The bravado of youth, our perceived invincibility at the prime of our lives, and the media’s framing of what amounts to success, shape not only the nature of our life goals but also their scale and grandeur. As many of our plans take a dip and our attempts to reinvigorate them stumble, the mental toll on our lives and the trajectory of our careers is significant.
A great deal of our stories is a clash between personal ambition and societal realities. However, it is human nature to have goals, aspirations and dreams in life. They could be simple goals or ambitious ones. Some are realised, others never materialise. The impact that a failure and under-achievement have on the person when the reality doesn’t meet personal expectations varies. Some people go into personal crises for falling short, some revisit the goals. Others move on.
The issues we consider while setting our plans are often affected by the resources we have or the society’s expectation of us. However, universally, most our plans have some general themes: the need to be heard, to be recognised, to be appreciated not only by our close family and friends, but our societies and the world at large. Many of us see a mediocre life performance and living in obscurity as failure. Others are content with an average life.
The binary notion of success and failure is itself subject to a great scrutiny. Setting a goal does not mean they are inherently right nor positive for the community. History is full of ambitious figures who left behind an imaginable trail of destruction for their people. What some societies see as a proud achievement is derided in others. The subjective nature of the definition of success attests to its elusiveness.
We also don’t factor in personal adversities that can strike us at any moment. Some personal tragedies put our plans on hold, others end them altogether. And it is not just because someone is overly idealistic about life and its complexities, but stories of success reported in media far outnumber the personal tragedies that cut short or destroy what would have been a remarkable life.
There are tremendous variations in our head-starts in life. If you were born in country devastated by conflict and extreme poverty and all your life has known is hardship and deficit in material possessions, that will probably force you to dramatically lower your expectations in life. But if you were born in a rich country where the question isn’t about what you have or haven’t, but how much you have, you may take failure and under-achievement very personally.
Losing momentum to move forward and not having a growth mindset are what we should worry about and not our current achievements. Staying motivated is vital for keeping and boosting that momentum. When you pursue your goals with a laser focus, you will overlook smaller setbacks, and your personal toils will serve as a motivation for others who also struggle to keep their feet on the ground.
We are driven because we either run towards something because we want to get it or run away from it because we don’t want to end up in that particular situation. This makes the issue of transition very relevant in our lives. Life is a series of transitions. Some people call it a break. And because life is so dynamic, most breaks don’t last long. It either takes a positive or negative turn.
While it is true that a great deal of our aspirations is fuelled by passion, they are, however, fleeting in nature. There were certain things in life that I was passionate about which I no longer pursue. Passions change from time to time and from place to place. However, principles in life shouldn’t change depending on the circumstances at hand. Nelson Mandela is a perfect example of not compromising his principles in the face of lengthy imprisonment.
As humans we always reflect on our lives, the progress of our careers, our impact on society and many more. However, our reflections should not turn into a source of sadness. It should be our first step for a potential transformation and an opportunity to evolve into our best self. It should give us new purpose and an opportunity to examine our relationship with our family members and the society at large.
Our aspirations change as we age. From raising a family to engaging a positive cause for community, we become preoccupied with responsibilities. Some of these responsibilities hit us earlier than we thought. In any case, we shouldn’t grow individualistic. We should also be realistic in the limits of our personal capacity to contribute.
I think instead of dwelling on what we fell short of, we can take inspiration from the lives we touched even in smaller ways like showing kindness to a stranger, helping and uplifting those pushed to the margins of society, showing a remarkable courage in the face of an overwhelming power, exposing our social ills with the intent of rectifying them and many other ways. At least next time, instead of brooding over the insignificance of our current achievement, let’s remember society’s bar for a personal achievement is elusive and at best a creation.