The Recovering Achiever: Harvesting wins and planting goals

Lena Orlova // Columnist 

Spring signals the end of persistent Vancouver rain, the beginning of summer, Daylight Savings and an opportunity to take stock of what I’m bringing forward with me into the future. Anchoring gains is just as important as setting goals. Gains tell me what I’m good at, what I have and what makes me appreciative and proud. I reap the fruits. Goals tell me what I don’t have yet and therefore, what I want to work towards. Goals are the seeds I collect for planting.  

I’ve been fascinated with this idea that reflecting and re-orienting isn’t something to be practiced only once a year on Dec 31, the time we collectively decide to have resolutions only to give them up a week later. For me, January doesn’t feel like turning a new leaf. I need to see cherry blossoms bloom and the days grow longer. Winter calms, but spring inspires.   

At the time of writing this column, my personal inventory has more goals than wins. I want to hand things in on time, I want to exercise more, I want to read more books, I want to travel and I want to spend more time with my friends. I want, want, want. I want to be more confident, more open-minded, more honest and more creative. Eeesh, the list keeps on growing. I quit before the overwhelmingness of it all suffocates me.  

My upbringing taught me that what a person has isn’t as important as what a person should have. A person may have knowledge, but they should be smarter. A person may be healthy, but they should be beautiful too—which meant white, skinny and inoffensively dressed. A person may be happy but they should appear to be happier and funnier than everyone else.  

In elementary and high school, I braced myself every time my report card would arrive at home, back when they came via snail mail. I rushed downstairs, ripped open the envelope and scanned the column of numbers, first ensuring I would be completely safe from a less-than-B catastrophe.  

In a 90 per cent, I saw only the 10 per cent lacking, not the rest that I had earned. I told myself relentlessly that I had to work harder, smarter and more diligently next time. Ironically, by this time I lived with my mother who didn’t punish me for bad grades. Instead, she forgave my transgressions and chronic class-skipping on the condition that I got good grades. 

The hustle mentality led to my eventual disconnection with any real sense of progress. True, I earned excellent marks and completed my assignments on time, but I had no understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture—if the picture even existed. I had grades on paper; I climbed up the ladder to graduation.  

But moving up the ladder just because there is one isn’t necessarily progress. I could have a million things checked off on my to-do list without once feeling fulfilled. Only a straightforward, stubborn propulsion carried me through my school years.  

As I’ve mentioned before, this poverty of spirit stemmed from well-meaning parenthood. My parents had been disciplined by their parents. My grandparents’ generation did well in school mostly to escape the belt if they came home with anything less than an A. Performance was a way to avoid painful consequences, in the same way I avoided scolding for skipping class.  

All my work was motivated by either a desire for improvement or avoidance of punishment. Nature doesn’t seem to be so robotic. 

Consider a tree. A tree doesn’t tear itself apart making itself grow closer to the sky or trying to escape the confines of the earth, it just grows upward. In time, its branches meet the sun. All a tree has to do is stand there and soak up the nourishing rays.  

I too wish to stand and soak up the sunshine, soak up the goodness of what exists in my life but also elegantly grow towards the light. I watched other people who seemed to be better at flourishing than I was. I noticed they do two things: anchor their wins and set meaningful, attainable goals. 

My list of gains requires broadening. Unlike with my report cards, now I ignore marks and marathons. I add events and milestones. Moving in with my partner. Our first home. First Christmas together. First New Year together. First Valentine’s day. First anniversary. My birthday. A new column. New friends. Deeper connections. First run of the year among the trees of Stanley Park. First snowfall of winter. 

Why not? I feel happy, joyful and grateful for the things I didn’t have to try hard to accomplish. They are rays of sunshine in my life, gently informing what direction my growth and my work should be heading in.  

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