What do you want?

Mastering Goals and Values in the New Year

The start of a new year always brings with it an evaluation of where you are now against where you want to be.

As humans with the ability to make a big mess of good intentions, we like the idea of drawing a line in the sand and starting over.

That’s what the month of January represents to most of us.

In my own life, and in my work with others, I’ve noticed one of the most obvious missing components in getting where you want to go is, well, knowing where you want to go.

It sounds overly simplistic, but many of us have, at best, a fuzzy idea of exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here.

We set goals every year and, have mercy, do we love setting goals.

  • We make vision boards and post-it-note collages.
  • We create detailed spreadsheets with metrics and columns that do the calculations automatically (sheer wizardry, in my book).
  • We create the perfect environment that uses the perfect tool to do the thing.
  • We shout out to all things social media that this is the year we are gonna get that thing done.

By January 15, which is right about now, we have already figured out that the goals we spent weeks crafting during the ho-ho-ho season have to now be lived out.

And it’s hard.

  • It’s hard to get up early to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing, and then have to get up early to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to fight against the cobwebs trying to suffocate and trap the momentum of the thing.
  • It’s hard to pay attention to just one thing for more than eight seconds.
  • It’s hard to say no to people and things when you just wanna hang out and be the fun-in-the-sun person (if you live in Florida, this is totally do-able in January).

Some people get super motivated when things get hard.

But for most of us who don’t chase back-to-back Superbowls or Wimbledon wins, it’s easy to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing any progress.

Now you start to wonder if this was even a goal worth pursuing. Why am I even doing this?

Maybe this isn’t the right year, you tell yourself. As if.

Sometimes it’s a discipline thing, and you should, you know, just do it.

But part of the problem is that we haven’t done the hard work of determining what all these goals are supposed to add up to — our values.

We don’t get a lot of instruction on values as kids.

Often we’re asked what we want to do when we grow up. This usually means some kind of career choice that requires specific goals and actions to get there (astronaut, doctor, secretary — literally just those three choices in my own 4th grade class).

Hardly anyone asks us what kind of person we want to be, or what we want our life to represent or stand for. That won’t get you invited to parties.

Early on, we become conditioned to look at goals as a measure of how well our lives are going.

But understanding what you want your life to mean makes all the difference in actually achieving your goals.

The biggest difference between values and goals is this: you will never accomplish your values.

Values are not limited by time or effort, they are always ongoing.

If you can accomplish something, complete it and move on, then it’s not a value. It’s a goal.

If one of your values is to use your business success to improve the lives of others, then you will never accomplish this value.

You may set a goal this year of donating $1 million to your favorite charity, and you may accomplish that.

But you still have plenty of room to continue investing in others. As long as you’re breathing and making money, this effort can continue.

So, financially investing to support the needs of others is one of your values.

Pledging a certain amount this year is one of your goals to help you express this value in your life. You will either accomplish it, or you won’t.

Why is this distinction important?

Confusing goals and values makes it hard to make good decisions, and doubly hard to persevere through challenges.

How do you even know if this is something you should be pursuing?

When you understand what your values are, the opportunities that come your way will either take you towards your values or away from your values.

Honestly, that’s really the benchmark, it’s that simple. For real.

When you have honed in on your values, then it is so much easier to look at an opportunity and decide if it takes you where you want to go.

Yes, I know there are off-the-wall, amazing, unexpected opportunities that happen in life. But if you try really hard, I’ll bet you will find underneath that spontaneous opportunity, it either takes you where you want to go, or it doesn’t.

One of my values is to be a healthy, fit and active grandmother to my two young grandsons so they don’t mimic my grunting noises when I bend over to pick something up.

There are a variety of goals I can choose from to accomplish that value, everything from walking to weight training to martial arts.

I can engage in any of those activities and set goals, but my goals will reflect the fact that I am doing this for my health.

I’m not trying to be world champion (anymore). I’m not trying to be the best at any particular exercise.

I just need it to take me towards the health and energy I need to mix it up in that toddler life.

This takes a lot of pressure off of me because I know why I have the goal and what I need it to do for me. As I get older, my goals may have to change a bit to make sure I’m continuing to move toward that value.

Understanding this concept makes decision-making so much easier, especially when you have multiple variables in play, or you’re choosing between two good things.

It also makes for a more SuperBowl-style steely resolve when things get challenging because you know why you’re doing this in the first place.

Think about it

  • What values are most important to you right now?
  • How do your current goals take you toward these values?
  • Think of a time when your goals didn’t align with your values. What impact did this have on you?
  • What one step can you take today that will move you toward your values? Start there to create meaningful goals for this year!
White daisy in the rain

Growing in the Skin You’re In

Recently, I read about actress and model Pam Anderson’s bold choice to go makeup-free at a high-profile fashion event, embracing life in her 50s with a more unfiltered presence. In fact, she didn’t even bring a stylist with her.

