Winning is great. But are you prepared for what comes next?
In 2014, Tejasvi Patil and her street-dance troupe, Famous Crew, made it to the semi-finals of a dance reality show. The next few months should have been the best of their lives. Instead, “I felt this overwhelming pressure,” she says, “to use the fame, make it big.”
Patil found herself in an endless and dispiriting loop of auditions for shows and events. She was 19, and the weight of ever-larger goals was leaching all the joy out of her win. She remembers feeling exhausted and stuck.
“I realised I wasn’t doing these shows for myself, but to live up to other people’s expectations,” says Patil, now 26. “That’s when I decided to set my own goals and focus on self-fulfilment rather than people-pleasing.” Since then, Patil has done TV commercials and brand photo shoots, made dance videos and conducted dance workshops. She feels more content in her art and more confident about herself, she says.
Setting her own goals also allowed her to explore a range of talents, including acting, designing and modelling. She has made peace with the fact not everyone will approve of her choices, and she’s worked on becoming comfortable with that.
Patil’s post-win battle is all too familiar in today’s hyper-capitalist world, its sense of competition enhanced by the parallel lives lived out on social media. In addition to the fear of missing out, there’s the fear of not being seen, of falling behind in the game of #lifegoals, #couplegoals and #vacationgoals.
So how do you set achievable goals in a world that’s always pushing you to dream big and aim for more? You start by doing as Patil did and looking inward, says Ashu Khanna, founder and CEO of management consultancy Arka Leadership.
“When we set goals based on people’s expectations, we’re seeking external validation and acknowledgement,” says Khanna. When we fail to achieve those goals, we feel like we’re “not good enough” and this affects one’s relationship with the self, and also with goal-setting. “This is why a lot of people are scared of setting goals altogether, and wait for life to take them places.”
Goals themselves are good. Goals are necessary. “They focus our passion, act as anchors for motivation, and provide a sense of purpose,” says Khanna. But it’s important to be honest about one’s wants and motives. Is the aim to get a better job in order to get a faster car; expand the business to buy a bigger home; give up a dream job for one that pays better, so you can launch your dream NGO or startup? Or are you just hopping from one goalpost to the next because each one seems like the “logical” next step?
Build your life around external applause and you risk burnout, disillusionment, low self-esteem (because the applause will eventually stop or move on). Build it around the things you really want, and you might just end up reaching that most elusive and ultimate of all goals: happiness. So before you embrace and chase a goal:
Ask yourself what it is you really want: “A goal should be to your benefit. It should help unlock potential. So before committing to one, ask yourself why you’ve set it and list the ways in which it is going to benefit you,” says Khanna. Then you can stop fixating on the goal itself. You can manage hurdles and failure better, as you explore other ways to reach the same destination. Also, “working towards the goal becomes enjoyable and this helps you succeed.”
Tell yourself it’s okay to modify your goals: It’s good to have eyes on the prize. But what if the prize is no longer something you want, or is taking too much out of you? “Such times call for deep reflection,” says Semira Khaleeli, founder of image consulting firm Imagenation. “Understand why the goal isn’t serving you any more, then accept that it needs to change.” Building in flexibility allows one to change a goal without fear or guilt, and instead focus on regrouping, adjusting focus and defining a new goal.
Learn to accommodate failure: It is human to document strengths and achievements and gloss over or bury a failure. Khanna believes one should document failure too, at least privately if not publicly, creating a safe space for oneself to examine mistakes, learn from them, gain closure and move on. “Dwelling only on successes creates a heightened sense of pressure and unrealistic expectations,” she adds. “Failure is more common than we’re made to believe. Once you get comfortable with failing, you really won’t mind trying again.”