Do you find yourself working to achieve life goals and ambitions, whilst never feeling fully fulfilled in spite of having often achieved these goals or having made significant progress towards them?
Maybe you’ve achieved them at one level, perhaps a financial goal, and the target has moved and you are now chasing the next one.
Maybe your thinking is around ‘when I achieve that level then things will be different / better?’ And yet that level comes and goes and things still don’t change.
You are not alone and could be following the path of chasing someone else’s goals.
Through our childhoods, schooling and early associations we get bombarded with information about what is right and proper and good – the things that we should be aiming for when we grow up to make us whole. These are measures that can be held up for us to be compared against or benchmarked with others who may have made faster progress or who look more likely to succeed.
These goals get firmly imprinted in our Psyche and without consciously realising it they become the foundations for our future life direction. We work towards them because we unconsciously believe this is what life should be all be about. Perhaps when we achieve these goals we will finally be truly fulfilled – but we never are!
For some of us, at certain levels, they offer a degree of fulfillment. While we are making progress towards them and can be held up as an example by which others are compared, we feel good about ourselves and it validates us working and progressing towards these goals and aspirations. But still something is missing. When we are working tirelessly towards these goals we don’t notice what is missing – we are too busy making progress. As Stephen Covey Highlights in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ – you are so busy climbing the ladder you don’t have time to check if its leaning against the right wall.
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” Stephen R. Covey
We believe we can connect with these goals at an identity level, but the problem is, its not really our identity behind these goals. They belong to someone else – someone from our past. It doesn’t mean they were handed to us with any ill intention – far from it – they were designed to motivate and inspire us – they were based on things that may have been relevant to those ‘others’ back then. They were also based on a different time when values or priorities may have been different. The challenge for us is they got imprinted at a deep level, early on, and we embraced them, giving them much more meaning than they truly deserved.
Some of us have been lucky enough to break free from them and see that as a life purpose or meaningful end game they are not all they are cracked up to be. With wisdom and insight we have become aware that there are more fulfilling goals and aspirations to work towards. We are the lucky ones. We might not be as conventionally successful in the image of these false goals, but we are more fulfilled and probably living more of the life we have.
Others of us are still fighting away to meet and chase these ever moving targets. We think we are fulfilled – because we have attained the levels that were held up as examples of success during our youth, but there is an emptiness there that just won’t go away.
The challenges we face are beautifully summed up in the parable about the Mexican fisherman – a story which appears in my book Ten Minute Tactics.
The Mexican Fisherman and the Investment Banker (Author Unknown)
An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tunas. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “only a little while.”
The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
The American scoffed. “I have an MBA from Harvard, and can help you,” he said. “You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening up your own cannery. You could control the product, processing, and distribution,” he said. “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually to New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “Oh, 15 to 20 years or so.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time was right, you would announce an IPO, and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”
“Millions – then what?”
The American said, “Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”
The merchant banker, by many measures has achieved the great financial success that was held up as a worthy goal and aspiration to work towards, but when confronted by the simple fisherman he realises that the fisherman has already attained what he, the merchant banker, really aspires to and that frustratingly he was never really that far away. Now he faces an even bigger challenge. Does he give up on his unfulfilling goals and follow the example of the fisherman or does he take the view that he has already invested so much time and effort in his current direction that it is too late to change – and so must continue in his current direction on the basis that he will one day finally reach the ever moving target he is aiming for. And by the way he can justify how much more successful he really is than the fisherman and could switch to his life at any time in the future – just not yet! Ever felt that way when confronted by your own Mexican fisherman?
So how do we challenge our goals to see if they really are the goals that we should be working towards or if they should belong to someone else?
Some questions we can ask ourselves include:
- Who do you want to be – what do you want to be known as?
It can sound difficult at first to define who you want to be – that’s a heavy identity level question – but by thinking about what you want to be known as it can soften it and give a bit of direction too. Do you want to be known as rich or wise – they don’t necessarily go hand in hand? Try to define within this umbrella words – words that are broad descriptions rather than specifics. What does wisdom mean to you for example? How would you like to demonstrate it? Successful is a classic umbrella word which can leave us heading off in all sorts of directions, but talking the time to define success can help create a much clearer map.
- What actions do I need to take to move closer to who I want to be or what I want to be known as?
Are the actions you are taking at the moment moving you closer or further way? Maybe its time to look at your route map and make some adjustments to the directions in which you are heading
- What would a perfect day look like?
We know what that looks like for our Mexican fisherman – what about for you? What would it take to have a perfect day? What’s stopping you from doing some of that now?
- What complicates your life – is it worth the complications it brings?
What’s the ‘stuff’ that’s getting in the way. The merchant banker had a life surrounded in complications. Maybe if he had turned the drive for success down a little bit, he could have enjoyed so much more of the journey.
Sometimes being the front man isn’t all its held up to be. Being one step back out of the limelight will give you many of the same experiences, but without the glare of the spotlight in your eyes, stopping you from seeing what is truly valuable all around you.