The horror.

Kudos to her, because I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, so I’m assuming that’s a very judg-ey crowd.

I think she looks happy and youthful.

Like Pam, many of us reach a stage in life where the urge to conform or create a certain image becomes less pressing…and also pretty exhausting.

So we start questioning: Are we doing this for ourselves or for others?

It’s a valid question. And for a lot of us, it brings on a hopscotch journey of just trying to settle in and feel comfortable with where you are.

We call it “feeling comfortable in our own skin.”

And we do all kinds of things to try to achieve this feeling. We celebrate the things that seem to work, and rationalize away the things that don’t. (I’m not mocking, that is human nature.)

But let’s flip the narrative around a little bit.

What if you learned to embrace the discomfort of being in your own skin?

Walk with me here…

Reaching your 50s often brings a cocktail of discomforts.

  • Let’s be honest, once you enter midlife you find there are some things you didn’t know your body was doing for you until it stops doing those things.
  • Some relationships you thought were solid and healthy you realize through your own discomfort may not be what they seem.
  • Goals and dreams you had when you were younger suddenly don’t seem as achievable or appropriate now, and what are you supposed to do with that?

That’s all pretty uncomfortable.

We like to avoid the uncomfortable.

We want it to just go away so we don’t have to deal with it.

So we try to shoo away uncomfortable feelings with all kinds of potions, lotions, experiences and rationalizations.

But just because we avoid something doesn’t mean it goes away. If a telemarketer has your cell phone number, then you probably already know that.

The irony of avoidance in midlife is that you’re more capable of handling things than what you realize because you have seen and been through some real stuff. You’ve already proven you can handle discomfort.

You just have to give yourself permission to use it to pull the right levers.

Learning to Embrace Discomfort

Keep walking with me here.

So, what does embracing discomfort look like?

I’m not talking about wallowing in your pain, throwing your hands up all like, “What’s the point? I guess I’ll just feel bad forever.”

Put down the diary, Bridget Jones.

Embracing discomfort is about accepting where you are, shifting your perspective and looking for what you still have yet to learn.

This is where you get the confidence to pull the aforementioned levers.

For example, let’s talk about wrinkles. I see changes in my face that I am sometimes uncomfortable with, partly because I know it’s not really going to get better.

Fact: If the timeline is moving, I am aging. We all are. (I’m a real hoot at parties.)

Now, I can do things to take care of my skin that will take the edge off a bit (hence my 9-step AM & PM skin care routines), but the reality is, if I live long enough, I absolutely will have wrinkles.

I could sit with that discomfort and worry about what I will one day look like, especially compared to women years younger than me.

Or, I can use that discomfort to remind myself of a few things. Each wrinkle means:

  • I am being blessed with long life on this earth with my family. Not everyone gets this opportunity.
  • I have had more time to keep working towards my own goals, or helping other people with their goals, people I wouldn’t be able to help if I’m not here.
  • I found humor in more than a few things.
  • I have the capacity to empathize.
  • I still manage to be surprised by life (this is how I explain the forehead lines, what else could it be?).

The wrinkles then become less about my image in the world, or to “look good for my age” and more about marking the time that I have already had to invest in others.

Knowing that, can I take actions to continue to invest in others and see where that goes?

How does this relate to feeling comfortable in your own skin?

Let’s keep walking, walking.

Identify Who You Want to Be

The key to navigating this phase is getting clarity about who you want to be. This is harder than you might think.

Ironically, you may be able to aggressively list all the things you don’t want to be. We’ve allowed our media and social environments to condition us to always focus on the things that we’re not.

  • I want to not be so anxious.
  • I want to stop being unhappy.
  • I want to stop feeling so tired.

But if I ask you, who do you want to be?

It might take you a hot minute to come up with even just a couple of things.

  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family? Your friends? Your community?
  • What are your values, those overarching themes in your life that you are always working towards?

Get Moving and Keep Moving

Once you start learning what kind of person you want to be, begin taking actions in that direction.

Every decision that comes your way will either take you towards that person, or away from that person.

Decide accordingly.

Take real actions every day that will actually move the proverbial needle.

I’m not talking about busy work, planning and spreadsheets and whatnot (shout out to my fellow procrastinating perfectionists).

This is pull-the-lever, step-out-on-the-Indiana-Jones-invisible-bridge kind of action.

This one thing keeps most of us from what we want.

We are afraid to use the very discomfort we are trying to avoid to actually get us moving, even in small ways.

Action begets more action.

