Introspective to a fault, I can usually tell when I’m in the grips of a bad habit, but this time I was so caught up. I didn’t recognize it till a friend confronted me with “Didn’t you write a blog post about not doing that?” I rationalized and made excuses. But I knew they were right. What wrongdoing was I up to, you ask? I was fervently looking up grad school programs. Just awful, I know.
Since graduating college, I’ve seen three more classes take the walk across the stage into the ocean of post-grad possibilities. The class of 2017 – particularly from my alma mater – are especially awe-inspiring. By all conventional measures of success, this class is rocking it. I’m talking fellowships and fancy corporate jobs. Folks I graduated with in 2014, are in 2017 graduates of Harvard Law School and the like.
And of course, each of their posts on social media about “what amazing thing I’m doing next” receives over 500 likes and an avalanche of “congrats” commentary. Like I said, they’re killing it.
I was happy for them. I really was. They sooo deserve it. But it was something about seeing them externally validated that led me to the next behavior. It was something about those ‘young folks catching up’ to my level of post-grad achievement that was off-putting. Something disconcerting about people my exact age sitting a few rungs higher than me on the conventional ladder of success… So what do I do?
I obsessively start researching Ivy League graduate degree programs, as if getting into a prestigious grad school would cure the uneasiness within me. In that moment, what I was subconsciously telling myself was that an external honor would make me feel better about myself through the validation from other people. It would set me on a life course that was an actual path and not a question mark as it is currently. It would be the natural course of action for the daughter of immigrant parents who both have post-graduate degrees. And if we’re being honest, most important of all, it would give my mom something else to brag about.
That was all fine and well; after all, we all are partially (even if minutely) driven by our egos, sometimes. Except for one important thing: my heart was not in it. At least not right now. All that researching was void of what I really wanted and what felt right to me and my goals. It was totally infused with other people’s expectations, their definitions of success, and my lowered self-esteem.
The external stimulus of seeing others being praised evoked a sense of “I need to keep up. I’m not doing enough.” “Need. Validation. Now.” In that moment of 30 open grad school related tabs and a decent amount of hair pulling, I was gearing myself up for a race that was not mine to run (yet). I was getting sidetracked into running in someone else’s lane.
Have you done that before? Tried to find the answers to your own life in the opinions and lives of others? Confused about your own direction and goals, you adopt someone else’s? Sought validation (solely for your ego’s sake) in traditional measures of success?
In that instance of being called out, the goal at hand was graduate school. But it literally could have been anything else. Other people’s relationships, a natural girl’s hair length, someone’s new car, the number of subscribers to my blog, you name it. There are a million and one aspirations to have. The question is: which ones feel authentic to you?
Perhaps I will pursue graduate school in the near or distant future, but I want it to be on my own terms, not in a panicked rush to keep up. I want it to be for my own “this path feels right for where I am or want to be” reasons.
I’m thankful for that friend who inspired a heart check. It’s so crucial for us think through our motivations before deciding to pursue a goal.
Here are some heart check questions to ask yourself:
Do I need to overly convince myself that this is the path for me?
Does this goal evoke primarily excitement? Dread? Or indifference?
Does this goal align with the big picture vision I have for myself? The people I care about most? The world? (Keeping in mind that often times there are displeasing prerequisites to our dreams that we must accomplish).
Am I conforming to someone else’s expectations? Their version of success?
Is this (external) achievement a fill-in for something that needs to be (internally) worked out?
Can I/will I show up as my best self in pursuit of this goal? Or will I need to act completely outside my natural way of being/outside my value system?
Can I/will I grow as an individual (in meaningful ways to me) in pursuit of this goal?
After pondering these questions, join me in blocking out the noise and taking a step back to honor yourself. The world desperately needs the magic you were (you)niquely born with, so whatever you decide to do, don’t dim your light! Be intentional about the work you do that allows you to shine at your brightest. Be mindful to not pursue goals just for the sake of pursuing them.