By Rivki Silver
My children have many life events that they look forward to – losing teeth, gaining teeth, becoming bar or bas mitzvah, any birthday at all, going to sleepaway camp, and then, of course, far off in the future (though, from what I hear, not really so far at all), marriage, children, a job, a house.
It’s exciting to look forward to what’s coming next in life milestones, with the innocent belief that all those goals will be reached. I had so many goals in my early twenties: Finish my conversion. Then what? Go to seminary. Then what? Start dating. Then what? Get married. Then what? Start a family.
When I reached all those milestones, I thought, “Now what?”
I had been so focused on where I wanted to go, and what finish line I wanted to cross next, that without a discernible goal, I felt unmoored.
Goals are good. They provide focus and direction, and they can help define who we are, but sometimes we place unrealistic expectations on these benchmarks that they will provide some sort of closure. We place greater emotional weight on them, thinking, “When I’m married, then I’ll feel like a grown-up. When I have a ‘real’ job, then people will respect me. When I achieve success, then I’ll have self-confidence.”
Yet, when we reach the goal, we don’t feel that closure at all. We may feel lost or underwhelmed with the reality of whatever that goal entails. Or the goal itself might be too vague to know when we even reach it.
When I was first starting out in my writing career, I didn’t feel like a “real” writer. I regularly published on my blog, but I kept looking at all the places other writers (who I considered “real”) were published. So I started submitting pieces to various online publications, so I could also be a “real” writer.
This led to a succession of goalposts – The very first time a piece got published, the first time an article got syndicated, and the first time I was published on a “major” website. Yet despite reaching these goals, I still didn’t feel like I could own the title of writer. By the time I had my first piece published in Family First, I felt more confident, but even then, there were different goals – writing a feature, writing a cover story, and so on. I realized there was no end to it.
During my process of developing as a writer, the main thing was not achieving these ephemeral goals. The main thing about it was that I was writing through that entire time. I didn’t become a writer through reaching certain milestones; I became a writer through consistently writing.
In the arena of life, the stakes are understandably higher.
There is no certificate for becoming an adult (though they sell adulting awards at Target, I’ve bought them before as gifts), and there is no diploma for being a responsible person.
When we reach milestones like marriage or children, it’s not the end. It’s just the beginning of the long and often confusing journey in the new roles of spouse or parent.
My friends and I, decidedly ensconced in middle age, often remark how we don’t necessarily feel much different than when we were in our late teens or early twenties. But when we stop to reflect on how we make our choices, how we respond to stressful situations, and how we assume the mantle of responsibility when the need arises, the change is evident. There was no noticeable goalpost to cross, but rather the act of making the next right choice when faced with the opportunity to do so.
The goals of personal development come to fruition when we continually strive to improve, to make the next right choice, and to recognize that those life benchmarks, especially the ones that are beyond our control, are not the actual goal but rather the journey to get there is what truly matters.
Rivki Silver is co-host of the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast, a Meaningful Minute Podcast. She is a regular contributor to Family First Magazine and also plays music for all the local day schools in Cleveland, where she lives with her family.