being completely honest, I loved it. Every decision I made was a based on whether or not it was good for my football career -- including college.
The funny thing is, I'm only 5'9" on a good day. (Did I mention that a goal obsession can also cloud our judgment!) By the end of my freshman year in college, I came to the sad realization that I wasn't going to be a professional football player. I stopped playing and shifted my focus to school. Little did I know that it would be one of the toughest times in my life.
I had been so obsessed with football, that when it all ended, I didn't know how to cope. Quitting threw me into an identity crisis that had me second guessing my purpose. I had let football define me.
At some point, you will either achieve what you're working towards or it will end -- then what? Life doesn't stop when you reach your aspirations -- and glory eventually fades.
Here are three ways to own your ambitions without them owning you.
1. Don't live from accomplishment to accomplishment.
In other words, be mission focused instead of position focused. Rather than relying on the short-term goal of being a "manager" to provide direction, dedicate yourself to being a great mentor. Then, regardless of whether or not you become a manager, you can still serve the greater mission and stay the course.
Find a cause to serve and success will follow. It might not be in the exact way you imagined, but I promise you it will be just as fulfilling. If not, your value and sense of purpose will always be based on your last accomplishment. That's an awful way to live -- to never feel good enough.
2. Do what you can now.
Act in the authority that you've been given and embrace your current situation. You may not be a "manager" now, but that doesn't mean you can't be a great mentor to others.
For years, I thought that the only way I could make a difference was if I had my own business. Now don't get me wrong, aspirations are important. But, if you're not happy without your accomplishments, then you won't find happiness with them either.
If we're not careful, we can get so fixated on a future goal, that we miss the opportunities to make a difference now.
A quote that pulled me out of some static times in my career came from Edward Everett Hale, "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
3. Be well-rounded.
Don't let your goals become an obsession that forces all other good things out of your life. At some point, goals will be achieved and careers will end. Don't neglect your relationships, passions, and hobbies. It's important to be well-rounded. If not, your goals will end up owning you. And when it's all over, they'll leave you directionless.
Goals are important, but they need to be kept in check. The importance of a goal isn't in the accomplishment itself, but in the person we become while working towards it.