Published on August 9th, 2013 | by Jennifer Killi Marshall
I’ve been a goal-setter ever since I graduated college. But before then, not so much.
In grade school and high school, I watched my friends practice sports or dance, earning scholarships for their hard work and dedication. I never felt like I was good enough at anything to reach the level of happiness they obviously had in their respective fields.
I had average marks and my toes in several different extracurricular activities, not really excelling in anything in particular. I dabbled, never focusing on any one thing. So I found myself a little jealous of my friends’ achievements, wondering if I’d ever find happiness in life.
It wasn’t until after landing my first real job that I began to understand the benefits of setting goals. I began writing down my goals after reading a self-help book on the topic, and thought I had found the key to happiness.
Never before did goal-setting take on more significance for me than in the corporate world. In my role as a recruiter, I had specific numbers to hit each week, month, and year, based on the number of candidates I placed out working with our clients. There were, of course, financial rewards tied to reaching and exceeding those goals, but I tended to appreciate the acknowledgment from my boss, clients, and colleagues more than I enjoyed the money. Hearing what an incredible job I had done on a project or how I had been a lifesaver to a client by finding the perfect candidate; the praise was really what I worked for. The recognition was what made me feel happy.
Each time I’d exceed a goal, the rush of happiness would feel the same. Warm, fuzzy sensations would run through me, bubbling over in my words and actions. The feeling would last a day or two, but would soon disappear, and as I began to sense it dissolving, I’d start working toward my next fix, aiming to cross off the next goal on my list.
My bipolar disorder broke through the surface at the end of 2005; I was twenty-six years old and at the top of my game in terms of my career. I had surpassed all of the goals I had set for myself that year in my work and was on target to have another record-breaking year. Unfortunately, life had other plans.
The pressure I was putting on myself to keep going at a hundred miles an hour in order to shatter my company’s goals contributed in part to my psychotic break. I had to take several weeks off in order for my doctors to reach a diagnosis and for the medication they prescribed to begin working. My life had been turned upside down, and I was terrified of the changes I was facing. How would I find happiness again?
In the wake of two hospitalizations for mania, I returned to my work, only to be forced to resign several months later because I could no longer handle the pressure of the environment where I had once thrived. My happiness faded to gray, and I was left to mourn my old self, the life that I had built for myself by setting goal after goal.
I was eventually able to find peace with my diagnosis, and my treatment plan was working after putting in a year and a half of hard work on the road to recovery. I guess you could say I set a goal to get well, and I was able to reach it with the support of my family and friends. I just didn’t look at it that way at the time.
My husband and I decided we were ready to have children, and now, almost six years and two kids later, my attitude towards goals and how they relate to happiness has changed completely.
These days my happiness is found in the simple pleasures of being a stay-at-home mom who nurtures her writing career on the side. I’m taking the time to treasure the little moments when I notice my heart smiling, such as the squeeze of my daughter’s squishy arms wrapped around my legs when I’m doing dishes after dinner. Or the pride in my son’s eyes as he describes in cheery detail the intricacies of his crayon drawing of a construction site, the fifth one he’s drawn that day. My happiness is found within the security of my husband’s embrace, wrapped up in a hug when he returns home at the end of a workday.
I have a new definition of happiness.
Don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate the sense of accomplishment I feel when I reach a goal I’ve written out for myself. I’m the type of person who needs to motivate and challenge myself by setting goals. There is something about the ritual of dreaming up a grand accomplishment, writing it down, being brave enough to declare it to friends and family, and then working your tail off to turn it into reality.
I’ll never tire of setting challenges for myself.
I have changed, though. I’ll no longer speed ahead so fast that I forget to stop along the way to appreciate all that I have already accomplished. Slowing down and taking things one day at a time is much more my pace these days. Because the reality is that we only ever have this moment right in front of us. Tomorrow is a blessing, not a guarantee.
So instead of only looking forward to accomplishing our dreams, those big milestones in our life that happen infrequently, why not appreciate the things that bring us happiness every day as we journey to reaching those goals?
This is how I am experiencing happiness in a way that is healthy for me.