You’ve reached a goal – time to celebrate. Wait, you hate it?

 I kind of knew about the bears. Theoretically. But I didn’t really know it in my body. There is, I found out, a huge difference. Massive. 

What could be better than achieving a goal?

Have you ever had that experience of getting somewhere you always wanted to get to and then just simply hating it?

It’s crazy, isn’t it? You’ve spent ages working towards a goal. You’ve applied energy and intent, passion and focus – and you’ve been imagining how good life will be once when you can tick that box and say ‘yep, done!’ But instead, you’re consumed with feelings that are pretty much the complete opposite. You’re miserable. You can’t tap into the euphoria you thought you’d feel. And the landscape looks really stark. What the hell hapenned?

The first time I experienced this was when my husband Chris and I planned a holiday to the United States and I’d earmarked Glacier National Park, Montana, on our destination schedule.

When the destination is more terrifying than you ever imagined.

We were doing as many national parks as we could fit in and I’ve always wanted to go to Montana. Located in the country’s north-west, I have always been drawn to it’s mountainous beauty – knowing it well from films and books that have been set in Montana. The state is bordered by Idaho, Wyoming North Dakota and South Dakota and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan to the north and entertains that description of ‘big sky country.’

It was my responsibility to plan the Montana part of the trip. The thing I didn’t factor in as much as I should have is that Montana is not just Big Sky Country. It’s Big Bear Country. I kind of knew about the bears. Theoretically. But I didn’t really know it in my body. There is, I found out, a huge difference. Massive. 

‘Scary Bear’

It’s probably no surprise then, that the feeling of satisfaction in achieving my goal of getting to Montana was somewhat marred by the pure terror I felt for our entire stay there.  A large portion of our time hiking the trails of Glacier National Park was spent with me clapping. Talking loudly. Bashing sticks together to make noises so any and all bears in the vicinity would take note and keep away. Do I have an active imagination? Certainly. Was the danger real? To an extent. Could I have done anything differently? It’s a good question. I’ve been mulling that exact question over.

Anxiety can be disorientating

The second time I’ve had the experience was when I was completing a painting commission. It’s always been a goal of mine; that part of my studio practice would include commissions. And here was a lovely project. I should have been in heaven. In, fact, I hated it.

The entire experience was clouded by an overwhelming sense of anxiety and impending disaster. The feeling of enjoyment I got from painting dropped significantly. Every morning, when my alarm went off, all I wanted to do was stay warm in bed rather than heading out to the studio. And then I understood. Painting had become work, rather than being play.  And the feeling of not being able to deliver great work was making me miserable.

Joy – it can turn up in unexpected places

I learn’t a lot from these two experiences. And they both had good outcomes – in very different ways to how I expected.

Firstly, despite being miserable in Montana, I was ecstatic as we travelled through the Canadian Rockies and into Canada. Turns out that many of the films I thought were filmed in Montana (because that’s where the story took place) were actually filmed in Canada! So I got to enjoy the beauty of those spectacular mountains and colours after all. 

In terms of my painting commission, the client loved the work and now that it’s done and dusted, I’m breathing easy again and proud of what I’ve achieved. I just wasn’t able to access that feeling of pride until the terror had subsided!

Learnings

Considering my two different experiences, here are my thoughts:

  1. Shit happens. The most important thing is to turn up. That accomplished, you have to be accepting of the fact that the landscape may change when you get there. There may be learnings and there may just be experience to help you make a better call next time.
  2. Be aware that often, that feeling of pure hatred and rage actually has a very innocent source- -it’s you, learning how to live outside your comfort zone. Of course you hate it. You don’t know your way around yet. You’re unsure you’ll make it. You’re stepping up to a challenge and you have to learn how to do new things. There’s a good chance you’ll look foolish.
  3. Getting to a new place in life means a re-set –and that can also be uncomfortable. When we achieve something, we actually have to start going about life differently, because we’ve reached a junction and the routine we’d set ourselves up in to get there isn’t relevant anymore. So it’s possible that part of our comfortable lives will naturally melt away because we got there! That can also come with a sense of loss.

The disappointment and sense of things not being the way we thought they would be – well, my advice is to just sit with those feelings for a while.

There’s value in those emotions – but they take some sifting through because they are complex feelings and not always what you think they are. And, after you’ve pondered on them for a while. I’m confident that you’ll come away feeling good, and strong, and better about things.

The feelings of success and victory that comes with achievement doesn’t necessarily turn up straight away.

But don’t worry.

They might just arrive when you least expect them.