“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” ~Truman Capote
Last year around this time, I laid out a variety of goals for myself to tackle in the coming year, having some lofty ideas about just what was possible during 2013.
Some of these goals I just barely reached, some I totally destroyed (in a good way), but many of them I completely failed to accomplish – especially in the realm of business and romance.
In all honesty, I missed the mark more often than I didn’t.
And there were certainly times throughout the past year during which I felt the weight of what appeared to be absolute failure, times when I asked myself again and again, “where did I go wrong?”
There were times I looked at the goals I’d outlined in anticipation of the new year and could see nothing but how far away I was from achieving some of them, focusing all of my attention on specific numbers and monetary goals and tangible evidence of supposed success – like a completely full clinical schedule or the financial means to move to a larger apartment or travel frequently or finding myself in a committed relationship (nevermind the happy and healthy part of that equation).
When I look back at what I did and did not accomplish this past year, there are definitely parts of me that feel like I’ve failed. But mostly, I feel like 2013 was a hands-down success.
Even if I’m not exactly where I want to be financially and I’m still occupying a tiny studio apartment and I haven’t traveled at all and there’s not even a glimpse of romance on the horizon right now.
If all of this is true, you might ask, how can I say this year hasn’t been a failure? Because of the way I feel – about myself, about the universe, about the possibilities and potential ahead.
See, I got goal-setting all wrong last year. I was overly focused on being successful and – more specifically – on accomplishing the things that would make me appear successful to others. A lot of my aspirations were fear- and worry-driven, designed to ensure that I made my parents proud or kept up with my sister’s success (two sides of the same coin, ahem), to provide me concrete proof that I had “made it”, undeniable evidence of my worth in this world.
And then life unfolded a lot differently than I’d expected and unanticipated professional opportunities presented themselves and I learned some surprising things about myself.
And then many of the goals I’d identified several months prior just stopped making sense. Especially as primary indicators of my self-worth.
Because if you define your success by external circumstances or accomplishments or as meeting some arbitrary goal you set for yourself when you were a different person than you are today, you will always fall short. Always.
And if you fail to make space for the unexpected and insist upon reaching towards that arbitrary goal even after it no longer seems desirable or interesting or aligned with who you’ve become, you are selling yourself – and your soul – short.
That old cliché about the journey being more important than the destination? It’s repeated so often because it’s actually true.
Because if you get to the place you thought you wanted to be or achieve the goal you thought you wanted to achieve and yet you feel less like yourself and more unhappy and somehow still unsatisfied or uneasy or uninspired, then what was the point of getting there?
And if the journey was unnecessarily painful and soul-crushing and devoid of joy or fulfillment, then why did you insist upon staying the course? To cross that little item or aspiration off your to-do list and feel good about yourself for a fleeting moment? To impress others or appear successful even if you don’t really feel that way?
I was, admittedly, guilty of this a few times this year. Namely, feeling pride in an accomplishment because of what it seemed to say about my supposed success even though the end result actually brought me very little fulfillment at all.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this:
Let what your soul craves be what your soul craves. Even if it’s unconventional or seemingly unlikely or not financially lucrative or leaves others questioning your sanity.
Dream big. Really big. But make sure your dreams have heart. A lot of it.
Because there are going to be days on your journey that test you, that call everything you have into question, that leave you broken and bruised and exhausted.
And that’s when your heart makes all the difference.
Let go of the belief that you’re a success only if you achieve exactly what you set out to achieve in exactly the way you set out to achieve it.
Because life is messy and unpredictable and amazing. Sometimes it unfolds exactly as you intend, but most of the time it doesn’t. And sometimes you fall in love and live happily ever after, but other times you fall in love with the wrong person and get your heart broken and it’s the most life-changing and eye-opening experience ever even though it hurts like hell. (And, yes, I speak from recent experience on this one.)
This year, I’m setting goals that are expansive and dynamic and full of heart. Goals that drive the type A part of my personality crazy in their non-specificity, but that light up the creative and emotional and ecstatic aspects of my being.
Because while I certainly have some things (big things, even) I want to accomplish next year, I refuse to focus on specific outcomes at the expense of enjoying the journey.
The journey is the best part, you guys.
Even on the really tough days, when all you want to do is drink bourbon in the bathtub while watching Netflix Instant and quietly crying to yourself so as not to disturb the neighbors. (What? I can’t be the only one who does this, right?)
In any case, I have – as usual – strayed a bit from my original point. Which is this:
Set goals that support your soul’s desires, that facilitate the expression of those desires on a daily basis. Goals that don’t neglect the profound importance of the getting there part of the process. So that even when you’re sitting in a hot bath weeping into your whiskey while watching Flashdance on your laptop, a little part of you is still secretly saying, “Eff yes. Life is good.”