The year I turned 33 is the year I started to live my life according to my values. Since that time I’ve made huge changes in my life, including quitting my job, moving overseas, starting a new family, and starting my own business as a Career Strategist and Career Coach. Right now we are preparing a road trip to the USA and to move our family base to Madagascar.
Let’s Step Back
About five years before I turned 33, I’d had a mini-midlife crisis. I realized that I’d not done all the things I’d thought I might do in my younger years and I decided that dreams were merely dreams — nothing more nothing less. I decided to give up on my dreams, set my hopes aside, and get married to the best guy that came along; we’d start a family, buy a house and do what we were supposed to do. I began to live a life of “shoulds.”
Soon after, my social network introduced me to the “perfect” guy: stable, intelligent, kind, a good job, a lovely family, and we had at least one goal in common, too “settle down.” So that we did, we bought a house in the burbs and settled in to be a good little American family. Fast forward five years, and despite the “perfection” in our lives, by the time I turned 33, I found myself depressed. We didn’t travel, I couldn’t see my future, and felt trapped.
I did quite a bit of soul searching and started blogging and a masters program in nonprofit management. I began to tune back into myself, exercise, study and get clear about what I wanted in my life. I realized that if I didn’t go after my dreams, I might wither up like a leaf in the autumn and die, but I still couldn’t quite identify a way out.
Then I saw the 2010 TedTalk by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability. I’d never been a fearful person as a kid, but suddenly I realized that for almost a decade I’d done everything I could to avoid being vulnerable.
I’d not always lived a safe life.
I’d once had courage.
I’d once traveled. I’d once followed my own compass.
I’d traveled to France at age 14. At age 16 my best friend and I went to England and Ireland with her 19-year-old brother as our chaperon. Later I road tripped around the South Western US, backpacking and camping with my roommates. I rock climbed, I ran at night, I managed a team of guys 10 or 20 years my senior. I lived in a vegan democratic cooperative house with 11 other interesting individuals from all walks of life.
Then at age 20 and 21 I studied abroad in Madagascar, visited South Africa and back-packed around France & Italy. When I graduated from University, I spent a summer teaching inner city at-risk kids to camp, before packing up to travel in West Africa, spending a month in Senegal and The Gambia, before deciding to move to Boston with only my backpack and a suitcase sent by mail.
What had Happened to the Fearless Free Spirit I’d Been?
Looking back, 2001 stood out as the year I started to stay close to home, look for stability and stop traveling. 2001 was the year life when I quit being brave: I’d not recognized it before, but 9-11 was a turning point in my life. I wanted to be close to my parents and to territory I knew, the Colorado mountains and front range. In 2005 I got married for security.
Stepping into My Fears Through Goal Setting
And so, for my 33rd birthday in 2010, I decided not to set New Year’s Resolutions, but instead to make a habit of assessing my past year and setting goals for the coming year. I knew how to live an “average” life, but doing what I wanted to was different, and it introduced risk. And so I committed myself to testing the idea that when we step into our fears, we find our courage.
What it Looks Like to Find Courage
And so when I felt resistance in my life, I started to stop and recognize why I felt resistance, and if I determined I didn’t want to do something because I was afraid, that I’d step into my fear and find the courage to work it through.
The first fear I overcame? To get divorced. It was awful. Divorce is terrible. But I lived. And, my ex and are on excellent terms, because we both focused on values versus blame and recognized we did not value the same kind of life.
The second fear? I bought tickets (nearly last minute) for my 4-year-old son and myself to fly alone to Seychelles and stay with one of my host sisters from study abroad in Madagascar a decade before. The principal purpose of the trip? To spend time with my host brother who I’d been madly in love with, back in 1998. We had a fantastic 5-week trip.
Around this time I’d also started my dream job as the Executive Director of a nonprofit based in Haiti. I began working with a trainer and did a triathlon. And I continued to date long-distance my host brother who lived in France (he’d just been visiting Seychelles).
The next few years of my life became a whirlwind of travel, finding me going back and forth between France, Haiti and the US every few months for a few weeks at a time. In 2012 my host-brother-boyfriend took me on a road trip to Las Vegas, and we eloped. In 2013, I quit my dream job and moved to France to start a new family with my husband.
Despite my crazy life, I had energy, hope and happiness that I’d not experienced in years.
