I Measure Myself By My Failures
Sometimes, when you’re bent on achieving something big in your life, you draft goals. It seems simple enough. Create a goal. Work toward the goal. Achieve goal. Celebrate. Repeat. These goals become the pinnacle of achievement. If you run a marathon, if you get down to your goal weight, if you get your degree, if you finish that novel – then you will have achieved something great and you will have earned your right to live a worthy life.
Except you’re already living a worthy life.
Whether or not you achieve those goals, you matter and, in the words of shame researcher Brené Brown, “you are enough.”
What if, instead of living your life according to the goals that you create, you decided to live your life day by day? What if instead of your worthiness being wrapped up in your goals and how much you achieve, you can recognize that you are okay just the way you are – right now?
That’s a scary thought. I know because I am one of those Type-A, goal-oriented maniacs. I have spent hours of my life brainstorming goals, creating step-by-step plans and checklists that I hope will get me to the finish line. I have used system upon system upon system to make sure I achieve. I have read all the Tim Ferriss books, I have used the S.M.A.R.T. acronym when setting goals. I have used Trello to create layers of goal-oriented action items.
Some goals I have achieved. I have run marathons, I have published stories, I graduated from college with a 4.0 GPA, I’ve traveled to Europe. Other goals I have not achieved. I have yet to get to my target weight, I haven’t finished my novel, I am no closer to memorizing the piano scales than I was a year ago.
Guess which ones I remember most? Guess which ones I dwell on? Guess which ones keep me up at night with a little voice that says “failure” over and over again?
What if doing is enough?
I found that instead of measuring myself by what I have done and the things that I already have, I’ve been measuring myself by the string of diets I haven’t maintained, the days I’ve chosen to go on Facebook instead of sitting down at the piano, the times I’ve done other projects because I was afraid my novel was sucking big time.
The entirety of my worthiness is wrapped up in whether or not I achieve my goals, cross that finish line. If only I could get to my goal weight, if only I could finish my novel – then I’d be happy and I could go on with my life.
And you know what? All of those goals that I did achieve brought me no closer to that happiness and worthiness I craved.
It seems like obvious advice, but it struck a chord with me. All of that running and that writing that I have done brought me little joy. The only thing that kept me moving were the goals I set for myself. And when I achieved those goals, I stopped.
The other goals that I wasn’t achieving – I wasn’t enjoying those either. I wasn’t showing up to the game. I was so focused on every goal that I wasn’t achieving that I became paralyzed with fear and unworthiness. I decided I wasn’t strong enough to lose weight or talented enough to write a novel. And since I was neither of those things, I might as well not try. It’s not like it would make a difference.
After reading Clear’s article, I started thinking about habits as opposed to goals. How can I learn on a daily basis to enjoy life, to enjoy the process of life, the long climb up the mountain?
What I did.
I sat down and wrote in my journal focusing on my current goals. The first one was finishing my novel by mid-March. How could I cultivate a habit and a love of writing instead of on finishing a novel by two weeks ago? I could say I’m finished when I have 75,000-100,000 words – an overwhelming amount, especially when I feel like my words are not worth putting on paper.
I decided to scrap that goal. Instead, I went to my local library website and booked a study room. I blocked off an hour – just one hour – to sit down and write. It didn’t matter whether or not I was any closer to my goal. The object here was to have some me time – just me and my writing. This was my moment and no one else’s.
It’s amazing how that freedom can release the floodgates. I’d like to say I sat down and wrote 5,000 words that day. But I didn’t. It was 350 and for part of the time, I just sat there and looked at the screen wondering where to go next. But it didn’t matter. Because that was 350 words that I most likely would not have written due to my paralysis of unworthiness. That was 350 words worth of joy. Every day since then I have written something. Some days have been more productive than others, but that’s okay. I have now written far more of my novel than I ever did when I worried about when I was going to finish it and who was going to read it.
Next, I looked at my weight loss goal. I decided to ask my husband to put the scale up high (I’m very short) so I wouldn’t be tempted by numbers. I stopped logging my food into MyFitnessPal as I was becoming obsessed over calories. I decided instead of restricting myself on certain foods and certain diets. I would focus instead on my body’s own signals.
I checked out a few books about mindful eating* and I learned the basics. I sat down with each plate of food – no distractions and no judgment as to whether or not the food was “good” or “bad” for me. I only thought about whether or not I really liked it and how it made me feel. Each day, my only goal was to sit down with the food and pay attention to it, to actually enjoy the process of eating.
The adventure continues.
So far, I’m still in the beginning of my journey. To be honest, it’s a little terrifying. I feel like if I give myself even the smallest amount of freedom, I will take it and run with it. If I give up my weight loss goal, I will do nothing but sit and eat donuts. If I give up my goals on completing my novel, I’ll sit and watch Buffy on Netflix for the fourteenth time.
So far, none of this has happened. I have written quite a bit and I have thoroughly enjoyed my food without bingeing. And life feels a little lighter. I no longer have to judge myself by whether or not I have reached my goals. I am enough as I am. I am not defined by my success or failures. I have a right to enjoy my own life regardless of what I choose to do with it.
What goals do you have? How can you focus on habits instead?
*Mindful eating books: The Headspace Diet by Andy Puddicome and Intuitive Eating by Eveyln Tribole and Elyse Resch