When Is Enough, Enough?

I was talking with a friend recently when he asked me, when is enough, enough. He wasn’t asking in the exasperated sense; he wasn’t fed up with anything. He was thinking about how you push for more, get bigger and better goals when you’ve already accomplished everything you set out to do. If you set out all of your career aspirations in college and make them a reality by the time you’re thirty, what do you do next? I totally get him but in case you don’t, let me break it down.

When we’re growing up we typically have these goals for what life will be like as we become an adult. Often, they aren’t overly impressive, and you may not even say them out loud.
I will not have to buy off brand cereal.
I won’t have to work at home every night.
My kids will get more than a pair of jeans and a shirt for back to school.
I won’t be so tired at night that I get home and sit on the coach with a drink.
I’m going to take my kids on vacations every year.
They are usually born out of some sort of mild pain you felt as a kid. Really all they are tangible ways of expressing that you want to do just a little bit better than your parents did. Let me be clear here that feeling this, wanting to do better, wanting to have more for you or your family, doesn’t mean that your parents did anything wrong. It is simply making the most of the propulsion your parents sent you out into the world with.

We get about a minute into our adult life and realize that these things are more about prioritization than what money you actually make, your status, or job title. Some of them will fall off the wayside, and you’ll find yourself saying the exact same thing about brand name cereal that your parents did.

Then we just get started into our careers and we set more goals, more career oriented than our first and based on our experience in our industry (insert a very haughty lapel grab because for the first time in our lives we can do something based on experience). Because we do this about 10 minutes into working, they are basically, based on nothing.
I’ll be in leadership.
I’ll go back to school and get my MBA.
I’ll earn a designation.
I’ll get an office.
These feel like they will take forever when you’re making your plans. Truly if you choose one or two of them and put your energy into them, you can accomplish them in pretty short order.

So then what? Now you’re well educated, in the position you set your sights on, providing your kids with all of the things you never had. You accomplished all of the things you set out to do and you have a lot of career left. You’re happy and content in life, it feels greedy to try and attain anything else. Do you sit back, enjoy, and essentially coast?

I say yes (bet you didn’t see that coming) but only for a minute. You worked your keister off my friend and whether you achieved all of your goals by 29 or 59 take a look around because this is what success looks like. You earned a minute to just revel in the fact that by all stretches of your childhood or young adult’s imagination, you have achieved everything you wanted. Breathe it in and celebrate it. I don’t care if you’re celebrating making $35,000 a year in the career you always dreamed of with a bottle of Barefoot wine and one of the fanciest frozen pizzas you could find. It was your dream and you achieved it, take a minute to drink that in. Then, get out there and do it again.

It is tempting to stay in this place of coasting for a long time. In my sheltered mid-western experience, we typically have spouses and kids by this point and putting all of our energy into accomplishing a goal based on 5 minutes of thought and a college ad we saw on Facebook, seems very frivolous now. Using all of your time, that you could be spending with your family or on regaining a long lost hobby, to hustle after a career dream when you’ve already accomplished everything you set out to do feels selfish, greedy, and like a waste of time that you aren’t getting back.

I say you have to (ok now I’m sure you saw that one coming). The very fact that we’re asking ourselves the question means that we’re looking for more. We have capacity for more. We want to make more of an impact. We want to show our family, children, peers, ourselves just how far we can go. I believe that if you’re asking yourself, the question of what now, then you aren’t ready to “coast.” So get out there and do something more, just put a little more thought into it this time. You aren’t wrong that accomplishing a new goal will take time and energy from you. You will need to clarify your goal to ensure that you are very clear on why you’re reaching for more and what that is.

What makes you tick?

Start by considering what motivates you, what energizes you, and what you’re missing when you don’t include it in your regular cadence of life. Like I’ve said before if you have been asking these questions, you’re part of the way there anyway. You likely already have a half-baked idea rolling around in the back of your head. You just aren’t sure exactly how to refine it let alone how to get there. At this stage, that’s ok. You don’t need to know the specifics. Just lean into whatever it is that makes you tick.

