Photo by Thomas Griesbeck on Unsplash
Maybe I peaked too soon. Maybe I just didn’t set my sights high enough. These thoughts went through my brain as I flipped through the rainbow-colored index cards from my 2015 goal group meeting. Each index card had one goal handwritten on it. What I didn’t know back in 2015 was that the attainment of these goals wouldn’t make me happy — but striving to reach them would.
I laid all of the cards on the hardwood floor of my lovely Los Angeles home and stared at them. All but two of the goals I had set were complete and the other two I was sure I would check off in the next couple of years. Six years seemed like such a short period of time, yet as I looked at the contents of these cards, it was an entire lifetime ago.
What’s So Special About the Cards?
Let me share with you four paragraphs’ worth of background. The mesmerizing thing to me about these “goal cards” was that, when I found them, I hadn’t seen them since 2015. I didn’t have them taped to my bathroom mirror or glued beside motivational phrases on a vision board on my wall. I had shoved them in the back of my journal . . . and then, I proceeded to buy a new journal.
I only found these cards when they fell out of my old journal during a boredom-kindled Marie-Kondo-inspired cleaning spree. I hadn’t seen these cards in six years and I definitely hadn’t been trying to actively accomplish the goals written on them. Somehow, though, I had.
See, in 2015, I had just moved to Los Angeles to produce and act in film and television only to discover after a few months that I vehemently disliked it. I had recently divorced my prostitute-banging-deadbeat-addict of a husband and I was barely paying my rent in a dingy Koreatown apartment by teaching five-year-olds Broadway choreography for $25 per mind-numbing hour.
This was the setting for the goal group I formed (along with three other friends) because I needed to incite some change in my life. And I needed some accountability while I did it. So, like any good goal group, one of our first orders of business was to write our goals, one at a time, on index cards so we could sort them and plan to accomplish them one at a time.
The 2015 Goals
Here were the goals I wrote on my rainbow index cards at goal group in 2015:
- Have a family of my own
- Have a successful blog
- Find someone to grow old with
- Make six figures doing something I love
- Publish a book
- Go to Bora Bora
- Buy a house
- Travel and speak and inspire dancers (this is how I incorrectly wrote it in 2015, so I will keep it as-is)
- Get my master’s degree
- Own at least 2 investment properties
Since 2015, I got a job traveling and speaking at dance conventions in 2016, self-published my first book in 2017 and traditionally published a different one in 2020, broke 6 figures in 2017, got (re)married in 2017, bought a house in 2017, had a baby in 2018, got my master’s degree in 2019, and joined a little thing called Medium that is way better than a successful personal blog in 2020. The two I didn’t accomplish?
- Go to Bora Bora
- Own at least 2 investment properties.
I’m sure I’ll do both of those eventually (though I now have many more exciting places in mind to go to besides Bora Bora).
The funny thing is, back in 2015, I was absolutely positive that I would know that I had “MADE IT” if I had accomplished and/or acquired the things I wrote on those cards. Six years ago, the aspirations on these cards were so big and exciting that I KNEW that if even some of them were to come true, I would be living the dream.
However, if you had asked me in 2021 before I found the cards if I was successful, I would have said something like, “I could be way more successful. I’m working on it.”
I don’t share this to be boastful in any way. I share this in hopes that there is someone else out there who might be in the same position . . . and who, like me, might feel a little guilty for wanting even more.
2015 Meets 2021
Six years later, all of my goals in 2015 have become commonplace in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m super grateful. And I know that I shouldn’t take my Norman Rockwell-esque life for granted . . . but I sometimes do. The fact is that everything that was a goal for me six years ago has become a norm for me now.
As time has marched on, 2021 brought with it even bigger goals and even higher bars for achievement. In classic been-there-done-that style, if I’ve been there and done that, I don’t want to go back. I hope I’m not alone when I say this, but after I get or accomplish something . . . I want more. I want bigger, better, deeper, faster, and more profound and even last year’s bars are too low for this year.
It seems like the summit of every mountain I climb is the base camp for yet another peak. You would think this would breed discontent. On the contrary . . . it makes me happy. Striving makes me happy. And, after spending some quality time in a rabbit hole of neuroscience articles, I have found that I’m not alone . . . not by a long shot.
The Reason We All Want More
We have all seen that accomplishing one big thing in life does not always equal happiness. If that were true, lottery winners would have it made, major celebrities wouldn’t end up in rehab, and we all would be satisfied with the status quo. For better or for worse, once we get something, we humans are often not satisfied. Myself included.
It turns out, though, the act of seeking itself can be a catalyst for happiness. Science reporter Olivia Goldhill writes in Quartz that, “The human desire to seek can help make sense of studies showing that achieving major goals or even winning the lottery, doesn’t cause long-term changes in happiness. But our drive to look ahead needn’t cause a permanent state of dissatisfaction, as seeking is itself a fulfilling activity.”
Goldhill further states, “The innate human desire to seek means that we can never truly feel that every desire and wish has been met. There will never be an end to the to-do list, future goals, and plans, the things we want to achieve and see. But the fact that we don’t have everything we want is exactly what makes life so fulfilling.”
So, the fact that I have achieved most of my 2015 goals and still feel unfulfilled is . . . kind of a good thing. At the very least, I (and potentially any other people who might be feeling the same way) shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting more. Why? Because it is in our human nature to be fulfilled by striving for a new goal.
Not ever having everything I want is a part of what drives me toward more success. And that drive, that striving, can be a source of happiness. Now, that resonates with me. I love looking toward a brighter and more exciting future, working toward things I hope that I will eventually accomplish, and continually improving myself, my life, and the lives of those I love.
So, I’ve “made it” according to my 2015 goals. Now what? I make plans to make it even better in 2026. And still better in 2031. Because striving for a goal is a part of what makes us humans happy. And hopefully, the happiness brought about by striving will eventually bring about the happiness of achievement.
“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”
― Madeleine Albright