Around this time last year I was applying to study abroad for my final semester of law school (Fall 2010, i.e. now). I had big plans of moving to Europe, living in a cute cobblestone-laden city, and sipping coffee with the locals (whom would have, of course, become my close, personal friends)…
When my exchange application was accepted I proudly announced to anyone and everyone that would listen that I was ‘running away to Europe’- that I would be using this final semester abroad as a launching pad for my new expat existence and that I’d be staying in Europe indefinitely.
“I might stay in Copenhagen permanently or travel around till I find another cute city that I like better,” I told them. The possibilities were endless. The two things I was very vocal about not wanting were:
- To become a lawyer.
- To live in Montreal.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Montreal. It’s home. But it’s also where I’ve lived since… forever. It felt too safe, too familiar.
Fast Forward a Year
Here I am, in the not-so-cobblestone-laden neighbourhood north of Copenhagen, sipping tea alone in my dorm room. I’m about to graduate, and guess what I’m contemplating? Moving home.
Here’s the thing. I haven’t given up on my dream, I’ve simply modified it.
Refining Your Goals
I like to view failure, not as a final outcome, but as a process of course correction. Lets say you have an idea of what you want, you take action, and then things don’t quite turn out as you imagined. What do you do? Do you throw in the towel and say “oh well, guess that didn’t work- better give up?”
Of course not. You take what you’ve learned, refine your process and try again. There’s a famous adage about how if you want to succeed, you should try failing more often. Failure is only a feedback mechanism.
More than that, failure is a sign that you’re taking action! Those who never fail are likely not going after the things they really want. And that is what’s truly sad.
What has Changed in the Last Six Months?
My exchange experience was not the dream I had envisioned. But it was something maybe more valuable…
Living abroad has provided me with distance from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. It has allowed me to get perspective on my life and reassess my priorities. Funny enough, It’s also led me to really value my experiences, friends and family back home. I mean, I’ve had all sorts of memories from childhood flooding back to me- things I had forgotten. That was strange and unexpected, but nice.
Anyway, what I realized is that the essence of my goal is really about finding a place where I have both community and excitement. As it turns out, that isn’t Denmark. It’s mainly due to the language issues, but there are other things as well. I’ll never really feel at home here.
A Solid Foundation for New Goals
I have several goals, like this one for instance, which will be much easier to pursue in North America. Becoming location independent, automating my finances and paying off student debt are additional goals of mine and those will also be much easier to do without the added financial strain of traveling.
The way I see it, it makes a lot of sense for me to spend some time living rent-free and getting things in order before I take my next step. (And there is a next step- a big one. I’m just not quite ready to share it yet. :)
Srini, over at The Skool of Life, often talks about how he had to move back in with his parents after graduating from business school unemployed. Yet, instead of viewing this as a failure, he viewed it as a necessary stepping-stone toward getting his business off the ground. In the words of his friend Rich Lazzara, “Sometimes you have to take one step backward to take twenty steps forward.”
None the less, I’ll admit that a small part of me worries about disappointing other people, since I did make such a big fuss about running away to Europe in the first place. Will people think I’m a quitter?
When you’re someone who has a ton of different interests and wants to pursue them all, the idea of sticking to one path for very long can make you feel a little queasy. Sometimes you even get tired of a goal before you’ve fully completed it. Does giving it up and moving on to the next goal make you a failure? I don’t think it does.
So lets do something now. Lets redefine success. Here’s my proposed definition:
Success is achieved through setting a goal and pursuing it up until the point that you feel satisfied.
Once you feel that you’ve sufficiently mastered your goal, you’ve succeeded. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter whether you reach ‘the end point’ or not.
It’s useless to continue pursuing something you’ve lost interest in. Yeah, some people might view you as a failure (and they might view me as a failure!), but you’re not. You’re simply being true to your nature.
When your heart calls for a change, you have to listen.
What experiences have you had with failure, success and goal refinement? Have you ever felt satisfied with a pursuit even though you didn’t reach the end point you had initially set? Share your thoughts in the comments below.