A friend of mine has creativity and artistic talent coming out of her pores. If she is kept in too much structure for too long she gets frustrated and has a hard time bringing herself out of it without a creative outlet. The trouble is that she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to work toward in the creative space. Design the perfect logo and wedding invitations, paint chicken pictures, knit hats for tiny babies, her abilities know no bounds so her plan couldn’t be narrowed. She was spending a lot of time trying to decide what to focus on and it was starting to stress her out. Be creative couldn’t be a goal though, it isn’t SMART. It was nearly becoming analysis paralysis choosing a direction. So ultimately create became the goal. She now just focuses on creating something, anything, at least 3 days a week.

Another person, who was very successful in her career at a young age, realized that her team was struggling. She lead a group of about 30-40 people who were having a hard time adapting to the ever-evolving culture, projects, workload, everything. She had a heart devoted to her team so she leaned into anything at work that seemed like it could help them. That meant when someone mentioned change management training, she was all over it.

I know another person who became engrossed in their own personal health journey. After a few years of essentially leveling up personally in her health goals, and posting about it on social media, she started developing a following. She didn’t start by trying to “help people” in this area. It just sort of happened by default as she started encouraging the world through, the basic message of “Take care of you. If I can do it you can too.”

Refine your why

Once you’ve tried a few things out and applied your high-level goal for some time your drive in that area has likely increased. If it hasn’t, you did it wrong. That sounds abrasive but the equation is kind of simple, if you spend time doing something that motivates and energizes you, you will increase in motivation and energy. Also, I’m not saying it won’t be hard. As we outlined before, there are a plethora of wonderful challenges this time around in attaining your goal. I will just say, if you thought, for example, teaching people to crotchet was going to be a motivator and now you dread heading to the cafeteria at lunch to sit with your group, this is not your passion and is not a good use of your time. That is ok, help Becky finish her scarf and then just return to step one and start again.

So, let’s pretend you did it “right”. You started to lean into something, and it lit you on fire. What is it about what you’re doing that brings you from motivated to start to be dedicated to continuing? What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want to feel while you’re doing it? Let’s go back to a couple of our examples.

When Team Oriented Tina, who realized that helping people walk through the craziness of work was her thing, first leaned into supporting her team she probably would have said “I like to help my people.” After taking the change management course she refined it to, “I really enjoy directing my team through change and uncertainty. I want to help them process it and come out productive.” She refined what she was doing and why.

Healthy Heather wanted to continue to inspire more people to take back their health, so she dipped her toe into another form of healthy activities and became a certified Barre teacher. She started teaching at a small studio a couple times a week. She loved it, got great results personally and developed a community with the other members of the studio.

Refining your why may feel like a bolt of lightning, but I think it’s more often a slow drizzle. For example, Crafty Carla is still leaning into the options and figuring it out. There is nothing wrong with that because dang-nabit you don’t have time to dive head first into something just to find out you’re not invested in fully.

Make it work for you

I know there are so very many of you who read that last piece and were thinking ok so clearly Tina has a career goal this can turn into, those other two examples are just fluff. Well you are wrong dear reader. You are able to monetize, incorporate, or improve from any interest or venture you invest in. It doesn’t make sense to break this down into a million “how-to” steps because it will look different for every passion, every career, and every lifestyle. Once you develop your passion though, look for ways you can make it work for you. My two examples came at it very differently, maybe they can inspire some ideas.

Back to Tina, she has been very successful in working with her team to navigate uncertain times and thrive through clear cut changes quickly and successfully. First, it will give her a more successful and dedicated team. This is giving her positive impact in the here and now. From there, it could help her move “up” from where she is. These are great but having these skills and this impact does so much more when you think about it. She is brought into conversations with other units in our department to assist them in fostering the same culture she is creating within her team. This affords her opportunities to learn other sides of the business within our own department. On a slightly larger scale, to continue to aid her team on a consistent basis and continue learning in her new realm of expertise, Tina needs to work with other people doing the same thing in the company. This gives her a lot of exposure to their business and an understanding of the challenges they face. She is helping them navigate change and improving those departments. What this does is open all sorts of doors for her within our company, which is awesome. Even outside of our walls though, these are skills that don’t just apply to work. She can now work her new muscle at home and assist her husband and her kids with big and small changes within their lives. (Is anyone else getting as excited about this as I am?)

