What if I don't reach my goal?
I am sure everyone reading this can relate to having a goal. It’s likely that you have had many goals over the course of your lifetime, both easily attained and far-fetched. I want you to think for a moment about the times that you achieved those goals. Do you remember how it felt to finally get where you wanted to be? I am guessing it felt pretty great. That sense of accomplishment is something we work for, and often helps propel us through life. What about a time you set your sights on a goal that was maybe a bit of a gamble? What if you didn’t reach it? Based on my own experience, I am guessing it didn’t feel quite as fabulous. Depending on the goal and how long you had worked to achieve it, you might have taken a few days, weeks, months, or even years, grappling with the idea that your goal was not met, no matter how hard you worked. So, what do you do when trying again to achieve that goal you worked is no longer an option? How do you deal with knowing this one particular goal will never be a reality?
Everyone has their own way of dealing with this situation, and as long as the way you deal with it is healthy, doesn’t harm anyone, and gets you moving forward, it’s a valid tool. Here, in no particular order, are some ways I have learned to deal with overcoming this kind of disappointment.
Accept reality- The first thing to do when trying to move on from a goal not achieved is to accept the reality of what happened. We all experience rejection. It never feels good, but we manage to move on and continue with life. We can’t do this until we accept that this goal is not in the cards for us anymore, and that does not make us any less of a person.
Take a trip- There is something very cleansing about going to a new place. Just getting out of your normal environment does wonders for your state of mind. Bonus points if your trip is with a lifelong friend and you’re able to travel out of the country. (I hear Israel can be a transformative place.)
Take a mental health day- Yes, I am in school to become a psychologist, so mental health is at the forefront of my mind. That said, personal experience has taught me that sometimes I just have to take a day to myself. I recommend ice cream, chick flicks (or whatever kind of films you’re into), and maybe some midday napping. If you think this sounds like traditional advice for after a breakup, you‘re right. If you think about it, you are essentially breaking up with your former goal and there is a similar kind of mourning process for the loss. And just like a break-up, the length of time invested in a goal likely makes a difference on how long it will take to come to terms with the disappointment. Charlotte York once said it takes half the time you dated someone to get over them after a breakup. Perhaps there’s a similar formula for an unattained goal?
Let your support system know- There is no quick fix for these disappointments, but having people around you that connect with you can be incredibly helpful. Everyone has been disappointed or missed the mark at least once in their life, and they know how it feels. If they haven’t, their time is likely just around the corner. Sometimes just having someone around to talk to or be with you can make the world of difference.
Focus on your successes- Usually, when you’ve been working hard for something and you don't make it, it’s human nature to simply focus on the overall outcome. Yet there are likely many smaller wins that occurred throughout the process that have been forgotten. Did you overcome a fear? Do better than the last time you tried? Learn something new? All of these can be considered “smaller” wins, and should be celebrated.
Learn from the experience- Along the same lines, it’s important to remember that life is all about learning. If you can learn from what happened and apply it towards future success or happiness, the experience was valuable. Some of my biggest learning moments have come from what, at the time, I viewed as my biggest failures. These moments made me stronger and helped make me who I am. So, was the “failure” really that bad, or perhaps just another opportunity to figure out my path and my strengths and weaknesses?
Have a good cry- It may seem to most that I am not a crier, and that’s mostly correct. But those of you who know me REALLY well know that sometimes, when the going gets tough and I have tried to be strong for so long, sometimes tears happen. And that’s ok! Although we tend to think that appearing strong is all that matters, and showing weakness, especially in the form of a good cry, might make us “less than,” that is false. I am not suggesting wallowing and continuing to cry for days on end. I am saying let yourself understand the setback, the emotions behind it, and just let it out. It’s ok to let go, it helps us move forward.
Find what makes you happy- My guess is that the goal you were working towards was never the only thing in your life that gave you joy. So, reconnect with some of those things that might have fallen by the wayside during your concentration on attaining your goal. Some of those things may have still been part of your life, but renewed focus on what makes you happy can also renew your awareness of that joy.
Resume regular activities- I am all for taking a day or two to process a loss. Acceptance is an essential step in moving forward, and the sooner that happens, the better. Acknowledge what happened, sit with it, and then move on and continue your life. Spending extra time in a state of sadness does not serve you.
Find a new goal- The last step is something I feel very strongly about. I am a very goal-oriented person, and so am always working towards a new goal. This is how I move through life, and it’s how I have always been. Whether it was learning new skills in skating, securing a spot on a dance team, being admitted to a specific college, finishing yet another degree, competing at Miss Alaska, going to grad school or anything in-between, I have ALWAYS set goals to work towards. A desire to move forward to better myself is part of what drives me.
So, here’s to the next goal, the next passion, the next learning opportunity, and the next success.
One day you’ll call me Dr.