With the holiday season upon us and the New Year just around the corner, especially driven people are in introspection mode as we analyze the year that was and make intentions for the year to come. Goal setting is extremely important and valuable, and I am going encourage you to do the necessary soul-work for writing meaningful goals.
I am also going to give you permission to push pause, possibly even abandoning some of your professional goals to pursue personal and familial flourishing.
Young and married
This topic hits very close to home because the 29-year-old version of me (8 years ago) would have viewed my current lot(t) in life as a disappointment. Yet here I sit content in most areas of life, making goals with a much different focus and looser grip on their outcome than in the past.
In 2010, I was in my second year of marriage. We had come through a challenging first year in which we adopted the Dave Ramsey method of personal finance. We paid off close to $40,000 in a little over a year and achieved our first major married goal of becoming debt-free.
To achieve this goal, we said yes to almost every money-making opportunity imaginable on top of our full-time jobs. We house-sat, baby-sat, dog-sat, and cat-sat. We sold stuff, we used coupons, we found enjoyment in doing free activities, and we avoided the inside of any restaurant that wasn’t offering a BOGO special. Everything went toward the debt and we knocked it out fast!
There goes that plan!
The singular focus was effective for paying off the debt but was trying on our newly married relationship. So once we were debt-free we loosened up a little and gave ourselves a small spending budget.
We established our next major goal of saving up enough money for and agreeing on the best location to launch a Crossfit gym. We purchased plane tickets to Colorado. I secured a job with a company that had transfer opportunities in Colorado. We were on our way.
Right before our trip, my wife got sick. A trip to the ER revealed that she was not only fighting off an infection but was also pregnant! We had hoped that kids would be in our future but not until after we had established the careers that we desired, had the schedule that we wanted, and lived in the city that we most enjoyed.
The pregnancy caused us to push pause on the business venture. We chose to stay put in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I was forced to grow quickly with my employer as we made a new plan.
As our situation changed, so too did our goal setting priorities. I want to encourage readers whose life factors have or will change to not lose heart. In fact, give yourself permission to do goal setting differently than you have ever done before.
The first lesson that we learned from the experience was that our identity and goals were too strongly tied to one factor. In a recent Fireside Chat, Tim Ferris stated that it is “important to diversify your identity so that you’re not reliant on one single thing for your fulfillment and happiness.”
Preparing for parenthood caused us to push pause on our entrepreneurial endeavor which felt like settling at the time. As it turns out, we were on our way to achieving a major life goal of becoming parents, but it was hard to see amidst the disappointment.
Highly motivated people tend to be ambitious and self-critical. Their “sole focus on self-improvement can be misguided and can lead to depression and anxiety,” Ferris explains. To combat this phenomenon, he recommends improving in two areas of your life at a time that are most important to you.
What not to change amidst change
We could have forced a business startup to happen, but it would have been a compromise of some of our parental and marital values. Instead of focusing on starting a business, we put our energies into securing a parenting structure and work schedule that would be hands-on, adventurous, and give us shared responsibility.
By diversifying our identity, we found that we held our goals more with less attachment to the actual outcomes. Goals are made for man and not man for goals. A looser grip on the outcomes freed us up to create realistic goals for our season in life.
It also allowed us to create goals that considered factors outside of making money and building our career. Our goals became less all-consuming, more risk averse. This new mindset may not sound appealing to highly ambitious readers, but it was a blessing to new parents trying to survive on very little sleep who didn’t need the added stressor of a start-up business. It had to be a season of slowing down for us to prepare to become the kind of parents we claimed to value.
To readers who are entering a season of significant change, I would encourage you to focus on a couple of areas that you want to do well for the next 3-6 months and to hold other areas loosely, even saying no to things that you once prioritized.
The next lesson that we learned from our experience was that goals need to align with core values. Our trap was that we prioritized money and career and forgot about other extremely important goals.
From career coach Dan Miller we got the idea of establishing a personal mission statement to help keep us focused when life threw us curve-balls. A quality mission statement includes three things:
- Your skills and abilities (what you like to do)
- Your personality traits (how you operate)
- Your values, dreams and passions (why you want to excel)
For many goal setters, accomplishing one goal leads to another and before we know it we have become productivity junkies. However, major life factors like marriage, becoming parents, making a career change/losing your job, making a move, caring for a loved one with ailing health, or experiencing your own health trials can change the amount of margin that you have in your life to set and achieve goals.
By creating your own mission statement, you can make clearer goals, prioritizing the things that align with your mission statement. During our season of change we created personal mission statements which helped drive our decision-making process. Our first kiddo showed us just how different life was going to be for the foreseeable future and we decided that we needed to establish a family mission statement to better drive our decisions.
Our family now has a mission statement that includes ideas like serving others, fostering community, having adventures, and finding laughter. As our kids grow, we will allow them increased input in changing our mission statement.
For now, we have a family mission statement that allows us to make joint decisions quickly. We are better prepared to say yes or no to options in life. And we know how to focus our attention on a few of the most important factors in our life.