We all know what it feels like to face setbacks in our goals. We may have even experienced the realization that some of our goals are unrealistic; we may have had to leave them behind.
We have heard the age-old wisdom: failure is just an opportunity to learn. But what about when our goals break down on a fundamental level? What if we are faced with an obstacle that perseverance cannot overcome?
At this level, it would seem that total failure really is possible. Yet, this is only a matter of perspective. If we broaden our perspective and see our goals in the context of our entire lives, we will see that not only have we not failed; we will see that in the truest sense, we cannot fail.
A Microscopic View
When we are attempting to fulfill a goal, our perspective zooms in on it. This is so we can see our goal in its full detail, including the minutiae we must attend to so that we may accomplish it.
Sometimes, we hit a roadblock that is so serious, it completely obscures our zoomed-in view. This block is so insurmountable that perseverance will not allow us to push through it, and a change in strategy will not allow us to circumvent it.
This is a traumatic realization. We may feel that we have wasted our time, and that our only choice is to give up.
However, our past uncertainty is very real, and it should be taken seriously; we should consider it legitimate that we could not have known whether our current path would lead to a dead end.
With new experience on our side, we know ourselves better, and know better which paths may allow us to avoid a similar block.
So, in response to such a block, we need only to zoom out our perspective until we again can see other paths forward. We may become so consumed by our zoomed-in goals that we forget that they are actually subgoals.
A Macroscopic View
If we doubt this, we need only spend a little time introspecting. It is simply a matter of asking ourselves how we chose our goals in the first place, and what we hoped to gain from them.
Following this pattern, not only can we find the source of our goals; we can find the source of each source.
If we follow this chain as far as it takes us, we will see that we share one common goal: self-actualization. Though the goals we strive to fulfill on a daily basis are highly specific and variable, we all share the fundamental struggle to do the most we can with what we have.
For this reason, our subgoals should be made in consideration of the limitations that we face. Since self-actualization is contingent on doing what we can with what we do have, any subgoal that demands of us what we don’t have may be simply unachievable.
The true goal of self-actualization, however, is an unfailable goal. Such a goal only requires us to use the tools and strategies that we already have. Everybody is operating within their own set of limitations, whether circumstantial or psychological.
Nevertheless, it is the basic nature of people to perpetually push towards self-actualization, and to find a way to coexist with and adapt to their outside circumstances. The challenge of self-actualization is to know what tools and skills we have, so that we may choose subgoals that reconcile our natural abilities with the reality that we find ourselves a part of.
A Retrospective View
Each individual is the sole curator of their own self-actualization; they must take responsibility for it, since nobody else will. Still, we should not become mired in regret. The purpose of regret is to push us to learn from our mistakes; those mistakes, however, are best viewed in context.
Many people tend to forget who they were at the time of their mistakes, and how their needs and inexperience at that time inexorably led them towards the mistake they regret for so long after. It is only because of our mistakes that we have the experience to avoid them.
A Prospective View
Looking ahead, we need to take all perspectives into account. When faced with uncertainty, our only choice is to try something. If our choice turns out to be the wrong one, we will nonetheless profit from our experience, gaining data on what the right choice might be.
It is not useful to scold ourselves, saying we “should have known.” We didn’t, and we couldn’t have. Now we do, and now we will make better choices.
But in the bigger picture, it doesn’t matter so much what we are aiming for. If we are flexible enough to change our minds, we will settle on the right thing in the end; we will find growth in anything we do as long as we are aiming high.
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