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On Setting Goals for Life - or - How I Became Disillusioned with Traditional Education at Age Seven.

The first time someone asked me to set a goal for myself I was in primary school.  My classmates and I were asked to first define a baseline standard of our current achievements in all of our subjects, which we were expected to then exceed over the next term.  Perhaps this was an attempt to introduce self-regulation and discipline into our fresh young minds; to make us aware of our potential and teach us how we could achieve that with hard work.  There was just one small problem.

I was a really smart kid.

Smart, and quite possibly smart-arsed as well.  (Humble?  Not so much.)

I was already meeting and exceeding all the targets any teachers could set me academically, taking home extra work, inhaling books like I feared I would suffocate without them...

Thus, overachiever I was (am), I tried to set goals that I felt would actually challenge me.  Everything I was currently doing for fun, I doubled or tripled, in an attempt to make it difficult.  Was I reading a different book every week?  I wanted to read a new book every night, and I wanted to learn five new words a week.  Was I already top of the class in Maths?  I wanted to get 100% in every test.  I wasn’t content with just being the best compared to other people, I wanted to be the best according to ME.

Problem.  These goals, being so far beyond the scope of other targets set in my peer group, were deemed “impossible” by my teachers; I was dreaming too big.  Try again, they told me.

Questioning the Status-Quo
What do you mean, they weren’t achievable goals?  I knew what I was capable of, what the heck were they talking about?

Irritated, I challenged them: “Give me an example of an achievable goal according to you that I am not already exceeding.”  
Silence.  And that was the beginning of it.  I was done.  Aged seven, disillusioned with the system.  It took me a long time, and a lot of yoga to figure out what I’d learnt from that.

1) Stop caring.
Stop caring about other people.  Stop caring about fitting into a box and following a pre-determined path and doing things “the right way”.  Everyone has their own journey, and you cannot compare yourself to another person because you do not come from the same place as any other person.

2) Dream big.
There are no goals that are impossible, and if someone tries to tell you that you’re dreaming too big then you need to find someone else to talk to.

3) Trust yourself.
This one is a lifelong lesson.  Trusting your own opinion, and following through on that is the hard part.  It’s easy to do what other people tell you to do, but it is so much more difficult to do what YOU tell yourself to do.  You see, the only things your goals ever show you are what you’re currently not… so you need to choose them wisely, and be careful of what you want.  The only thing you can ever affect is who you are and what choices you make.  And whatever you direct your energies to shapes the trajectory of your life.
  • Do you want to be happy?  (Happiness is a state of being.  Change something now.)
  • Do you want to be successful?  (Define success.  Why do you want to be successful?  What would make you successful?  Do that.)
  • Do you want respect?  (Why don’t you feel respected now?  Fix that.)

Hacking and Tracking your Goals
I discovered the Day Zero Project years ago and thought it would be a fun challenge to attempt.  The basic premise is to write yourself 101 goals that you want to achieve within the next 1001 days.  Goals can be anything you wish - completing a course, for example, or traveling to another country, or buying a laptop (or house!) – but they must be specific, realistic, stretching and measurable/clearly defined.  This helps you visualize a future and break that down into clear steps that will lead you to that ultimate goal.  Define.  Plan.  Do.  It’s so simple.

People ask me a lot what my goals are.  Where do I see myself X-amount of years?  What do I see myself doing?  I don’t usually like this question because I don’t know.  The future is open and changeable and fluid and I don’t know what I will be doing.  I don’t know what I will WANT to be doing.

But I know who and what I want to be, and that answer never changes.  In one year, or three, or five or forty, I always want to be exactly who I am now… constantly struggling, constantly finding those challenges, constantly becoming excited, and afraid, and doubting myself.  Because without a little bit of pain there cannot be growth.  And I never want to stop growing.


Cat Ailsa
Cat Ailsa

Author

Cat Ailsa does a lot of yoga and claims that studying philosophy ruined her life. She likes efficiency, foundational thinkers, transhumanist libertarianism... and coconuts.