That was the easy one though right? Tina found a resource at work that improved her current work and career opportunities. What if your passion, your why, isn’t as clearly linked?

Let’s talk about Healthy Heather again. She was the one who took up running and then realized she really loved a new workout studio in town. These helped her refine her why into inspiring others to take back their health. Attending studio classes turned into something she loved so much that she became an instructor there. Heather was able to define, set, achieve, and monetize a vision. This could be the end of the story and it would be awesome. It isn’t though. She took her passion and new found skill and applied it to her “real” job too. She became the Wellness Coordinator at her employer which allowed her a resume boost, a couple extra bucks, time to focus on health at work, and a budget to bring further focus on health and wellness to her counterparts. How crazy awesome is that?! Let’s take that even one more step down the trail, she was able to leverage all of this skill and experience when it came time to look for another position. This increased her value in the selection process, allowed her to focus on what mattered most in deciding whether or not to take the job, and I think the whole process she went through to get to that point gave her more confidence in herself to ask for what she needed in a new role.

Wrapping it up

To my friend who originally asked the question, “I’m so much further than I ever thought I would be but I can’t help feeling like, so I’m done now? Kel, when is enough, enough?” I’ll sum all of that up to tell him, be grateful for what you have and proud of what you’ve accomplished. Then, think creatively about what lights your heart on fire and see where it takes you.

All of my examples are very talented people are in different stages of reaching for more. They each may stay in the exact stage their in now and that would be great because they are leaning into something that energizes and motivates them. That in and of itself is a win! That alone will make you a better version of yourself because that energy, that passion, (insert more fun buzz words) will spill over into other things you’re involved in no matter what. When you have the courage and determination to take it a step or two further is when you can see life changing results.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Add some intentionality to your life. I specifically chose these 3 people in my life to use as examples for this question. As I was writing I thought of many more. All of these men and women are people that you could go get a fish fry on Friday with. They don’t think of themselves as anything special and you probably wouldn’t either. They just found something to light them up. Find what lights your heart on fire, lean into your passion, be a better version of yourself, all sound like a refreshed version of the 90’s posters encouraging you to “shoot for the moon so you’ll land among the stars”. My point is, it doesn’t have to be fancy or cheesy or anything like that. These are things that people are doing, often times by accident, maybe that is you right now. Add some intentionality around it and see how far it can take you.

Do this for you, not for “them”. When I have failed at finding what makes me tick, and I have failed at it about 1000 times, it is because I’m trying to fit into someone else’s box. I never tried to teach anyone to crotchet, I did try to teach myself. Not because I thought I was passionate about it but because I wanted to find a hobby that I could do while home with the kids. That way I wouldn’t have to inconvenience my husband, pay a babysitter, or spend a lot of money. If you’d like to see my tiny triangular scarf that I gave up on, let me know. If you’re pursuing a passion just remember it is for no one but you and make sure that use of time is worth it.

Surround yourself with the people who are reaching for more. My friends are pretty awesome. I have learned through the years to intentionally choose to spend time in community with people who challenge, encourage, and inspire me. It all started with refining who was in my social media. I am a firm believer that you are the 5 people you spend the most time with but 5 isn’t a magical number. You take on a little from all of the people in your life so pay attention to who that is.

Making it work for you doesn’t have to be all worked out right now. I feel like I made this clear above but it truly is something I need to remind myself of. You don’t need to know where the finish line is to start. I started out with a few fleeting interests and leaned into them. Some worked and some didn’t. I can’t say that I’ve monetized or can draw a clear line from my work to any specific measure of success, yet. So right now I’m hanging out in the middle, continuing to refine my why, and working the rest of it out as I go.

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