Once you get something moving, that energy doesn’t just stop. It has to go somewhere else. Use it to take the next step.

And guess what?

When you start taking real action, you don’t have a whole lot of time to worry about how you look, how awkward you feel, that stupid thing you said, and other defeating narratives.

You are doing stuff that matters to you, and you don’t want it to stop.

Case in point, this whole post was an action towards my larger value of helping others learn the skills to get what they want from life.

It won’t go viral or start a movement. But my discomfort with feeling like I’m not where I want to be with my writing goals spurred me to act, because actual writing will take me closer to my writing goals.

The wrinkle in time

This is all less about becoming more comfortable in your own skin, and more about being comfortable with the person you’re becoming.

True beauty and joy comes from a willingness to engage what may not be working for you so you can grow and change. It doesn’t come from arriving at some predetermined destination everyone else is headed towards.

Seeing your lifelong values actually start to unfold is pretty great because it means you’re actually doing what is most important to you.

Makeup is optional.

Blue sneakers with a yellow arrow facing right.

Bust Out of the Expected Life Script and Embrace Your Dreams

Do you feel like you’re supposed to follow a specific timeline? We bolted out of high school with all kinds of latch-key-kid bravado, and even though we wanted to pursue our own specific gifts and talents in our very own special way, there was still kind of this prescribed road we all tried to follow.

College, grad school, start a career, get married, have kids, work for a few decades, retire.

It’s as if we expected our lives to follow a neat, orderly path, one milestone conveniently leading to the next.

As if.

But let’s really look at that for a minute.

Life is unpredictable, and after 2020 I think that’s a major understatement. Life is clearly a series of twists, turns, and surprise plot points when we least expect them. It’s hardly ever a neat and tidy journey from Point A to Point B.

So why do we keep expecting it to be that way?

I came out of college with an undergraduate degree in English Literature and no idea how I was going to use it (no teaching for me, please). I went from advertising to administrative work and back again. A few years later a new thing called the Internet took me down the yellow brick road to web design, of all things, which brought me into corporate marketing and communications.

The high-stress environments I always seemed to find myself in parlayed into yet another career as a mental health therapist. I was the office therapist before I became a therapist with an office. Poetic, right?

I went from William Shakespeare to Carl Jung in a span of about 25 years (with a little Frasier thrown in just for laughs). I couldn’t have predicted any of it, and it’s been really cool. And on top of my professional journey to Oz, I am a grandmother, which is the best role I could ever have, hands down.

But I still sometimes carry around the nagging feeling that I should be in a certain place “by now.” I can’t even really tell you what that place is, it’s just an echo of some kind of societal map that no one bothered to unfold for me. Even though no one drew any particular timeline for me, I still feel like I should be hitting some kind of arbitrary markers in this “time of my life.”

It’s like a weird Gen X FOMO.

Why do we to place ourselves (and let others place us) in these timeline boxes? Who made these rules anyway? Here’s a better question: Why don’t we break these rules more often?

The Myth of the “Right” Timeline

We’ve all been sold a myth – that there’s a “right” timeline for achieving our dreams and goals. It can feel like there’s an invisible stopwatch clicking away, setting deadlines for when we should have accomplished our biggest life goals.

Even if others don’t put that kind of pressure on you, my guess is that you’ve become pretty adept at putting that pressure on yourself. You probably did that in your 30s, too, and created all kinds of angst for yourself. Good timesl

Speaking to my high performers, overthinkers and all points in between here: Your timeline is YOURS. It doesn’t belong to society, to your family, or to anyone else.

It’s your journey, your pace, your dreams.

Embracing your unique journey means ditching these arbitrary timelines and pursuing whatever’s rolling around in your heart, regardless of your age or life stage.

Want to start a business in your 40s, 50s, or 60s? Do it! Who knows what you might create for yourself, your family, and the world around you? You may end up having so much fun that worrying about retirement might not be so top of mind anymore.

Thinking about switching careers, or even going back to school? It’s always a good time to invest even more in your own skills and talents. As awesome as you are right now, maybe you haven’t even lived up to your professional potential yet. Can you imagine?

So what if it looks to everyone else like you’re starting over. Nothing is ever wasted and every experience matters.

The younger folk don’t own the energy and focus to accomplish big goals. They’re determined by your passion, drive, and willingness to work towards them. And being in this “time of your life” means you know where a lot of the potholes are so that makes you an even smarter bet to win.

Have the time of your life

Don’t be afraid to listen to that inner voice that’s whispering about what still feels unfinished in your life. Don’t drown it out because it doesn’t align with some timeline given to us by popular society.

Ditching society’s timeline means you’re brave enough to follow your dreams at your own pace.

So, what are you waiting for?