I love setting goals. Every new year, I have a list of long- and short-term goals which I then turn into a lovely vision board. But, as it turns out, not all goals are good for me. Sometimes I make toxic goals which I don’t recognise until they cause me too much stress.
What is a toxic goal?
A toxic goal is a goal that is made based on negativity, such as what you hate about yourself and what you think you’re lacking. This goal isn’t set to better you but to quiet the fear that you’re not enough, which also perpetuates the belief that you’re not enough and you have to do something to be enough.
A toxic goal is driven by the ego. It focuses more on what people think of you than what value is added to your life. It stems from a preoccupation with control and self-criticism. It’s often absolute, arbitrary, and unrealistic.
So here’s the list of 5 toxic goals I’m saying goodbye to:
My life and images have to be aesthetically pleasing at all times.
There are so many people with a picture-perfect life on social media — I know some of them personally. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about how my life and I appear to other people and I didn’t want to look well-put-together like I’d got it all figured out. I often envisioned my ideal self as someone who has everything in her life in the right places, who has a stylish grown-up home that could be mistaken as a fancy hotel, who could pick out random items from her wardrobe and would look immediately presentable.
But reality isn’t like a carefully curated Instagram feed. My life, while good, is far from perfect. And so is everyone else. It’s impossible to be aesthetically pleasing at all times. And perhaps I’m just not someone whose life and images are aesthetically pleasing. And it’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’m not doing well for myself. See, the earlier descriptions of my ideal self were only superficial; I didn’t mention anything about her quality of life, her values, her relationships. In fact, my aspirations aren’t about those specific visuals. It’s about what they represent, which I could achieve without having to have any aesthetics.
I have to achieve success by a certain age.
Have you heard of the 30 Under 30 list? I wonder what the rationale behind the number “30” is and why our culture is so obsessed with being successful at a young age. Admittedly, I used to fall into this trap of thinking. I had a timeline in my head for everything in my life and I thought it would be more impressive the sooner I could get them done. By the time I entered my twenties, reality hit me right in the face that nothing went as planned. I was devastated. Then I asked myself all the why’s and I had no good answers.
I realise that age in this context is an arbitrary number. It’s counterproductive. Every year of my life matters and achieving success at a later age does not make that success any less significant or meaningful to me. The keywords here are “to me”. As long as I find value and enjoyment in what I do, achievements or achievements at a certain age aren’t the be-all and end-all; they would be the by-products.
I have to be successful by society’s standards.
You know the picture of an ideal successful person: They graduate from a top university with top grades; they hold an important position at a top company; they get married and have children at an appropriate age; they own a beautiful home and have an active social life with outdoorsy hobbies; they’re well connected and have big influence; and so on.
This version of success is made to seem universally attainable but, in truth, only accessible to a small group of people with very specific privileges. I’m done with thinking of myself through this lens that has so little to do with me personally. It only makes sense if I have my own standards of success which factor in who I am as a person and my own circumstances. It would make the achievements so much more meaningful to me anyway.
I have to be excellent at every role I take on.
I admit that I can be a perfectionist. This probably helps explain why I used to want my life to be aesthetically pleasing at all times. Another way this perfectionism manifests is that I feel the pressure to be good at everything I do — be it my day job, my hobbies, or my relationships. In practice, I’m good at the things I invest my time and energy in, and my time and energy, unfortunately, is only limited.
It’s okay if I fail, if I need help, if I’m trying my best and things still don’t seem right. It’s okay if I only choose certain things to be really good at and meh at the others — no matter what these things might be. When questioned by other people, my responsibility is to respect and stand up for my own choices and tell them to mind their own business like I do mine. And what’s more, they don’t get to decide for me which things to focus on; I retain that right.
My life has to be remarkable.
I used to have big dreams, like really, really big dreams. I was obsessed with the idea of being special. I thought that only by being exceptional would I be a worthy person. It was all the ego’s talking. As I matured and had more life experiences, I realised that my priorities and values had little to do with being exceptional. I don’t have to be exceptional to live a good life. And my life doesn’t have to be remarkable to be worthwhile.
These days, I don’t have big dreams anymore. Instead, I set positivity-adding goals that are relevant, purposeful, and realistic. I’m more interested in creating value right where I am and enjoying the simple pleasure of life. I’m more present, more content, more relaxed. I don’t care about being special or exceptional anymore. I care about being in the moment, about making a real impact whether big or small, about living a wholesome, authentic life, and about the happiness and wellbeing of the people around me.