It’s January, and for many of us that means time to set goals and resolutions. There are lots of opinions about New Year’s resolutions and for the past 20 years I’ve been on Team Resolution.
I love goals. I love writing them down and feeling the joy I get when I accomplish them and check them off of a list. It doesn’t matter much to me if anyone else knows about it because if I know and I commit to myself, I will do that thing (let’s just say that I’m an Upholder through and through!). And as a coach and consultant I love helping other people hack their goals and figure out how to meet them.
I’ll never forget my first performance review cycle at The Company. One of the senior leaders I worked with wrote in my review, “Sarah is a fire-and-forget missile.” I did a little dance to myself when I read this because I love being a goal crusher.
And herein lies the problem. It might not sound like a problem, but as I reflected in December I realized that this goal accomplishing — nay, obsession! — is having a negative impact on my well-being and my anxiety.
That’s not just because it can be freaking exhausting to keep pushing yourself non-stop, but because if you’re defining yourself just through doing and never through being, what happens to your self-worth when you’re not able to do what you want to do?
Being who I am, I set goals that are more ambitious than I can possibly accomplish. That’s good — aiming for something big and audacious means even if you fail, it’s likely you’ll do something that matters.
But me — and my anxiety-riddled brain — doesn’t work that way. Failure is to be avoided at all costs because if I fail, that must make me a failure. And to let others see me fail? That is even harder. Don’t get me wrong — it’s okay if I fail at foosball or ice skating or building a bookshelf because those things aren’t my strengths, don’t define me. But fail at something that’s in my wheelhouse? I can feel my face grow red with shame as I write this.
Almost two weeks ago I found out that I passed my oral exam for my coaching certification through CTI. Yay, right?! But I received the results after six days of complete agony.
What if I failed my coaching exam — what kind of coach would that make me? Who at The Company would possibly want me as a coach, this wash-out who couldn’t get past the final hurdle? How much harder would I have to study to pass? Was I really meant to be a coach at all? And then I’m faced with the cognitive dissonance from this — if I can’t hit a goal in an area like coaching where I self-identify as pretty damn awesome then what hope did I have for new domains? [Note: It took me about two years — and a lot of positive feedback from coaching clients — before I was able to admit my own awesomeness.]
As in all things CTI coaching we ended the exam with a closing circle where each person on the call had the chance to say what they needed to say to close the experience. As part of that experience, the examiners reminded us that we should celebrate tonight even though we wouldn’t know if we had passed or failed. I sat and nodded politely as my brain said HUH? on repeat. Celebrate regardless of outcome? What was this.
“Spend time with your best self, not your saboteurs,” they continued. Well, they’ve never met my brain and its well-honed, creative ability to find ways that anything and everything can go wrong. I thought about it on flights. I thought about it in bed. I thought about in driving to and from work. I thought about it in the shower. And so on.
And on and on.
So what I don’t need right now is a list of goals. Based on the last 20 years of lists, if I created a list I predict that I would meet most of those goals, but I’d keep falling into the same patterns and traps — poorly balancing being and doing, avoiding failure, and not being in a state of constant striving. By making a list I’d be missing out on something much greater, something where real work needs to happen.
It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly — which drives me bonkers! — but so far I see it like this: I’d like to let go of the “whats” (goals) for now and get in touch with my “whys” (purpose). I’ve done a lot of work on values and life purpose through coach certification, but in some ways I’ve kept it somewhat segmented from other parts of my life. What does it really enable, achieving certificates or promotions or things? And what actually happens when I slow down the doing and slip into being — when I have to sit in (and deal with) the silence?
That’s the growth that needs to happen at this point in my anxiety journey, and I’m excited to see where it takes me. It’s overwhelming and scary but I know I can approach it one small step at a time.
P.S. Coach certification? Complete! I’m working on a post about coach certification — what worked and didn’t, and what I learned from all of it. Furthermore, it’s going to be a great topic for me to get curious where it relates to the whys and the whats, not to mention failures!