When You're Winning But It Feels Like Losing
“Goals are for losers.” – Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert
We stood under the glare of the spotlight, linking hands, our faces a mixture of relief and ecstasy. We took another bow, and the auditorium erupted with whistles, foot stomping and applause. Then the curtain came down.
Backstage, the cast and crew were hugging and high-fiving each other on a job well done. Two months of rehearsals, one live performance, a packed stadium, and not one person forgot his or her lines. Our ragtag theater department pulled off a miracle. While I was as happy as the next person up on that stage, after the curtain came down, a part of me hung back, confused as to why my euphoria turned to emptiness.
This phenomenon continued to follow me after high school and chase me into my adult life. Each time I accomplished what I set out to do, the feeling of accomplishment was short-lived, and then I experienced the inevitable let down. It did not matter what degree of dedication and effort I put in or the type of achievements – earning two college degrees, hiking the Grand Canyon, or owning a home - I hit my goals every time but I still felt like losing.
It’s clear to me now that much of this angst was attributed to perfectionism, a topic I write extensively on. The other I attribute to lack of systems. I started to think systems over goals. I seemed to have stumbled onto something because according to a famous cartoonist:
“Goals are for losers.”
That’s coming from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. Adams explains in the Wall Street Journal:
“If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. [You then] feel empty and useless…”
Rather than focusing on lofty goals, Adams credits “systems” for his success. I was taken aback initially by this viewpoint. I thought the problem was that I didn’t have big enough goals. It turns out that what I lacked was a master plan or a “master system” as Tony Robbins, is known to purport in his work.
Your system is, well, a magnificent ecosystem consisting of your life vision, your core values, the key milestones and the series of actions (goals) that ultimately help you live out your purpose and meaning. Certainly, many more components exist in this ecosystem. What I’m offering here is a broad brushstroke of things that often takes a person years to define. The point is that most of us only focuses on the series of actions (goals) without a clear idea of the other components needed to build a successful life.
The March posts for the Art of Living Out Loud Blog are to help you spring into action. To ensure that your goals are met and you derive greater satisfaction from accomplishing them, here are some things to watch out for:
You Must be Clear about Your Values
Does your values list look something like this?
2. Career Success
This is an admirable list of values. But it bears a closer examination.
Let’s examine the first item, family. What does having family mean to you? Love? Security? Acceptance? If security resonates strongly with you, then that is closer to your real value.
If we were to apply the same scrutiny to the next two items on our list, career and travel, we might derive the following values. For career, it may be accomplishments, financial security, and approval; for travel, it may be freedom, adventure, and novelty.
Why is this distinction important?
Sticking to the above example, if what you value most is security, know that security does not necessarily come from family. Another individual with the same value may seek security through friends, faith, their career and so on. This distinction helps you separate the source from the value itself.
In addition, this value is clearly in conflict with your other value, freedom. For example, after winning a plum promotion, a person who also values freedom will feel trapped. Because now the demands of her new position is posing greater restrictions on her time, energy and flexibility. So it helps for you to understand…
Not All Values Have the Same Importance
Your values have a hierarchy. Be aware of this the next time you come up against a situation where one value competes with another. You will make decisions that better aligned with your most important values. This brings us to the next point…
Your Goals Must Align with Your Values
I think this is why the people who achieved great feats early in life often feel their best days are behind them. Not knowing or not having values, they don’t realize that this singular achievement is but one dimension of who they are. That emptiness comes from not setting goals that are in concert with their overall master plan.
This brings us to the final point. Despite alignment between your values and goals, you could still fail if…
You Have Far Too Many Rules.
Let’s take the example of family. What if, for you, family is a way to find love and acceptance? But in order for you to love someone, you set up very strict rules such as: he or she must share all your viewpoints, sees you as perfect, accepts all your perceived flaws, looks great in Speedos, loves your dog, and recites poetry on demand. If love is permitted only under such stringent conditions, your dream of having a family is now in the same class as winning the lottery – not impossible but the odds are not in your favor.
Re-examine your rules. If they are too strict or if they are in conflict with your values, change the rules. Being flexible will help you open your arms to change but you will never be in danger of letting go of your values.
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