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The Dark Side of Meeting your Goals

Posted Jan 17 2013 8:49am

Graduation jumping

The boss finally gave you that promotion at work.

Those last 10lbs disappeared and you fit into your beloved skinny jeans.

You bought the dream house on the lake with the wrap around porch (ps – please invite me over!)

You wrote the novel you’ve always been dreaming up.

Congrats my friend you met your goals! Yipee!! You get a gold star! Now wipe that smile off your face and start making the real work happen.

What you wanted to skip around in the sunshiney meadows for a while letting your amazingness sink in? Were you hoping to hear that you don’t need to keep working? Way to rain on the parade Debbie Downer.

Here’s the thing – no one ever talks about the fall out that happens after you meet your goals. And believe me there will be some fallout. Think of it as what happens following the “Happily Ever After” in your life’s Disney movie. It’s the real world stuff that ain’t so fun.

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Let me back up a minute and explain how I know these things.

I’ve always wanted to be a psychologist. I knew when I was in middle school after the first time I went to one. It was during some difficult times for our family and I started seeing this therapist so I could “talk about my feelings.” I remember hating him because he just sat there writing (or perhaps doodling) in his notepad and asking me a barrage of questions.

How did it make you feel when your mother said that?
Do you feel close with your father?
Tell me more about how school is going for you.

Perhaps he had a list of questions laminated to his clipboard so he wouldn’t have to think much. Cheat. It was after that I realized I could do a better job listening to kids than this 50-something dude in his Brooks Brothers shirt behind his mahogany desk charging $150 to just scribble.

So I stored that goal in the back of my 13-year-old head. I would make that happen one day. And so I did.

I went college and majored in psychology. On the side I volunteered at residential treatment centers for kids, worked with children with autism, and helped collect data for research projects.

Following college I went on to get my masters in psychology. I learned the art of the research paper. Published my first manuscript in an academic journal, wrote my first book chapter, and presented at my first conference.

I went on to pursue a PhD in clinical and school psychology (i.e., gluten for punishment). Got into my top choice university working with a key player in the field of youth violence. I continued to publish, earned some fellowships along the way, and learned all the skills I would ever need to become a successful child psychologist.

After the 4 years of graduate school I got into my top choice internship placement. It was grueling work emotionally and physically, but it was my best clinical experience to date. Plus, the end was near. I would receive my PhD in Psychology before I knew it.

And I did. June 2012 I walked across that stage and accepted my degree.

And she lived happily ever after……

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That’s where I would like to the story to end but of course it doesn’t. Life doesn’t stop after you meet your big goals. In fact, it’s not until after your accomplishments does the rubber meet the road. The real work needs to happen now.

Since graduating I’ve struggled to find my ‘calling’ if you will. I’ve always known how to be a student – follow directions, listen to your advisor, and check off all the boxes. But how do I step out of the shadows of those who came before me? How do I command authority in a meeting? How do I publish the research I’m passionate about? How do I find my drive when the dangling carrot disappeared from view?

I’m here to tell you it’s difficult, but not impossible. It’s a learning process I’m fumbling through but somehow putting one foot in front of the other, albeit rather clumsily. I will make new long-term goals. I will readjust my expectations. But mostly I will seek out the help from others who have successfully pushed through this yay-I-finally-met-my-huge-life-goals-but-oh-shit-now-what-do-I-do phase. Those people are lifesavers.

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Now it’s your turn to brag a little about your big accomplishments! I would love, love, LOVE to hear about your experiences and more importantly how you keep the drive alive after the happily ever after.

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