Goals can be great. They give us a purpose, something toward which we can strive and put effort. But what happens to us once we achieve those goals? Workaholics and perfectionists find that we often are not satisfied, or at least not as satisfied as we believe we should be. Instead, we find ourselves always looking to the next milestone or achievement. Many studies have been done on the topic of goals and accomplishments, and researchers have found that it is not in achieving our goals that we receive the greatest pleasure, but in the process of working toward them. Oriana Fallaci said, “To realize your dream makes you feel lost.” This can be true when a goal becomes the center of our life, particularly in the case of a goal that takes years to achieve. We can become so wrapped up in the process of working toward it that once we actually achieve it, we don’t really know what to do with ourselves. Similarly, we may find that our dream turns out to be a nightmare.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Several years ago, one of my friends called me in a panic. ‘Anne,’ she said, ‘you have to do something immediately! There are some women really hurting out there and nobody knows!’
She had been interviewing women who had been in top executive positions for seven to ten years. She said it was as if they had made the team, and every day they got suited up, got on the bus, and went to the game, but . . . they never got off the bench. At first they were hopeful, but after a few years they had become resigned to the reality that they would never quite belong.
She said that she found more alcoholism, clinical depression, and anorexia-bulimia in this group of women than she had ever seen.”
There is more to our goals than just the effort it takes to accomplish them, the process of striving toward them, or the satisfaction we get in realizing them. We don’t exist in a bubble. Other people have influence on us and our lives. Sometimes we find that we work so hard to get somewhere, only to realize when we arrive that it is not as we had imagined. Our dream may indeed turn out to be a nightmare. In the case of women executives, we may think that achieving power and status in our company is the answer to our problems. Then they will have to take us seriously! we think. They will have no choice but to listen to us then! Yet once in charge, we realize that people respect us no more now than they ever did. Instead, they might view our position of power as having been stolen from the rightful ownership of a man. They might believe that, rather than having earned our place by merit, we were given it only because we are female. The environment we find ourselves in is toxic. We will never fit in. Rather than accept the situation for what it is and let go of our desire for acceptance, to be respected and listened to without question, we fight against it.
There is a subtle difference between goals and dreams. A goal can be a dream, true, but dreams are often rooted in fantasy. We must be able to separate the fantasy from reality. We must recognize when our dreams no longer serve us and be willing to let them go. We can still live out the achievement of our goal; it just may not look exactly how we had envisioned. The problem is not always us. We can only change what is within our direct control, however, and unfortunately others are outside of it. It’s important to recognize when to cut our losses when facing an adversary and focus on something else. We will kill ourselves otherwise.