May 18, 2009

Great Expectations (and what to do when you fail to meet them)

When it comes to setting the bar, I've always set my personal bar a little higher than anyone else ever has for me. I expect more of myself, I push myself further, and generally speaking, I punish myself much more when I fail. Like anyone, I've failed quite a bit in my life. Sometimes I've turned this into something positive. For instance, making a C on a paper in college meant redoubling studying efforts and pulling out an A for the semester. At work, I'm reinventing my professional persona so I come off as more people-friendly, after being critiqued as being "too shy" for a promotion.

Often, though, personal disappointment turns into apathy, and apathy turns into stagnation. Even though I know I could have easily achieved some of my goals if I worked a little harder—and some I know were completely beyond my control—I begin to build up this complex in my head when I fail. I think, "I won't ever accomplish this, I can't accomplish this, and so why should I ever even try to accomplish this?"

It's a horrible, horrible approach to take toward anything, one that is self-defeating, negative and ultimately crushes all ambition, motivation, desire, and self-confidence. It's one of those things about myself that I despise, and it becomes added to the list of ways I've disappointed myself. And as with many of my other failings, every time I begin to tackle it, I get discouraged at failure and give up all over again.

It's a frustrating cycle, one I'm not proud of and am certainly not condoning. What I'm interested in now is trying to find a way to break out of this downward spiral into burn-out-ville.

I think one of my biggest problems is that I lack direction. I have many goals, but they are all over the place and for the most part, only vague ideals. Whether we are talking about professional goals or personal goals, a lot of times I just feel lost. While I have a lot of good ideas set out, I feel like I have overwhelmed myself with too many expectations and haven't given myself a realistic way of achieving any of them. I consider this my own personal quarter-life crisis: there are so many things I want to do, only so much time/resources with which to achieve any of them, and in my haste to be everything at once, I've sort of failed to do any of them at all. I've been trying to eat the whole chicken, when I should have been focusing on finishing just the thighs or just the legs first.

So, one of the first things I want to do is to pare down my goals to two or three reasonable things that I can achieve easily. This includes looking at my long-term goals, deciding which are most important, and figuring out incremental ways to get started on those long-term goals. Really, the two things I want to do most in the next few years are starting my own business and writing a book. These are goals I've had for a long time now, and are goals which I think will add the most happiness to my life. More importantly, they are goals I can break down into smaller parts and start whittling away at them a little at a time.

For now:

Starting my own business: Develop graphic design skills. Take photoshop/illustrator classes/tutorials. I will never become a top-notch designer if my design skills aren't stronger.

Writing a book: I have an outline. Start fleshing it out!

I hope that by breaking down my long-term goals a little and giving myself reasonable expectations (rather than expecting to conquer the world in a matter of months!) I will have fewer moments of overwhelming disappointment...and hopefully will get a lot more accomplished.


  1. Oh, I feel you. I feel like I'm doing okay on reaching my goals - overall, I'm happy with where I'm at - but I'm also finding myself increasingly frustrated at how long the big ones (I'm paging you, book writing) look set to take. I'd like to think it would be easier if we didn't have jobs to go to and could spend all our time on the big things, but for now, that's not reality.

    What kind of book are you working on?

  2. It's a romance novel! ;) But not the historical, strapping lads in kilts with bulging muscles kind of romance novel. It's about a flight attendant and a nerd. I'm excited about it, even if I can't seem to sit down and write it all out!

  3. My first read of your blog, I'm hooked. You put that so well. Its something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and I've even been working up to my own post about it - the current draft is even called "Direction".

    I want to read your book - get writing!

  4. Thank you, and I'll have to look out for your post! :)