Didn't achieve my original goals in 2015 yet experienced overall the best year ever… Makes me rethink how I think about & set 2016 goals
— Jennifer Bourn (@jenniferbourn) January 5, 2016
As usual, the weeks which mark the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new see the internet filled again with goal setting conversations, articles, tweets, and blog posts. I’ve really enjoyed this time of reflection during the previous couple years, so I decided to once again put (digital) ink to (high-density pixel display) paper and summarize my thoughts about the last year as well as what lies ahead.
Naturally, I looked back first on my 2014 year in review to see how I did, paying careful attention to what I thought my goals would be in the beginning and how it turned out in the end. Unlike most years, I kept my selected mantra of Doing With Purpose very close to my heart throughout the year when making decisions, and feel pretty confident saying that I achieved a lot in each of the areas I was targeting, though many things did not turn out as expected. I actually felt… successful, and was proud.
As I sat there feeling pleased with my progress, I realized that I wasn’t filled with a burning desire to set goals for the upcoming year. Sure, I wanted to continue to be better, but the anxiety that’s usually an undercurrent for New Years Resolutions just wasn’t there… and that worried me. It’s not like I don’t have room for improvement, so why wasn’t I desperate to set some new goals? And I wasn’t the only one who was thinking that way, as my friend Jennifer Bourn tweeted:
Serendipitously, as I was pondering this bizarre change in attitude, I was reading through the six-month goal directives for the Designers Roundtable solo creative accountability group (of which I am a member). Everyone picks a single guiding word to focus on as the guiding force behind their concrete goals, and everything I saw was very uplfting and inspirational. However, a single member’s word caught my eye– she wanted to focus on living life from a perspective of Abundance, rather than Scarcity.
It seems like a strange choice to make, until you realize what it’s really about: Scarcity is really just another word for Fear. Fear of not getting enough clients, fear of not making enough money, fear of missing out on life events, fear of not having enough friends. All of us are familiar of fear as a tool to drive us to be better, as it’s something we learned from a young age. Fear of not fitting in, fear of doing poorly in school, fear of consequences for screwing up. Fear is the most basic motivator, an instinctual response, and pushing past fear is a powerful adrenalin boost that can help us overcome many obstacles. We call that Hustle, or Determination, or any number of other startup-culture-sanctioned words.
Fear can conquer mountains or trap us in valleys
The problem is that we become addicted to fear. We let fear to fuel our fires much longer than we should, trapping us in a reactive, fight-or-flight cycle. The same fears that once helped us conquer the mountain behind us are, if you hang on to them, actually keeping you trapped in the valley ahead. For example, a fear-based goal of “need to get more clients” is fine when you are just starting out and pounding the pavement, but once you’ve started to get clients coming in, continuing to be fueled by that same fear makes you keep taking every low-paying job sent your way, rather than trying to improve by taking fewer, better paying clients.
But we’re afraid to let go of fear, because we think fear is the only reason we improve. After all, it’s what got us this far. We worry that, without fear, we’ll become too egotistical. Or we’ll stagnate, we won’t keep pushing ourselves, and everyone else will overtake us while we’re resting on our laurels. And what if all of our progress just goes away and we’re left with nothing again? But I think now that we’re examining these thought patterns, we can start to recognize this for what it is: a fear of letting go of fear itself.
Abundance is a state of mind, not a medal at the finish line
I think part of the reason we allow ourselves to continue making decisions from a perspective of Scarcity, even after it starts being detrimental, is because we assume that the alternative – Abundance – only comes at the finish line, when we’ve achieved so-called “total success.” And I’ll admit that when I first started thinking about it, being able to describe where I am as Abundance seemed sort of silly. I haven’t succeeded yet! Am I rich? Did I pay off my debt? Am I super-amazing at design or code? Do I manage my time perfectly? Have I stopped worrying where work will come from? No, no, no, I said to myself.
But then I took a step back and really thought about it. I may not be “rich,” but it’s been a while since I’ve had to panic about paying my bills. I may still have debt, but it’s actively getting better. I may not be the best at design, development, time management, relationships, or a number of other things, but I’m always consciously working at it and learning, and I can tell I’m better now than I used to be. I may always worry where work will come from, but it’s not a deep, gut-wrenching worry, because I know all the time I spent in Scarcity mode resulted in a plethora of opportunities I can continue to cultivate.
If scarcity is the fear that you aren’t yet good enough, abundance is the belief that you have what you need to keep growing.
When you accept that a fear has outgrown its usefulness, you can move past it into a mindset of abundance, which allows you to take new risks, embrace personal and professional growth, and climb that next mountain. And, yes, maybe even encounter new fears, overcome them, and begin the cycle anew. In a place of abundance, you can refine your personal and professional growth, while perhaps re-introducing a kindness to yourself that you may have lost when you were convinced that you weren’t good enough.
My three words for 2016: Live Life Thoughtfully
While Keep Moving Forward was dusting myself off and forging on with my head held high, and Do With Purpose was about being deliberate with my actions, Live Life Thoughtfully is an approach that combines purposefulness with kindness. Though I have specific, smaller incremental goals about Speaking, Events, Local Involvement, Relationships, Business Development, Financial, and Personal Health, they will all be unified by this thoughtful approach.
The choice of the word “thoughtful” was intentional, as I wanted something to encompass my continued desire to be more deliberate in my life, while adding a warm, human element into the mix. Mirriam-Webster defines “thoughtful” as:
a: absorbed in thought: meditative
b: characterized by careful reasoned thinking <a thoughtful essay>
a: having thoughts: heedful<became thoughtful about religion>
b: given to or chosen or made with heedful anticipation of the needs and wants of others<a kind and thoughtful friend>
I believe that I want to live my life according to all of these definitions as I move forward into 2016.
- I want to be reflective about the past and meditative on the present and future
- I want to be reasoned in my thinking and decision making
- I want to be attentive and heedful of the world around me
- I want to be kind and considerate to myself as well as others
So, what do you think? What are your goals this year? Have you tried a “one word” or “three word” guiding approach, rather than making a to-do list?