Your Perceived Ideal: Setting Goals

A friend of mine recently said to me:

“My personality changes constantly; I have no idea who I’m going to be three years from now” 

Having had a similar realization recently, I knew exactly what he meant. Three years ago, I was sitting at my college graduation envisioning a lavish lifestyle in the ‘real world.’ I had a great job lined up as an investment banking analyst, I signed an apartment lease with two of my best friends (and one of their friends) and I was moving to the city where my female interest (Christina) resided. What more could I have asked for? With a college degree and a bright future ahead, it all seemed downhill from there – I anticipated I would get promoted, move into an extravagant apartment and eventually settle down.

During my college’s commencement address, Conan O’Brian said,

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique”  

At the time, I remember thinking to myself “Why don’t I just become my perceived ideal?” and I’ve only begun to understand the answer to that. The first reason is simple – Life doesn’t go the way you plan it. After working 364 days as an analyst I watched my peers happily get called into our manager’s office to receive their year-end compensation. After he called my name, I eagerly rushed into his office with a preconceived notion on how to allocate this lump sum, however, rather than a bonus, I was offered severance. Beyond the huge blow to my ego, this threw a troublesome wrench in my idealized plans. After the initial shock and anguish, I picked myself up and began aggressively applying to jobs, fortunately receiving two offers, ultimately landing a role at a middle-market investment bank. Having now worked here for almost two years, I can understand the second reason we don’t become our perceived ideals – Our ideals change over time. As time goes by, we become more comfortable in our own skin; our old relationships begin to fade, while new ones blossom; our principles become more coherent; and our desires begin to mature. My job experience has been invaluable in countless ways, yet, I’ve come to realize that investment banking is not my ideal. So while I couldn’t be happier with Christina, contrary to my original vision, I live in a dungeonesque pigsty and am rather discontent with my job; my experiences have taught me that I can hardly foresee my own future, and even if I could make a prediction, life likely has something else in store for me.

One thing I can say with confidence is that throughout all of the changes that transpire in my life, my family has stood by my side. My sister has been a particularly supportive mentor throughout the years, most recently encouraging me to write down my long-term goals. In addition to my 2- and 5-year goals, I have begun writing down my weekly and daily goals, and to be clear these are more minuscule goals such as ‘workout 3x’, ‘apply to 20 jobs’, ‘read 5 chapters’ etc. (not to be confused with my to-do list at work). There is plenty of literature that talks about the benefits of writing down goals including this Forbes article, however, for me, setting goals has given me a greater sense of purpose outside of my job, and more importantly, accomplishing them offers a unique sense of achievement. So while you may not know where your life will take you, set goals for yourself and envision your own future because it is through both the successes and failures you face in which you will define yourself.

P.S. My goal today was to start a blog.

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