It’s the season of goal-setting.
Often, an exercise in futility.
Conducted in earnest.
Born from the forcible waters of self-reflection.
Pools of deception and honesty, of empathy and ridicule, or red-painted redemption.
Each year, we do the same thing.
We sit down with ourselves, after a week of binge-watching, doom-scrolling and dessert-inhaling, to figure out just what it is about ourselves that isn’t good enough.
What needs to be fixed?
Worse yet, what still needs to be fixed from the prior year’s resolutions?
How are we still falling short in life compared to the ideals and standards set around us?
You may even be a veteran in the resolution process and buy a fresh planner every year that walks you through these prompts. It asks you to dissect your personal and professional life and find areas of improvement.
Are you exercising enough? How healthy do you eat? What are your financial goals? Your wellness goals? Your relationship goals?
Typically, this time of year is also aligned with annual performance reviews and goal-setting for your career as well. So you’re also faced with this same level of self-analysis for the sake of your livelihood and career growth.
This is framed positively.
It’s productive to seek constant self-betterment.
It’s good to constantly feel like you’re not good enough.
Until recently, I’m sad to admit I’d probably have said yes.
But the answer is very, very firmly, no.
Of course, there is positive, motivational self-growth to be found in setting goals for ourselves. But that doesn’t have to be born from lacking.
There are many reasons we feel inadequate. You can blame it on a culture of consumerism or the social media-flamed fire of self-comparison. You can point the finger at the church of capitalism to which our country worships at the altar. Whatever the reason, we have been downright brainwashed to believe we are all chronically incomplete.
There has to be something missing, something wrong with us.
Your goal in life is not just to produce output—to relentlessly strive to satisfy an evolving set of standards you will never be able to keep up with.
Your goal in life is to have joy and purpose. It’s to love and be loved. To wake up each day and feel like your needs are met. To produce value, yes, but however that is defined by your own set of standards.
I have personally been working on this as well, especially in the last few years as I have intentionally worked to gravitate away from defining myself by the way others define me.
And as I was working through my crisp new planner (because yes, I am one of those people who does this BS every year), I realized it was time to set different kinds of goals.
I thought I would share these with you as well, in hopes that maybe they encourage you to take a pause in all the ways you’re feeling pressured.
Personal goals are about more than weight loss, book lists and savings accounts–they’re about your heart, and how you listen to it in the days, weeks and months ahead of you.
It’s about growing from the inside out, not the outside in.
1. Commit to a healthy balance of self-awareness and self-love.
This equilibrium is something I have been particularly focused on the last few years. It’s a balancing act of learning to actively love and cherish yourself, while understanding that you are in fact not the center of the universe.
Growing up is realizing that every feeling, experience and frustration you feel is not created equal, and often they don’t all need to be shared or understood by others. I, like many adolescents and individuals in their twenties, struggled with feeling chronically misunderstood. I had, and still have, a profoundly deep connection to my emotions and memories, and that often left me feeling isolated–desperate to be seen for who I was and what I felt.
But the reality is, no one will understand you the way you understand yourself. That doesn’t have to be lonely, it can also be seen as a gift. It’s a privilege that you know yourself, an honor to have a front seat to all of your triumphs and know the true reality of the hardship that it required to achieve that.
Self-awareness does NOT mean never sharing the burden, expressing yourself or connecting authentically with those around you. But it does mean realizing that all of those people have their own lives, priorities and perspectives. It means understanding that 80% of the behaviors of others, including how they treat you, has more to do with them than it actually does with you. That isn’t a cop-out or an excuse to blame everyone and not take accountability. But it’s a reality check that if you’re berating yourself and feeling that it’s your fault someone hurt you or is a jerk to you, it probably isn’t.
I’ve learned the strongest foundation you’ll ever need for validation is within yourself, not in the hearts and words of others. Learn to really love who you are in your own eyes, and let that be enough.
This year, we are focusing on building that foundation.
We are not the center of the universe, but we are the center of our universe.
2. Find solace in stability, and restitution in routine and rest.
Routine has never come easy for me.
Call it a restless spirit or just a god-given gravitation toward chaos, but I’ve always felt that redundancy was a failure.
I am also not naturally a routinized person. I think a lot of creative people struggle with this. My energy and emotions ebb and flow. The day-to-day variance has in the past made me feel like it was physically impossible for me to stick to a routine. The daily routine social media videos made me feel painfully inadequate– both for not being able to establish that level of consistency and for not wanting it.
What I have learned is that routine is unique to you. And that there truly is peace and stability to be found in a life where you can actually rely on something.
A daily walk. A home-cooked meal. A calming bedtime ritual.
All of these things seemed futile to me, but now that I have been focused on them, I realize their value. It’s setting boundaries and investing in the small parts of your day that add up to strong habits and stable health. It’s loving yourself enough to realize that you don’t always have to be doing something new to have purpose and meaning.
I am calmer and more in control mentally when I stick to my routines.
