One of my mentors once asked me, “What’s new?” This seemingly innocent question stumped me. I had finished my undergraduate degree and had a decent job, no debt, was financially stable, and had a great living situation. My needs were met, I was reasonably happy, and I was doing well. In short, I should have been able to answer my mentor with something like, “I just wrote this amazing video script,” or “I just finished this book I think you would enjoy.” But I couldn’t. The only honest answer I could give was, “Nothing.” His next question was the true kicker—“What are you going to do to change that?”
Apart from my obvious lack of conversation prowess, this exchange taught me two things that changed my life. It taught me the importance of goals and having something to work for, and it taught me the difference between surviving and thriving.
My job was good. I was treated well, but I was not progressing nor learning anything new. In short, it had taken me as far as it could and while I was grateful for it, it was time to move on. After our short conversation, I realized I no longer had goals. I had accomplished the two I had had (to get a degree in English and get a job) but had failed to set new ones. I was no longer working towards something. Instead, I was aimlessly coasting through with no direction.
Goals help us determine what is important in our lives and give us something to work for. They give a reason to keep moving forward and guide us in our efforts to do so. Think of it like this—in sports the goal is to score. Sometimes that’s to score less than your opponents (thank you golf), whereas the bulk of the time you want to score more than your opponents. However, if you were to remove the basket, the end zone, or the goalposts you would be left with a bunch of sweaty people squabbling over a ball as they ran back and forth for no purpose. Goals are like the end zones or baskets—we need them to give the game (our lives) purpose. They define where we are going and help us take the necessary actions to get there.
Surviving versus thriving
In the book The Magnolia Story, Joanna Gaines discusses the importance of thriving instead of simply surviving. Before the success of Fixer Upper she and Chip were struggling. Their business was in trouble and they were overwhelmed. Joanna realized she was merely surviving—doing what was needed to just get by and waiting for things to improve before she would start to thrive. She says, “I always thought that the ‘thriving’ would come when everything was perfect, and what I learned is that it’s actually down in the mess that things get good” (Gaines & Gaines, 2016 p. 167–168).
I realized that just as Joanna was waiting for her life to change before she started to thrive, I was also waiting. I was waiting for my job to improve, for my success to increase before I truly started to enjoy my life. I was stuck in survival mode, doing the bare minimum to get by. However, when my mentor asked what I was going to do to change my situation, I realized that it was up to me to actively choose to thrive. And that is exactly what I did. I chose to value each experience I had at that job and ultimately decided it was time to move on and return to school, neither of which I would have done had I stayed in survival mode.
Since that conversation, I have wondered where I would be without it. That mentor has no idea that those simple questions resulted in a life-change—that it led me to a graduate degree and new career. However, I think these lessons are important no matter where we are in our lives. Everyone needs goals and something to work towards. In fact, C.S. Lewis once said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” (Deseret News, 2012). It’s also important to choose to thrive as we reach for our goals. Don’t wait until you achieve your goals to thrive. Choose to thrive where you're at and let it drive you to do better.
Deseret News. (2012, June 27). Top 100 C.S. Lewis quotes. Deseret News, pp. https://www.deseret.com/2012/6/27/20914450/top-100-cs-lewis-quotes.
Gaines, C., & Gaines, J. (2016). The Magnolia Story. Nashville: HarperCollins.