“I don’t wanna!” you say to your dad. “I don’t care. You’re going,” he replies. You sulk down in your chair. He says, “Look, I know you don’t like it now, but someday you’ll love it and will thank me for it.” It’s gloomy out. You’re hoping for rain but know better. Football rarely gets canceled because of rain. What you need is lightning. That would do it. You look up to the clouds and silently wish for it. Your wish goes ungranted.
Years later, you’re the star player on the high school football team. Your dad’s at every game, cheering you on with zeal. Your childhood anger towards him has since grown into pity. “I was the best. The absolute best,” he had said to you as a kid. “If I hadn’t gotten hurt in that pick-up game, I know I would’ve gone pro. Everyone said as much. But since I never did, I leave it to you. You will carry on the legacy that I started before you were born.” You miss anger. It hurt less. The pity you now feel for your dad is… suffocating. You hate football, but want to realize his dream.
You’re trapped between unhappiness and disappointment.
Time continues and you find yourself on the phone with your dad. “How’s college? Everyone treating you ok? Need me to give that head coach a talking to?” he chuckles to himself, imagining all the things he would say in your honor. “No, thanks, Dad. Everything’s fine. I’ll call you after practice.” You hang up, feeling unhappy without knowing why. You’re following your dad’s plan to the letter. Yet you feel so… dissatisfied.
You get hurt early on in the season. Your dad is at the game when it happens. He rides in the ambulance with you to the hospital. It’s a minor injury but it comes with major consequences. Chronic knee pain. A pain that flares up when you’re active for too long. Your dad suffered from the same injury all those years ago. He cries when the doctor shares the diagnosis. You smile, though aren’t sure why.
“Let’s go! Get your pads on!” The freshmen make their way out to the field. One of them runs up to you in his street clothes. “Coach?” the kid addresses you. “What is it? Where are your pads?” The kid looks at you with nervous eyes. “I… ugh… I think I quit.” You don’t blink. “You think?” “I… umm… I quit.” You push back. “Why do you want to quit? You’re good. One of the best on the team. If you think I’m going to let you quit before the season has even started, you’re crazy.” The kid looks down at his shoes.
From the corner of your eye, you catch your dad seated in the stands. He still comes to every game, even though you’ve long since traded your cleats for a clipboard. Even though today is only preseason.
The kid turns his head up to you. “I don’t like football, coach. You love it, but I don’t. I quit.” You make eye contact with your dad. He smiles. You stare at him, unblinking. “You will carry on the legacy that I started before you were born.” Those were the words he used. Words that had doomed you from the beginning. Words that you had left unquestioned in your mind. And now… now you were hearing the words you had always wanted to tell him but never could.
“Fine. Get out. I only want people here that want to be here.” The kid scurries off, avoiding the eyes of his former teammates.
You don’t sleep that night; visions of past and present run through your head. You’re staring at your phone when the alarm goes off. Your thumb hovers over the screen, over a decision that you’ve wanted to make your entire life but didn’t have the courage to make until now. You tap the icon. Somewhere, out there, the phone rings.
“Son? What’s wrong?”
“Dad, I… I quit.”
Understand What Makes You Fulfilled
When we do things for reasons outside of ourselves, we live a falsehood. A well-intentioned falsehood, sure, but a falsehood nonetheless. Like the football-star-turned coach who worked to make his father’s dream a reality, it was he who ultimately suffered for it. It wasn’t until his encounter with the young star, a kid who had the courage to follow his own path, that he realized the error of his ways. You don’t need to wait that long though.
When setting goals for yourself, it’s easy to set ones that you think are the right ones to set. And that’s a fine place to start, with something generic that everyone says is the right thing to do (like meditation). But to create a truly meaningful life, you need to rise above that. Your goals shouldn’t be ones that you use to show off to others. It may be a side-effect of doing something awesome, but that shouldn’t be your only reason for doing so. Likewise, they shouldn’t be ones set out of guilt or fear or pity.
Instead, each goal you set should revolve around one core principle: fulfillment.
When you set goals based on fulfillment, you become the kid who quit the team. Someone who understood himself and decided to go in a better direction. That becomes possible when you focus on fulfillment. I have something called a Fulfilled Life doc. On it, I list out every aspect of who I am. For example:
- Knowledge, etc.
Create a Fulfilled Life
Within each aspect of me, I write down what fulfillment looks like for that category. For instance, Home is: A place that (my wife, daughter, and I) can return to after our many travels and feel happy, safe, and loved. With Knowledge, it is: To be constantly growing and learning from books, courses, and audiobooks.
By knowing what fulfillment looks like to me across the categories of who I am, it allows me to:
- Better understand myself
- Set goals in that direction
Instead of pulling goals out of the air, I am intentional. Each goal is designed to instill fulfillment, meaning, purpose in my life. And that’s something I recommend you do as well. Write down the aspects of you. List out what fulfillment looks like for you in each of those areas. Then with that in place, begin setting goals in that direction. To help paint the picture, here is an example of my Fulfilled Life doc.
Spend some time contemplating what a fulfilled life looks like to you. You can always revise it, so don’t panic about getting it just right. Instead, write down what feels most true to you at this moment. If a category isn’t all that clear yet, just write TBD and come back to it another time. Be thorough with it though. Don’t rush through it. Consider what it is that would make you feel truly fulfilled in that category, then write it down.
From there, start setting goals in that direction. It’s a powerful thing.