Let Go of those Empty Goals: Live Authentically
An Open Letter from a Life-Design Coach
I used to believe that a person without goals just didn't know how to live: they were those who just let life happen to them, instead of making things happen for themselves. They had no control over their destiny. I was definitely not one of those people – I had huge, respectable dreams. I wanted to live my life in the most 'ideal way' - so I got down to setting some reasonable goals.
I created goals for each area of my life: work, family, health, love, hobbies, finances. I made sure that my goals sounded 'smart' and were achievable. I did this by breaking them down into the following timescale: daily, monthly, quarterly, annually goals, as well as three, five and ten-year goals.
I knew that writing them down was not going to get me anywhere – only hard work would. So I put in the required effort to achieve one goal after another. Truth be told, I had, at the back of my mind, a vision of becoming a 'cut-throat' businesswoman in a globally acclaimed multinational company.
With my goals and my winning attitude, I honestly thought that I was on the highway to success.
I Was Wrong
Coming to understand how wrong I was about myself came out of the blue one late afternoon in early 2014, as I was walking home slowly from work: There was no denying it, I was profoundly miserable.
On the outside, I had everything: a lovely boyfriend, a great job abroad, supportive colleagues, opportunities to travel globally – I recognised that what I had was what many would consider being a fortunate, productive life. The only catch was that it just didn’t feel like it was my life.
After years of intense goal-setting and frantic achievement, I suddenly felt as though I was getting nowhere; that nothing I had done thus far was of any use. If I peered into my heart of hearts at that time, I would have had to admit that I already knew that the life I was building wasn’t for me. However, like so many others, I just couldn’t face this truth – my ego wouldn't let me.
My Goals Were Not Mine
Sure, I wrote them down, and the words I wrote, originated from thoughts in my mind. But they were the reflection of other people's expectations, and not my heart's real desires – I was living out a life that I thought was expected of me.
E.g. Because my parents wanted me to work in a stable job that paid a fat pay-check every month, I aimed for a high salary. It didn't matter whether I genuinely loved the post or not: it just was a job. All I needed was to have ample sums of money in my bank account; because my peers around me expressed a keenness to climb the corporate ladder, I had set a long-term goal to join a multinational company, just so that I could compete on the same plane and not 'lose out' etc.
I learned the hard way that when you hustle to achieve the goals that aren’t yours, you unknowingly create a life that you don’t feel any belonging to.
Seeds of Inauthenticity
Growing up as an introverted, sensitive girl in a traditional Vietnamese family, I was culturally conditioned to be gentle and quiet in my ways, to obey the rules, to settle down with a stable job and to eventually find a wealthy husband so he could 'take care' of me.
I must stress that there is nothing 'wrong' with these cultural norms – there are many who live out fulfilling lives, within the boundaries of what mainstream society expects of them. However, if you're forced to live and behave a certain way that is not congruent with who you are, you'll tend to develop deep insecurities about yourself. Even though I strived to be an overachiever, I always doubted my overall ability. I was afraid that everyone would one day realise that I wasn’t as good as I was portraying myself to be.
The Path Toward Re-Claiming My True Self
If you find yourself feeling miserable about the life you're leading now, you need to start releasing the 'self' that was primarily influenced by the environment that you grew up in. Only then can you begin the process of reclaiming your true self, by being honest with yourself.
It sounds a lot simpler than it is – being honest with yourself, as you will find out, is surprisingly hard.
For many years, I subconsciously lied to myself – I told myself that I was happy with how my life was progressing, satisfied with what I was achieving etc. I didn’t want to admit to myself that what I was trying to build wasn’t what I wanted – it would mean that it was all for nothing - a colossal waste of my life! I also couldn't bear to thinking about what it would be like to start from scratch.
To remedy these feelings, I buried my head in the sand. However, keeping your head in the sand tends to lead to suffocation. I couldn't stay under for long.
The Truth, as Painful as it may be, will Set you Free
Show yourself some compassion. Sit down in the company of yourself and ask, "how are you feeling right now?” Let the answer organically bubble up. Don't let your intellect override what your heart is telling you. If you discover that you’re unhappy, depressed, lost, empty, afraid, insecure, angry, restless, or mildly suicidal – it is going to be okay. It's the truth, so it's uncomfortable.
Just sit with your new-found truth, and continue channelling compassion and acceptance towards yourself. Avoid blaming others, finding logical explanations, or making up stories about why you feel what you feel.
Being Free & Dealing with the Truth
Do a short 10-minute meditation every morning to calm your mind - you may need some stillness to be able to comprehend the newly revealed desires that have been suppressed for a long time. At the end of your meditation, gently ask yourself again, "how are you feeling now?" Let the truth emerge. All emotions are welcome. Merely observe whatever comes up with compassion and acceptance. Whatever the outcome, you don't need to need to make any dramatic changes to your life immediately. There is no need to quickly quit your job, disown your family, or file a divorce within the hour.
Self-honesty Begets Intuition
What I see often is when a person gets very honest with themselves about how they honestly feel about their life, they start relying more on their unique intuition. They learn more about how to peacefully navigate their way to a more authentic way of living.
For me, I intuitively knew that I needed to go on a sabbatical after I admitted to myself that I was living out a miserable existence. I took a #pause. Three weeks into the sabbatical, I was bored out of my mind (which, I later learned, was an excellent thing), and as I stared out of the window: a crystal clear desire to write, emerged. It sounds pretty unbelievable and simplistic, but I'm sharing it as it was.
This desire to write felt more authentic than any lofty goal I had ever set for myself in the past. I followed that desire.
Four years on: that desire has led to the manifestation of a blog and a published book. These achievements have then helped me develop a career of around life-coaching and changing people’s lives. I still have goals, but they are no longer exhausting. They are no longer inauthentic.
If the life you're living right now is making you extremely unhappy – there is a reason. And if you feel lost, don't worry – because your actual goal, path and vision for an ideal life, lies within.
Surrender to this longing; live a life of #authenticity.
Milena Nguyen is one of our PAUSE Guides. She is also a three-time TEDx Speaker, multiple-business founder and life-design coach. She has spoken in six countries about self-love, lifestyle design, conscious relationships, healthy living, happiness, and finding one’s purpose in life. Have a question for Milena about her series on transformational change? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.