My ambitious nature is part of my identity. Most of my friends and co-workers know me as someone who always has some sort of goal in mind, especially when it comes to my career. It’s gotten to the point that I’ve ended relationships with people whom I didn’t think were ambitious enough to jive with my lifestyle. I’ve always been told (and believed) that setting goals and constantly working toward those goals will lead me to great things. And yet, lately, I’ve been having to tell my goals to shut up, because they’re making me miserable.
My goals are what have driven me to learn new languages, take on crazy new projects, and complete some of the best work I have in my life. But they’ve also led to me feeling self-loathing for buying T-shirts from Old Navy, and then to lose hours of productively planning my clean and cost-effective meal plan for the upcoming week.
This is not meant to chastise anyone for having goals (or #goals) — quite the opposite. A life without goals, one that justifies a lack of ambition by spinning it as “living in the moment,” can lead to a good amount of self-destruction when not reigned in, especially when it comes to finances. This is instead meant to share the way my life has improved since I’ve learned to pull my eyes off of the prize.
By only keeping our long-term goals in mind, we can fall into a number of traps that lead to us feeling terrible about ourselves. It can also prompt a lack of flexibility and unwillingness to compromise. As millennial women striving toward a variety of intangible things — a sense of freedom from our money regardless of how much we have, or an apartment we can be proud of no matter what our possessions are worth — many of us are still in the process of learning how to reconcile the woman we want to be with the woman we are.
We can acknowledge that, ideally, it would be best to throw out all of our fast fashion and invest in a minimalistic wardrobe of well-priced, high-quality, long-lasting items. We can acknowledge that Sundays should be for meal prep, that a decently-priced new car is better in the long run than a used clunker, and that with a few simple IKEA hacks, we can have the apartment of our dreams that will make us feel as successful and sophisticated as we want to be.
But that hyper-focus on our goals can lead us to one of the biggest financial dangers of all: not appreciating what we already have.
For example, my obsession with minimalism, not only as a lifestyle but as an aesthetic, has caused me to hate my living room. I have long desired an apartment set-up involving clean lines, crisp whites, smooth and deep blacks and steely grays with positively no clutter, and a simple gallery wall and blindingly white hydrangeas on my coffee table to be refreshed every few days. Instead, I have a living room overwhelmed by a massive brown couch (a misguided gift from my mother that I still have to feel grateful for), a secondhand rug with colors ranging from turquoise to terra cotta, and — la piece de resistance — two Orange Crush-colored peanut shell chairs made by hand in the late 1960s by my Great Uncle, who gave them to me for free a decade ago when I moved into my first apartment. I also own a (still fully functioning) sixty-year-old chest radio my mother and I had found on the side of the road, and a large trunk from a church garage sale instead of a coffee table, both of which could be considered quirky and vintage, if they were the only things in the room that were that old.
There are days when my living room drives me crazy. No matter how clean it is, it always looks busy and cluttered. When the lights dim just slightly, it looks like it’s from another era, and not in a fashionable way. I can say with confidence that this is not the living room of the woman I want to be.
And that’s when I have to tell the woman I want to be to be quiet.
It is neither stupid nor shallow to look at what you have, shrug and say, It’s not where I’d like it to be, but that’s okay. It is also reasonable to not set a timeline — in fact, that timeline might be destroying you.
What I have does not fit into an aesthetic, but it’s a hell of a lot more than what some others have. I have a mother who was kind enough to help me haul a giant radio down a suburban street, and who bought me a new couch because she couldn’t stand the idea of me only ever having a love seat. I have two chairs that have been in my family close to half a century. And I have a roof over all of it.
Years ago, I remember visiting my cousin when she had just moved with her husband and two kids to a modestly sized home. I was most surprised by what was in the home. I’d always considered my cousin so stylish and with such amazing taste, but the majority of what she owned was secondhand, and nothing matched. This was a woman I’d always admired and seen as goal-oriented, who went after what she wanted. But she also rolled with the punches and knew how to wait for the right moment to go after those things.
Lest I sound like a spoiled brat over not having enough neutrals in my living room, I’ve also faced this conflict in less shallow areas of my life — including my profession.
Since starting my career as a journalist years ago, I’ve improved upon my own skills vastly and have been recognized for that by my superiors numerous times. That praise should be enough for me, but the woman I want to be is loud and insistent, and she is quick to point out that I’m fast approaching 30 and still not in a leadership position.
Once, when a position in another division of the company I was working for came up that seemed ideal (but perhaps just slightly too senior) for me, I applied eagerly, hoping that this eagerness and ambition would shine through, and that I would be lifted out of the trenches. Despite telling myself that I was taking a chance, I spent the following weeks pathetically holding onto hope that this new position would lift me to new heights. I pictured the impact I would have in the position, and I fantasized about the work I would do (and, of course, what I would do with my paycheck). At this point, the goals were no longer motivating me: they were causing me to see the position I was in at the time, which I actually loved, as oppressive and limiting. When I didn’t get the promotion, I had to remind myself that I did, indeed, like my job, something I’d managed to forget, because I was too focused on my goal for growth.
After that, I stopped thinking in terms of where I wanted to be by [X] age. It was making me impatient. My goals had ceased to be dreams and had become expectations, and by not managing those expectations, I couldn’t see that the path to my future was meant to be meandering.
Breaking away from your goals isn’t failure, nor will it send you into a financial/emotional tailspin. One week of going out for dinner more than you set out in your budget or buying one excessive pair of leggings is not a sign that you’ve taken your eyes off the proverbial prize. Not setting a specific timeline for your future plans does not make you a dippy, naive perpetual adolescent with a penchant for short-sightedness. Your twenties may not be an excuse to wander around blindly while you claim to be getting your shit together, but they’re also not meant to be a decade-long exercise in self-deprivation.
If you can manage those qualities of flexibility and reasonable expectations with the right amount of self-discipline and knowing exactly when to push yourself, you can live a life that is balanced and fulfilling, without beating yourself up for every perceived failure.
Bree Rody-Mantha is a business journalist and dance teacher living in Toronto. In her spare time, she enjoys sport climbing, lifting, and running the vegan food blog Urban Garlic.
Image via Unsplash