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7 Times Giving Up on a Work Goal Is the Healthiest Decision

Not all goals are worth keeping — it’s important to know when to let go.

Pra Chid/Shutterstock
Pra Chid/Shutterstock

The idea that we should work towards a specific career goal is drilled into our heads starting at a young age, when people start asking us what we want to be when we grow up. Our aims usually evolve — otherwise there would be far more astronauts and ballerinas — but the idea of working towards a goal (or five) is a constant in most of our lives.

But here’s the thing about these goals: They’re not all realistic, worthwhile, or healthy. They may not even be your own, but rather something you thought you had to work toward. All of this is to say that while some goals are wonderful and productive, others simply aren’t worth it, and once we let them go, we realize that we’re actually much happier without them. This could mean being less stressed because you’re no longer trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, happier because you have more free time to pursue things that really matter to you, or more successful being on a path you truly believe in.

We asked the Thrive Community to share the career goals — big or small — they have given up that have ultimately benefited them. Here are some of our favorites:

Being in total control of everything

“One thing I had to give up to get when I wanted to be as a business owner was total control. I’ve finally started to outsource some of my work and it’s given me the mental space to focus on building my business to the next level. Onwards and upwards!”

—Wendy Y., copywriter, Manchester, U.K.

Wearing one hat

“Having a variety of interests, early in my career, well-meaning friends and colleagues would tell me that I should narrow in: Choose one thing and get really good at it. I’ve tried wearing one hat, but always find myself taking on other projects — paid, or pro bono — to keep my creativity fresh. I have given up the idea of being one thing.”

—Stephanie Thoma, networking strategist, San Francisco, CA

Aligning your identity with past work accomplishments

“Quitting work to stay home with my kids was easy. Giving up talking about my career was not. I was terrified that I wouldn’t stay relevant and that I would be dismissed as a stay-at-home mom. It took me years to (mostly) stop bringing up my past accomplishments in conversation, but it was worth it. I enjoyed meaningful exchanges, discovered a softer side of myself and became more comfortable showing up anywhere as who I am, without tying my value into what I do.”

—Karen Gurwitz, author, New York, NY

Taking a job solely for the salary

“A career goal I had given up is taking jobs solely based on salary. I’ve had numerous jobs over the years, where the salaries have varied. I have learned that if you are not fully enjoying what you do, serving others with passion and inspiration, than the money is not worth it.  When we take a job solely for the money, we are slaves to the wage. Oddly, when I had given this up a job came along that offered freedom, creativity, and surprisingly wealth.”

—Tricia Wolanin, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Mildenhall, U.K.

Sticking to a set path

“I moved to Asheville, NC to begin a career in the mental health industry, thinking I wanted to become a therapist. After two years, although I learned so much about myself both personally and professionally, I knew this was not the path for me. Now, I am shifting my focus to larger-scale social work and hopefully one day public policy. My dream is to work at the forefront of social and environmental justice. It is intimidating to move in a new direction but everything feels in better alignment and my anxiety is way down!”

—Allison Hackman, social service professional and ESL teacher, Philadelphia, PA

Lofty sales goals

“I’ve let go of trying to constantly exceed sales goals and instead have focused on just taking care of the client in front of me. I think when we come from a place of service instead of sales, it’s a win-win. When we do what’s right for the client with compassion and empathy for their needs (not ours), it benefits the client and ultimately helps our bottom line as well. Acting from our hearts will always result in a better outcome.”

—Camille Sacco, bank manager and certified meditation instructor, Winter Park, FL

Hiding in the security of the known

“In my late 20s, I was in an interview. I don’t remember the interviewer’s name or company that she worked for, but I do remember one simple statement that she made. She said, ‘If you want to do this the rest of your life…’ I have no recollection of what she said after that. I instantly knew that I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life. I walked out of the interview and it was like a 500 lbs. weight had been lifted. I enrolled in graduate school five days later — changing the trajectory of my career. Acknowledging my gut and cognitively responding has been one of the biggest assets in my career. Sometimes, you just have to walk away from the security of the known to the possibilities of the unknown.”

—Kristin Sajadi, social awareness entrepreneur, Lexington, KY

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