Our personal goals are central to the pursuit of happiness, as they provide a sense of meaning and purpose . But sometimes, our goals can be stifled by the deadlines we impose. Something I often hear people say (and sometimes I say it too) is that they imagined their lives would look so different at this age. We all have a trajectory that we imagine and hope for, complete with tangible, material milestones: by 30 years old, I’ll be married to the love of my life; by 35 I will secure a stable and fulfilling career, by 40 I will have a home and a family, etc…
The problem is that our lives almost never follow the same timelines we project and plan for, and sometimes these timelines make it harder to recognize our effort as meaningful or valuable. Perhaps, you won’t meet your soulmate by the time you are 30 (or even 50). However, this is not to say that you cannot or will not experience great love in your life. It make take years (or in some cases, lifetimes) to fully manifest our greatest aspirations.
I think of the artist Antoni Gaudí who took over the project of constructing one of the most beautiful churches in the world, La Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona. He began in 1883. His vision was to create a space that echoed the grandeur of God’s creation. The architecture resembles all the shapes and textures he admired in the natural world: sculpted flowers and vines on the doors, columns towering like tall trees, staircases spiraling in the same sacred shape of seashells, vivid colors shining through the windows like a rainbow … too many details to recount! He wanted the beauty of the space to inspire all those that walked through its doors to become believers! So he worked fervently to create the plans, knowing that the construction would not be completed in his lifetime, because this kind of project could not be rushed. The construction is still going on today, more than 135 years after the foundation was laid! It is estimated to be completed in 2026.
Gaudí’s example reminds us that when it’s a project or goal that we feel deeply called to undertake, we owe ourselves time to honor the magnitude of its purpose. The lesson here is that when we have a vision for something truly great, we must commit ourselves faithfully, trusting that every hour brings us closer to our goals. There is no such thing as wasted time, and even failure benefits us. As the research fantastically demonstrates, the ability to continue learning and trying in the face of failure is one of the strongest predictors of achievement across multiple domains .
In this fast-paced society, it’s easy to feel rushed in everything that we do. In the hustle to pay bills and put food on the table, get fit, and find our perfect romantic partnerships, we lose sight of the greater personal reasons as to why we are working so hard. Too often, we forget to appreciate the process of learning and creating. Achievement is not always marked by an award, title, or finished product. Some of the greatest accomplishments are marked only by feeling or sense. There is a deep, subjective sense of knowing when we are living in accordance to our aspirations.
Our greatest visions come to life only when we expand our vision and commit our effort, however long it takes. Instead of trying to squeeze our lives into some previously stipulated trajectory, why not recalibrate the timeline to reflect the of magnitude of our goals?
1. Emmons, R. A. (2003). Personal goals, life meaning, and virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. L. M. Keyes, & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived, (pp. 105-128). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
2. Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087-1101.