I am a better person when I relax.
I am a stronger person when I give my brain and body a break, and when I provide them with the rest and nutrients they need to thrive.
Maybe you relate?
That doesn’t mean I don’t still go off the rails and do random things, or lean into my creativity when I feel the spark warming up, because I do.
But I am learning to find peace in a lifestyle that brings me peace in return.
3. Communicate with empathy and maturity, even when experiencing heightened emotions.
I know I said this would not be a piece about dissecting and criticizing ourselves– but it also would not be a goal-setting exercise if there wasn’t a certain level of critique involved.
This goal is highly personal to me, although I imagine it’s something we all struggle with at times.
I pride myself on being a strong communicator. It’s one of my best professional skills and has been a key driver of my growth over the years.
That said, in my personal life, my communication skills could be improved in times of conflict and heightened emotions. If I am really hurt, angry or scared, I don’t respond well. I can shut down, lash out or avoid the conflict entirely. I think catastrophically instead of logically. I massively lean into fight or flight. I always have.
Though I know some of the experiences that caused me to be this way are not entirely my fault, I still take ownership of this. It’s my problem to solve.
There’s that self-awareness again, but it’s also a part of the greater ‘goal’ theme of this article.
Sometimes the hardest work we have to do in life is within ourselves–it has nothing to do with productivity.
I am quite productive in a traditional sense.
Right now, I am typing this article at 5:30 PM on a Monday evening. I just wrapped up my to-do list for my day job at Allure. I am prepping for a Her Track meeting at 6 PM. I type as I walk on a treadmill with my standing desk and pass 5 miles for this walk. After I finish the 7PM meeting, I will head to play trivia like I do each Monday with friends. Then I will come back and likely write some more, before finishing the rest of my home to-dos.
Yeah, I am productive.
But it’s a lot harder for me to communicate productively when I’m feeling hurt or frustrated.
So I am working on that. Though I encounter FAR less conflict than I did in my younger years, I still know I can be better when I do. I’m working on not repressing an emotion until it explodes and becomes untenable. I am working on listening before I speak. I am working on seeing other perspectives before my own. I am working to be better.
Maybe this specific issue isn’t something you struggle with, but instead, it’s something else that is deeply personal to how you interact with others and manage your personal relationships. I encourage you to think about this, and see if maybe this year that kind of goal could bring you more peace and growth than traditional resolutions.
4. Don’t allow a focus on the future to rob you of the joys of the present moment.
I turn twenty-nine in a few weeks, and damn, this is a weird age.
Everyone I know is having some kind of life crisis–professionally, personally, or both.
Because our twenties are coming to a close, and with that comes irreverent pressure. We’re all faced with the age-old question, “What is next?”
“Should I be getting married? Should I be having children? Should I buy a house? Can I ever afford any of those things? Am I in the right profession? Am I happy?”
“Am I behind?”
“Who am I, and even more, who do I want to be?”
When it comes to rushing to the next step in life, I am a serial offender—at least I used to be.
I spent high school zeroed in on college–taking AP courses, chasing scholarships and leaving halfway through the day to go to a marketing internship. I spent college zeroed in on being in the professional workforce–spending every other day as a co-op in an office 9-5, balancing multiple jobs and even graduating college early so I could move away and work full-time.
It took rushing to move in with my college boyfriend at twenty-one (and that later failing miserably) for me to realize that milestones are not meant to be rushed.
We’re meant to enjoy the moment we are in, and the unique pace we are going.
So I am working on that this year, as all of those big and exciting changes start to loom, I want to commit myself to appreciating the days that lead to each of them.
Because you can’t get these days back, and one day, you may even miss them.
5. Lead with purpose, and love with intention.
Finally, my last goal–another goal rooted in an identity evolving with age.
I have found that recently, I get more meaning from helping others succeed, than I do from succeeding alone or as an individual. I find myself seeking more opportunities to be a mentor than I do a mentee. I reflect deeply on how my words and actions can be perceived by those I have the fortunate opportunity to lead in my various roles. I see the opportunity I have to impact those I lead, in the way strong leaders did for me.
Perhaps it’s some latent maternal instinct activating with my diminishing egg inventory. Or maybe it’s just time. Whatever the reason, I am focused on honing my leadership skills in my personal and professional life.
Standing by what I believe. Standing by my people.
And in my personal life, I seek to cultivate my relationships with compassion, patience and intention. To be present, honest and grounded.
To be there.
Because that will always be more important than how ‘productive’ you are.
That’s all you need to do to be worthy, be here.
It’s a value that supersedes any number on a scale or on a bank statement.
It’s enough to just be someone who loves and listens–who finds their own joy and value.
It’s valuable to spend an evening listening to your favorite music or binge-watching movies, to dance around the living room and order pizza.
Life is meant to be enjoyed.
You are meant to grow, at your own pace, and to the beat of your own heart.
Remember that, and you’re already doing more than enough.