Don’t set goals for others

I don’t think anyone goes through life without having dreams and ambitions for themselves, and that’s a good thing. Without goals, there’s no point in living. There’s nothing to achieve.

I’ve never met anyone who achieved every goal he or she attempted, but that’s okay. It means that the people I know have challenged themselves. They may not have always jumped high enough to clear all the bars they set for themselves, but they cleared many they would not have attempted if they had always tried to do what’s easily possible.

Most of us can look back at the goals we set for ourselves, spot the ones we missed, and say…”ah! That was a tough one. I can see why success eluded me there.” We feel a bit of remorse, even a little angst, but by and large, whatever bitterness we feel is sweetened by the memory of the effort we made, and the satisfaction of having tried. We forgive ourselves for abandoning the goals we set for ourselves. We awake from our dreams ready to continue with our waking lives. Sometimes, we even wake up and give ourselves permission to go back to sleep! Failure drains us of energy, but most of us are ready to grant ourselves permission to follow it with necessary rest.

But, oh! How differently we feel about the goals we set for others! And we all set goals for our loved ones. We set firm expectations for our parents. They are supposed to love each other and us, faithfully, continuously, and unconditionally at an intensity that knows no deviations. They are to work regularly and to achieve positions of increasing prominence. They are to provide us with a certain pride and social status, access to full coffers, gleaming homes, easy but exceptional educations, elegant weddings, occasional child support, and at the end, a sustaining inheritance. When they fail… or even just trip up a little bit…dear Lord God! are we incensed! Have they no pride? No ambition? No sense of responsibility?  Are they unaware of the example they are setting? Are they shameless enough to ask that we fulfill their dreams for us when they are unwilling to meet the expectations we have for them?

And don’t kid yourself… we all set goals for our children. We know who and what we want them to be right from the moment they’re born… and the goals some of us set for them, both personal and professional, are nosebleed high.

As they develop and bloom, we start to see what their real talents are, and we adjust some of our expectations. Perhaps the little girl whom we dressed in tutus as a baby  proves that she’s more promising at the blackboard than on a stage. We stop envisioning her at Lincoln Center and set our sights on Harvard. Perhaps the little boy in the football jersey is too gentle a soul for the NFL, but proves that he has a gift for leadership. We stop hearing a stadium full of cheers when he walks into the room, and start hearing “Hail to the Chief.”

We adjust our goals… sometimes grudgingly…based on the talents we see in them, but we keep them high. Very high. We make sure we surround them with other children who are just as gifted and on an equally glorious trajectory. We find them teachers and mentors. We make it damn near impossible for them not to achieve our goals…

And then they tell us they want to do something else.

Just as we told our parents.

Just as our parents told us.

And they tell us repeatedly it is not their responsibility to fulfill our dreams, but to reach their own goals.

Just as we told our parents.

Just as we tell them.

And then, there is a tremendous outpouring of pain… slashing, eviscerating pain that knows no equal… not just the pain of disappointing our loved ones, but the pain of knowing we have no right to feel disappointed in them. It is the pain of not being able to understand WHY. Why do we wish for different things? Why do we consider certain gifts expendable, and others sacred? Why can’t we have common goals, and common ambitions?

It is the pain of heaven as it is stripped of its angels, and it is the pain of angels, consigned to hell for not seeking glory.

I have no right to be disappointed in my children, and they have no right to be disappointed in me.


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