Is life what you expected?

A woman told me this week that life had not turned out how she had expected. She was reluctant to attend a school reunion because she feared that her old classmates would be shocked at how she had turned out. She felt like a failure despite loving a lot about her life including her children and partner.

When I asked why she felt like a failure, she listed the goals she had set as an 18 year old and said that she felt embarrassed that she hadn’t achieved any of them. She did not have the career success that she had envisioned. She had not planned on having a blended family and was surprised to find herself in her current social circle. My surprise was triggered by her surprise. How many of us live a life that goes to plan?

Goal setting is a valuable tool. It can help us to stay motivated and achieve. But too much goal setting can be detrimental. Eating disorders can be triggered by ever decreasing goal weights. Feelings of inadequacy and failure can be aroused by focusing too much on achievement. Life continually throws us challenges. Obsessing about reaching the goals we set at 18 or 20 will reduce our ability to cope with these challenges.

A far healthier approach is a mindful approach. Focusing more on the here and now and less on long term goals frees us up to appreciate what we have and be proud of what we have survived. Staying in the present also allows us to grab opportunities when they arise, instead of procrastinating over whether the invitation or job offer fits snugly into the grand plan.

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