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What Happens When You Don’t Meet Your Career Goals?

Maybe you don't need to scramble because you're already... there.

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Usually, I host a Vision Board Brunch in the beginning of every year; it’s a potluck but I provide piles of magazines and glue sticks and champagne. My friends and I spend all day creating visual representations of our goals, we gossip, we eat a lot, we share fears and aspirations. It’s super fun, and also, I always benefited from having a contained day to clarify my twelve-month to-do list. Most years, a big part of my poster is dedicated to growing my career.

As 2015 ended, I started to fantasize about future achievements of 2016: I would draft a book, I would be present at more events for writers, I would start a newsletter! I would revive and revamp a web series that I created a few years ago!

But… then I decided not to host my Vision Board Brunch. And I decided that I would rather spend extra time with my children (because now I have two) instead of mapping out my career-building projects. I also interviewed for a job that would provide oodles of experience, but then I turned it down. I’ve always been willing to sacrifice good pay for good experience, but this time even the mediocre salary wasn’t enough to take me away from dance recitals and diaper changes.

There is a Vision-Board-loving woman inside me very confused about these decisions and slightly concerned that I’m sabotaging my own opportunities. “You’re not getting any younger,” she says, tapping her toes impatiently. But my kids aren’t getting any younger, either; spending time with them feels precious and important right now, and maybe my understanding of success is shifting away from career growth and toward nurturing the other parts that make up who I am, like my family. I am ready to admit that I no longer have the energy I used to have for burning the candle at both ends.

Despite all that Vision Boarding, my career is nowhere near where I want it to be, or where I imagined it would be by now. And for the first time in forever, I’m not strategizing. Instead of wondering what I can do next to finally get there, I’m challenging my definition of goals and career achievements. My career is just good enough right now, and I’m accepting the ribbon for participation with grace, instead of pining away for the gold. I didn’t have detailed plans about how my home life would look and feel by this age, and it’s better than I ever dreamed. This realization comes with gratitude and a peace about my place in the world; I no longer feel like I’m scrambling to get to the There there.

I’ve decided that that consolidating my passion into a few things that do work will be less exhausting than doing a million things that might work.

This is how I am starting 2016, focusing on quality over quantity. This isn’t about retiring or quitting my life as a working mom. It’s about focusing on the work that already exists. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep counseling. But I am just laying off the self-induced pressure to be the best at these things according to public recognition and social media likes. Because I don’t have a million projects, there’s weightlessness to my free time that feels long overdue. It occurs to me that I can just enjoy everything as it is, instead of constantly imagining a future that I need to work so hard for.

If you’re not where you thought you’d be in your career, how are you feeling about it? If you are where you thought you’d be in your career, does it feel like you thought it would? How has your understanding of success or fulfillment changed over time, and has that impacted your plans?

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This post was sponsored by Squarespace. We are thrilled to be partnering with Squarespace on a series of career conversations this year. If you’re between careers or looking to make a change, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to create an online space where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub where you can show off how awesome you are. And luckily, Squarespace provides the creative tools that make it easy to build it beautiful, even if you’ve never made a website before and have no idea where to start. In conjunction with our career series this year, Squarespace is offering APWers a 10% discount on yearly subscriptions when you use the code APW16 at checkout. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.

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