We do things because they make us, or will make us feel good. Period.
But right after we get what we wanted, we start looking for the next reward.
In my own life, I was taught to believe many things.
When I was a child I was told "behave and people will like you". And my relatives and teachers agreed. However this didn't work with my classmates.
Being a smart kid was part of my identity, so in my mental model, it made sense. It's socially known smart kids are not the most popular ones, nor the ones with many friends. I was lucky enough though to know a handful of friends I still cherish to this day.
I was a top student in elementary school. But grades didn't make me happy as much I I thought being popular would make me, so as I moved through to high school, I became more popular at the expense of my grades. I barely got accepted to college.
Choosing a career, career counselors didn't work. I didn’t feel connected to what they told be my dream job was. I chose something totally different to their advise.
I went with sensation (actually deciding by what magazines called my attention in a shop) instead of rationale, and it worked.
My first year after graduation was specially hard. As top of my class, my expectations were very high: General Management in a few years. During the first weeks it became clear I didn't know anything. My ego was hurt.
The best two pieces of advise I ever got in 9 years were:
"Give it one year, then you decide". Got it when I spoke out about how bad I was doing, and was thinking changing jobs.
"You don't have to know everything". Got it when I showed signs of stress because I didn't know everything I thought I should know.
For a second time, I was fortunate to be in a company where I was challenged, then had the opportunity to learn (specially from amazing people around), could succeed and be recognized, then switch to a different area and learn something new.
When I dropped the fixed idea of becoming this or that, it was then that I rose the fastest. After 9 years, I made it in the small group that ran a MBO (Management Buyout) and got ownership.
This is summit corporate ladder. And it felt good for a while.
After 4 years however, the effect faded. Naturally, I went back to step one. "What is the next reward?", "What is there to do to get it?".
Every life coach will tell you what to do in order to be happy. And regarding goal setting, their advise will be: "aim higher", "have engaging goals", "have ridiculous goals", "if your goals are not laughable, you are not aiming high enough".
What they all miss is that is not a question of "what to do". The right question is "what to be".
After setting the next goal, believe me, laughable enough, the cycle started again. The stress to the unknown, the frustration of making so little progress. All the advise that worked so well while rising the corporate ladder came back again: "endure", "persevere", "learn everything you can", "reach out".
Fortunately again (for the third time in this letter), the goal was laughable enough that no other goal seemed to surpass it, and a moment of clarity came in. For an instant I saw my future.
After reaching this new goal, I would be satisfied for a while and miserable the moment after, having wasted another 10 years.
It came clear, that this is not the way.
And it is not the “goal” what we want. We all want peace of mind.
"How can you know that?" you ask. Because right know you don't have and will not have peace of mind until you get:
- That promotion
- An amount of money
- That girlfriend
- X number of friends
- Someone respecting you
- Having done X or Y or travelled to Z
and so… and so… and so on. These are some goals people think will provide the peace of mind they seek. But their effect is temporary.
What is the ultimate goal then? To have lasting peace of mind.
It is not a question of "what to do". It is a question of "what to be".
Acknowledging the cycles are the first step.