Rethinking how we measure our goals
We suffer so much from achievement anxiety, and one of the hardest things to swallow is that if we don't attain our goals, we've failed. But it could be simply because we have chosen the wrong measure.
For a large part of my growing up, the process of setting new year resolutions reflected my attitudes towards achievement.
I took pride in crafting my career goals with lots of structure and ambition, with diligent use of planning methodologies and tools.
To me, if I articulated Smart (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) enough goals and charted my paths thoroughly, things would pan out the way they were meant to.
It’s strange, in retrospect, to have been so bound by arbitrary milestones, but I most certainly remember how the personal report card on Dec 31 every year set the tone for the new one ahead.
As the years go by, I've slowly developed a new relationship with planning and goal setting.
Perhaps growing up has mellowed me, or I’m much more equipped to manage disappointment when I don't meet my milestones.
One thing is for sure, growing has not quelled my innate need to take stock — am I getting closer to my fullest potential in what I do? Am I getting “there”?
I believe this is what drives us as humans — a wiring to seek, to find safety in direction and certainty in our lives. But when this “destination GPS” crashes, we do too.
We suffer so much from achievement anxiety, and one of the hardest things to swallow is that if we don't attain our goals, we've failed on our report card.
These thoughts can tear us apart, unnecessarily. Simply because we have chosen the wrong measure.
WHEN KNOWING THE PLAN IS OVERRATED
Achieving should be an ongoing pursuit, not a destination.
We consume way too many success stories of others, without hearing enough about the obstacles, hurdles and detours they took to get to their current place.
For every “achievement story” we place our attention on, we lose sight of many more “work-in-progress stories” the person took, stories that reflect the true nature of discovering our destinations.
I experienced my own reality check when early in my career I moved from the private to non-profit sector.
It was a tough period of much personal distress, yet in retrospect, very much due to the struggle of “knowing the plan” and the frustration of not measuring up to a straightforward achievement narrative.
A random leap of faith to try something different by switching from the corporate to the
non-profit sector rescued me, as only by venturing did I discover joy in a new terrain that I would have never dreamt of embarking on.
Youths often mistake their lack of direction as a lack of identity and self-worth.
But if you don’t have a plan, it’s not the end of the world.
Just take a baby step, any baby step, before inaction and fear immobilise you. Keep moving, keep rerouting.
MEASURE DISTANCE WALKED, NOT DISTANCE LEFT
What gets measured, counts. In the path to reach our goals, we tend to measure our success more by how far we are from our destinations than how far we’ve walked.
In the attempt to get to the end point, we sometimes miss the value of the walk itself.
In ipsative assessments, we track progress with respect to individual starting points, and not on the end results alone.
In a similar way, reaching the end point is a lousy proxy for our grit, resilience, and effort — things that truly define us and our character. They make each of our stories uniquely ours.
I work at Halogen Foundation, where we try to sow seeds in young people.
I’ve been privileged to be reminded of this principle daily. Regardless of their economic backgrounds, their academic achievements, their aspirations and dreams, each young person is unique.
The stories of growth that we get so excited with, and so inspired by, are always those of how far the youth have come, given where they were and how much sweat, heart and courage they have put in to become stronger versions of themselves.
What gets measured, counts. And we must remind ourselves, the treasure in the journeys is the walk, not the end point.
‘CLEANING UP’ BELIEFS
We are walking vessels of the accumulated perspectives and opinions poured into us (or sometimes what we consciously or unconsciously pour into ourselves).
These perspectives seep into our inner core and can positively or negatively mould our beliefs. The beliefs show up in how we see ourselves and our lives.
In navigating my personal pathway, I’ve learnt to devote space to reflect on what’s in me and “clean up” my beliefs.
Being in a country with lots of consumerism and access to material things, there are seasons in my life where I realise I may have been too absorbed with owning things for a sense of identity and purpose.
The converse can be true. Working with many youth developers, my belief in proactively developing young people has grown stronger over the years.
What I have absorbed over time is subtle but has shaped the filters through which I see the world.
If self-care advocates that we tend to our inner soul — to find rest, anchor, and self compassion; then to self-cleanse is to question our beliefs and the basis for them.
If there are unhealthy narratives that I have carried, do I still want to carry them? Don’t hold on to unnecessary weights that don’t belong, do a regular spring cleaning of what’s within.
Some of these “healthy seeking” principles are really counterintuitive as a formula for achieving.
But as I’ve learnt to embrace these principles, I’ve noticed a stronger ability to hold space for ambiguity and appreciate how having “no answers” can be a liberating opportunity for exploration and a true sense of flourishing.
“However diverse their talents, temperaments and differences, all great achievers have one trait in common: They never bother to compare themselves with other men, but are content to run their own race on their own terms.”
– Sydney J Harris
Am I there yet? Perhaps it's more important to keep moving forward and keep getting closer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ivy Tse is chief executive officer of Halogen Foundation Singapore, a youth development charity. This piece first appeared in The Birthday Book: Are We There Yet?, a collection of 56 essays that tackle this question pertaining to Singapore.