What do I want to accomplish?

This morning I re-read my post and was struck by a realization: I have no idea what I want to accomplish. Well, I have some vague ideas but I don’t know if they are really what I want, and I’m not quite sure how I can ascertain what I really want. How do people figure these things out? It’s so daunting.

The way I see it, there are three basic kinds of accomplishments I could work toward. One is a tangible product I could point to and share, like a book, or articles, or photography or something else that exists outside of myself. If I were to create something like that, I’d then have to determine if that thing, or things, had to reach a certain level or recognition for me to feel like I had accomplished something, or if just completing them would be sufficient. Would just writing a book be enough? Or would it have to be published? Or would it have to reach a certain level of “success”? If so, what would that level be?

The second kind of accomplishment would be touching other people’s lives in a meaningful way. That is supposedly why people teach, right? So they can make a difference in the lives of others, shaping the youth of this country in some small way. I think that is a totally acceptable accomplishment at my job, I just have to figure out how I will know that I’ve achieved that. Do I just assume that by teaching I am giving something back? Do I need to have students come back and actually TELL me that I made a difference? I sometimes wonder if that is why I want to move to high school, because I think students at that age are more aware of what their teachers mean to them. Middle-schoolers are so self absorbed, they are pretty much oblivious to what their teachers are providing. I know some middle school teachers are told by their students that they made a difference in their lives, but in ten years I have never been on the receiving end of that sentiment. Will I be able to feel that I’ve touched the lives of my students in some meaningful way if none of them every tell me directly that I have?

The third kind of accomplishment would be more internal, a sense of personal satisfaction that I have lived the kind of life I want to live. This might look like living my life according to my ideals and beliefs: only supporting local business, reducing our carbon footprint by cloth diapering and aggressively saving water (among other things), cooking with organic foods, being a kind and supportive friend, living mindfully and with compassion. This kind of accomplishment is probably the easiest to achieve, in that my success depends completely on my own actions, but it also receives the least recognition. Only I will know if I’ve lived my life in the ways I’ve wanted, and even if living that way touches others, I may never hear from them that it was. This kind of accomplishment will most likely make my every day life feel more meaningful, but it might be harder to look back at point to it as a something that I have achieved. I don’t know, maybe not?

So I guess I have to figure out, what kind of accomplishment am I looking for in my life? Do I need my accomplishment to be recognizable? Do I need it to be acknowledged by others? I suppose in the end, what it comes down to is, do I need other people to see what I’ve done and appreciate it in some way? Or can I be happy just knowing that I’ve accomplished my goals in my own heart.

And I honestly don’t know. Maybe I need to give more back. It’s hard because my current job is all about giving to others, but that giving is not necessarily recognized or appreciated. And motherhood is all about self-sacrifice, but again, that giving is not appreciated much, at least not when kids are young. So already I spend most of my day giving of myself, I just don’t receive much appreciation for that. It makes the idea of giving more of myself during my “free time” even harder to get excited about. And yet… if that is the way to make my life feel more meaningful…

So all this comes back to one thing. At the end of my life, I want to feel like I DID something, like I accomplished something meaningful, that my life had a purpose greater than myself. I know motherhood is imbued with it’s own sense of purpose–and that raising productive members of society is an admirable goal, one I take seriously–but I don’t want to place my own personal feelings of self-worth on the shoulders of my children; that is a lot of for them to bear. I need to have an identity, and a feeling of sense worth, separate from my children. And I need to feel like I’m working toward something greater than myself in areas of my life that aren’t dedicated to my family. I assume that has to be my job, but maybe that is the mistake I’m making. Maybe I can find some time that is separate from job and removed from my family, to do something meaningful. It doesn’t seem like there is enough time in the day to do something really worthwhile in the scarce hours that are not already dedicated to work and family, but perhaps I can make it happen. If that were possible, I could keep teaching just to support my family, and find meaning in other parts of my life. The good part of that is that my goal wouldn’t have to support my family financially, so I’d have much greater freedom of choice in what I do. The bad news is I’d have to find time to do it and still honor all my other obligations, which would probably limit the scope of my goal.

No matter what I ultimately choose, I want to be doing something now so that I have I have an opportunity to do something significant. I just hope I can figure out what I want to accomplish, before it’s too late.

Which kind of accomplishments are most important to you?

4 responses

  1. Like I said on my comment yesterday, I am in the same boat, so you’re definitely not alone here.

    The one thing I’d say – I think determining what is meaningful to you is the key here. If you are giving of yourself in ways that are NOT meaningful for YOU – aka, you’re doing things that create meaning only for others – then you’re going to feel like you’re giving and giving and your cup will end up empty. And if you get no recognition for it, then resentment will creep in.

    I have this idea that if I find activities/a career/etc that are meaningful to me, then I won’t need recognition for it, because the act of giving to the activity itself will fill my cup with happiness. It might be naive, but I’m willing to try and make it work.

  2. I struggle with this idea too. I’m not sure my career is what I want it to be, but I’ve got to figure out what I want before I can do anything about it. So instead, I’m treading water! It sounds to me like you’re already doing very meaningful things with your life and your time but aren’t feeling fulfilled by them, so I’m not sure adding more to your plate would solve that problem as much as redirecting some of your efforts. Sounds like you’re on the right track by thinking of high school and other opportunities that you might feel differently about! Once you’ve figured it out, go ahead and let me know what I should be doing too 😉

  3. I decided that the little accomplishments would be my priority because it’s been a strange life and I have shown that being power hungry is a mistake for me. I am also entering a time of discernment where I consider all the many options before me and then figure out which path or paths feel right to pursue, so that will dictate some of the accomplishments available to me (ie if I decide to pursue community pharmacy it’s unrealistic to expect to be director of a hospital pharmacy, if we decide to move somewhere far away then being a part of a new community is important and if we don’t there’s less to accomplish since I’m well on my way where we are now).

  4. You sound just like many of us who lead a No Kidding life. Once we realise we won’t have children, we feel we need to do something important, something big, in place of this. You’re the first person I’ve seen write in such an anguished way, much like we do. And I find it interesting.

    Just make sure that you’re not after an accomplishment for accomplishment’s sake. Because being you is enough. Getting through life whilst being kind and clever and helpful to others is enough. Surviving is enough. It’s not just enough, it is a LOT.

    I can say, with many more years on the clock that you have, that what you think you want to accomplish now may not be what you value in ten or twenty years time. And the accomplishments you are most proud of may well be something that you could never have foreseen, something you fell into, something you can’t plan. And I know that is frustrating, because what you want to do is to plan! (I can relate – I want to plan now too – at 51, I’m looking for that next step.)

    I switch between being proud of some of my past career accomplishments, being immensely proud of the impact I had when I was volunteering (and learning new and interesting things about myself and my skills), and being proud that – much of the time – I can find happiness and contentment in the little things in life. Most recently, I’m proud of the fantastic chocolate chip cookies I baked yesterday. And next week I’ll be proud of myself if I still have some left!

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