Plans vs. Goals

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When I was in high school, I had a plan for my future. When people would ask me what I wanted to do for my career or study in college, I would give an almost robotic answer, that would go something like this: 

  1. I will study psychology, preferably at a school that has a sports psychology program (i.e. Northwestern University);
  2. After undergrad, I will pursue a Masters of Sports Psychology; 
  3. I will sign on to be a sports psychologist for a Major League Baseball team; 
  4. One of the players from that team and I would magically fall in love and get married (this part I did leave out of most college essays/ interviews, in case you were wondering). 

Naturally, when I went to college, I signed up for a Psych 101 class, with two of my smart and lovely friends (shoutout to Chris and Carlo, if you’re reading this!). I hadn’t really taken classes with friends before, mostly because I didn’t really have friends to take classes with my first semester, and I thought it would be fun to be competitive in the class, and see who could get the best grades. 

Boy, did that end quickly. Suddenly, the subject that I thought would be my passion, that I had staked my ENTIRE future on, was the subject that I was getting the worst grades in, and was the most bored. How could that be? 

Needless to say, I did not pursue a psychology degree, and have not become a sport psychologist. And yes, Psych 101 was the lowest grade I ever received in college (a B-). 

This was one of the first moments in my life that I felt like plans were overrated, and that perhaps I put too much value on having a “plan”. I’ve always thought it was easier to have a plan to follow; I take comfort in actionable steps with clear results. 

At times in my life, I’ve made plans just to have plans, because I want to give myself direction. This phenomena came to light in the couple of years that I had decided that I was destined to go to law school. Why was I attracted to law school? There were clear steps to take to get there, and clear outcomes that occurred once you graduated. I knew what to expect and how to get a good job. 

My attachment to that particular plan fell through when I realized, just like my major in psychology, that I didn’t enjoy the subject matter and didn’t feel passionate about the careers that I could build given that degree. Relinquishing that plan gave me the freedom, and also terror, of learning how many other opportunities were out there for me to explore. 

What I’ve realized over the years, is that plans are overrated. Life happens. The more I become attached to a plan and having that plan not work out, the more devastated and confused I was. Plans are wrought with expectations, and expectations lead to disappointment. I wasn’t allowing myself to be flexible within those plans, and sometimes, life requires us to be flexible. 

My focus for 2020 has been on goal setting, rather than making “plans”. The difference between the two, admittedly, can be finite, but I will do my best to flesh out why I think they are different and how that perspective has helped me grow. 

For the first time ever, this year, I filled out a goal setting worksheet. This worksheet encouraged me to think of my goals as bigger pictures, rather than smaller itemized lists. From these broader goals, I was able to make smaller goals that help me along my path to reach the bigger picture goals. An example of this is a goal for me to eat more healthy in 2020, with the smaller goal of cooking meals at home 4-5 times a week, instead of eating takeout. There are no catastrophic consequences if I don’t reach these goals, but they are guidelines for me on how to be my best self. 

Admittedly, there are scenarios in life that require us to create detailed plans. One of my other 2020 goals was to apply to graduate school. To achieve this goal, there were many very concrete steps with even more concrete deadlines, such as writing a personal statement, getting recommendations, completing the application, etc. It’s ok to make detailed plans as long as they align with your overarching life goals, but don’t let yourself become attached to having plans just to have them, which could impede you from searching for what your true goals may be. 

When making goals, focus on what steps you need to take to be your very best self: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and more.  Block out the noise of other people telling what you should do, or who you should be, and take time to discern where your passions lie. Based on those goals, create actionable steps to get there. Don’t let yourself become so attached to a plan that feels secure if it is not what you actually are wanting to achieve. Use your goals as a way to free yourself, not entrap yourself. And, if anyone feels so inclined, feel free to share with me some goals that you have created for yourself! 

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