Have you ever worked hard for something big in life and found out half way that this was no longer a goal you really wanted to achieve?
It can be illuminating to look at the role our social environment plays in this. There is often a tendency in us to look at what others are doing and make comparisons. But when we decide to do something significantly different from what we initially set off to do (especially when it is not congruent with the average path of our peer-group), then this choice becomes closely scrutinized by people around us. They cast their own judgment on what we do and often feel that they have valuable advice to offer. That advice certainly could be valuable, but it could also be a regurgitation of the cookie-cutter thinking that gets anyone to take the median path without deep thinking and knowledge of oneself.
Granted, life decisions that contest the expectations of others certainly can be misled. But there are times when we initially set goals not based on what we as individuals want to achieve, but on what the people and standards in the environment around us expect us to do. We may not look closely enough at our own true inclinations and desires before promptly settling with something trendy and widely accepted. Given a lack of deep thinking or knowledge of ourselves, we might desire things that lead us down a path that is incompatible with who we really are.
Based on my own observations of people’s thinking on the matter, here are some common examples of this kind of decision-making: one ‘wants’ to go to a business school because they are told it is a promising path to take which will help them build a “good” career; one aspires to become a doctor because according to their environment, being a doctor will give them good social credit and a good reputation that will help them sustain a comfortable lifestyle; one might want to become a cryptocurrency trader because everyone seems to be doing it and some have made an instant fortune from it; and one ends up in front of a powerpoint presentation in a three-piece suit or high-heels with a slide saying a motivational platitude like “your network = your net worth” because this is how you send signal to your environment that you fit a particular idea that isn’t congruent with who you really are.
Then comes a point, if we are lucky, when we can’t help but feel a kind of hollowness and meaninglessness in such decisions. Once we start thinking for ourselves, these hollow goals, however sensible they seemed when we started off, lose all power. Think about it like this: if you realize you have been doing the “right” things for the wrong reasons (the wrong reasons being those that have no natural appeal to you but come from passively accepting the thinking of others), would you really keep doing the “right” things and further your mistake, or would you reorient yourself so that you are doing the right things for the right reasons? With a slight shift in perspective, our hollow goals start to seem foreign to what we really are. Despite the surface-level appearance, abandoning them does not at all mean that we are “weak”, “discouraged”, “fickle”, or “confused”. We can create a path for ourselves built on our innate perspective and principled approach towards life, regardless of what is expected or required of us.
Right at this moment of clarity, we hear things from people around us like “but you have worked so hard for this goal”, “but all this time you have been wanting to achieve this”, “why have you changed?”, “how can you be so inconsistent?”. For this kind of question, I find this statement from Ralph Waldo Emerson most fitting, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.”
Why should we maintain consistency when certain change reflects the integrity of our individuality? The reality is that the world is always changing and so are we. Simply conforming to external expectations or foolishly pursuing what we know is a mistake because such false consistency cuts us off from our potential and from opportunities before us. At worst, false consistency based on external motivation causes our lives to wither away in mediocrity. Suffice it to say, we should adjust our goals and actions in accordance with our own reasoning and knowledge of ourselves. If your understanding of yourself has evolved, then your decisions must catch up with your thinking.