Annual Goal Setting
Without annual goal setting and a constant focus on stepping into my fears, I’d never be where I am today.
Over this journey, every year for the last nine years, I’ve set many different goals. Stepping into my fear remains a foundational goal, and in general, my objectives are designed to guide me to learn or better myself, to change my mindset so that I feel happy and satisfied in my life. Certainly, I still have ups and downs, good days and bad days, but my overall feelings of happiness and satisfaction in life are much improved. I remain filled with happiness, joy and hope for the future.
The expression of my goals has significantly varied from getting divorced as I mentioned before to going paragliding, which literally involves running off a cliff and until the shoot catches the air and picks you up like a baby. Paragliding energized my soul, while the emotional challenge of getting divorced, taking on my dream job, and moving overseas cultivated my courage at a deep core level.
Regardless of the fears I’ve stepped into, every time, I’ve experienced the exhilaration of courage and understood that part of self-care is living life by what we value. The combined result of these actions is to me, immense satisfaction, happiness and occasionally even pride.
Failing When Prepared
Last year I turned Forty, and I’ll confess I made a mistake. In the glow of having made it to 40 and the success of my previous seven years of setting goals, I went a bit overboard.
I redesigned my goals to cover three areas: mental, spiritual and physical. I then broke them down into smaller goals (three each), which I then broke down into even smaller goals. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will admit that I experienced a goal setting failure this year.
Looking back at 2017, I am amused. I love myself and my sincerity. I am an ambitious person. And I recognize where I went wrong and it’s been a good lesson.
One of my biggest mistakes (after setting too many ambitious goals at once) is that I also fell into setting “I should” goals versus “I value” or “I fear” goals. “I should” goals, of course, were the same kind of goals that got me in trouble nearly a decade before.
Success in Failure
That said, I now live a different kind of life, and I’ve made stepping into my fears a way of life, so a few of my 2017 goals morphed into addressing what I value. There is something to be said for the practice of intention and practice.
My overly complicated mental goal morphed into finding ways to build connections and change my financial mindset. My spiritual goals retained the idea of daily meditation (I did achieve about 24 hours total and 200 individual days 5+ minute meditation sessions during the year) and established a yoga routine. My physical goals didn’t perhaps progress as I wished, but I did maintain a habit of running and yoga every week for the entire years. And, so I progressed.
The most significant goal of all that I achieved this year is, in fact, a TEAM goal. My husband is retiring from his job of the last 18 years and after a trip to Madagascar this past January, we’ve decided to move to Madagascar. You can follow our journey here.
Moving to Madagascar is only possible because of all the work he and I have already done. Setting up my own business, focusing on work I can do from home and on my own schedule, allows me also to live a life that we all value.
Perspective and a Baseline
I think the most exciting thing about goal setting and living my values and not those of anyone else, is that it gives me perspective and allows me to track where I’ve been and where I’ve been going. There is considerable satisfaction in knowing that I’ve done something for myself and that I’ve moved my personal life, my professional life, and my financial life forward. It is also a key point to note that my goals align with that of my life partner.
How you can you achieve the same feelings of satisfaction and happiness? How can you live a life that is full of hope and freedom?
When I work with my career coaching clients one of the first exercises I give helps my clients to distinguish the difference between “I should” and “I value.” We then work through detailed goal setting, creating a vision and other activities.
Are you stuck chasing a life of “I shoulds” or do you chase your dreams?
When we set goals based on what we think we should be doing, we listen to what our little pocket of society has told us is correct. However, when we identify what we value in our life, we start to find focus, and we can both set goals that allow us to live our lives with powerful intention.
To be your own guide to happiness and freedom you need to live a life aligned with your values. And a great way to do this is to set goals that align with your values.
What is your goal setting story?
Alison Rakotonirina is a strategic writer who works with people searching for a fulfilling career.
A digital nomad I might be found remote co-working, chasing around two wily toddlers or a Minecraft obsessed tween, enjoying a cocktail with my husband, or running with Elvis, our dog. I start my day with a little yoga and then a cup (or three) of black coffee. I cannot pass up a good prank, and I delight in traveling the world and experiencing the world’s diverse cultures and biodiversity. My greatest joy comes from spending time with family, balanced with time learning, and the opportunity to help my clients achieve success and happiness through work they love. Connect with Alison on LinkedIn here.