When Achieving Goals Leaves You Wanting More
This thought came up in therapy the other day.
I definitely classify myself as an over-achiever. I set extremely high standards for myself and feel disappointed when I don't reach the level of accomplishment I desire. My inner drive for perfection has been present from a young age, and it slowly gained momentum until it was maximized during my college years.
School, for me, had always been about achievement. Study for a test, write the test, receive a grade. Do research for a paper, write the paper, receive a grade. As soon as one assignment was handed in, another one would be presented, so I was constantly in a cycle of working and achieving, with the culmination being when I walked across the stage at graduation.
Until this year, my life has been in a consistent state of setting goals and working towards them. I managed to secure my first apartment almost one and a half years ago, which quite honestly was a HUGE marker in my transition to adulthood (even though I only moved out from my parents home in my late twenties). Last year, I was hired at a learning centre and have spent the past eleven months growing and settling into my position.
So, on my list of things to do before I'm 30, I have checked off my top 3:
- Graduate college
- Find my own apartment
- Get hired at a job that I love
The problem I am running into this year is: now what? I spent about 20 years in school, and managed to (dare I say) exceed the expectations I had set for myself. Exam after exam, paper after paper, and I graduated top of my class in 2014. Despite my eating disorder burrowing itself into my life, I also secured the keys to MY OWN PLACE - a life event that had been a dream of mine since I was a teenager. And, after getting my feet wet in ABA therapy with children on the autism spectrum, I gained knowledge and confidence and made the switch to a job in more of an educational setting - the perfect environment for my "academic-loving" self.
For the past two years, my apartment and my job have been my driving forces. When sh*t got tough, I made a point to think of these two pieces of my life. Even though my mind was telling me otherwise, I would then pick up my spoon and eat. The illness still did get in the way, leading to a couple more hospitalizations, but I always reminded myself of what was waiting for me when I got home.
It seems, today, that my job and my apartment aren't "enough". Now, don't get me wrong. I still ADORE both. I have the best time at work (on most days) and have met the most amazing and inspiring people. And, at the end of a long day, I still get excited about walking through the front door of my home. It may sound silly, but sometimes I get all "giddy" when I remember that this old little apartment is all mine.
But now, something is missing. I'm craving a new accomplishment. Things have been "steady enough" for too long now and I'm getting restless.
I brought this up to my therapist on Friday, and we came to (what I would call) a rather important realization. Life isn't always about ACHIEVING. Sure, success feels good. But sometimes, the fact that we are MAINTAINING the pieces of our life is a success in itself.
This really rang true for me. My eating disorder has caused me to make far too many sacrifices in my life. Jobs, relationships, vacations, memories. Yet, despite not being fully recovered, I have maintained my job and my apartment. These two things were not necessarily guarantees throughout the years - I could have easily been asked to leave my job due to my illness and as a consequence, I probably would have had to give up my apartment due to a lack of income.
But I didn't have to do either of those things.
What I'm trying to say is: it's not a bad thing to have dreams about achieving goals. But, sometimes you may need to pause and think: maybe all that you are maintaining now in life is a huge accomplishment. Life is interesting when things are evolving, but a lack of change is not necessarily a bad thing either. Truth be told, it may be easier to achieve new things than hold onto and maintain all the good in our lives.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Does achieving success leave you wanting more? This month, my goal is to reframe my "need for more success" and realize that by holding onto what I have now - work, apartment, friends, family - I am, in fact, succeeding.