Ask Dr. Darcy

Answers to your mental health questions, from an expert in adolescence, parenting, and the LGBT community.

Purposeless

An unfocused 20-something receives advice on goal setting.

Dear Dr. Darcy:

I'm about to turn 30 and I think I'm having a quarter life crisis. I'm not in a serious relationship, my job isn't a ‘career job' and I still live like a college student. I come from a military family where life was structured to the nth degree and goals were mapped out at 1, 3 and 10-year intervals. Consequently, I felt very oppressed growing up and I very much wanted to live my life in a more natural, organic way. The idea of reverting to my family's way of living gives me a sense of dread, but obviously my way of living isn't getting me where I want to be in life. What's a Military Brat to do?

ANSWER

Your reaction to growing up in an uber-structured environment is not unique. Many baby boomers had the same response to their childhood, rejecting the attitudes and (often) oppressive philosophies of their 1950's parents and embracing antithetical belief systems. That said, sometimes we are so turned off by an experience that we swing too far in the opposite direction. You, Military Brat, are in need of some middle ground.

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I'm a goal-nazi by nature, and yes, I impose goals on every client I work with. Goals hold people accountable for what they want in life. They are the compass through which we make daily decisions. Absent of goals, we are likely to find ourselves hitting chronological milestones wondering what we've been doing for the past decade(s).

You are very different from your parents, Military Brat, and because of those differences your goal list will not look anything like those of your family members. Having objectives in life will not render you a sell out. But you need some strategy, because right now you're an over-grown kid, and not in a good way.

Begin by writing a personal mission statement - 5-10 sentences that describe your purpose in life. Imagine yourself at your 90th birthday. Five of your closest family and friends come to celebrate with you. Each person takes a turn making a toast and references one of your characteristics / accomplishments. What do they say about you, about your life, about your contributions to the world? This becomes your personal mission statement. Give yourself 1 week to complete it. In a week, take your mission statement and separate it by category such as Personal, Family, Professional, Economic, Philanthropic/Service. Your categories will be determined by what's contained in your mission statement. For each category, ask yourself what you'd like that area of your life to look like in 1 year. That becomes your long-term goal list. Then take each goal and give yourself 1 action to complete for each in the next 30 days. That becomes your short-term goal list.

Complete this exercise and you'll be on your way to living a life with intention and purpose. Sure, it takes some thought and some strategy, but I suspect your life is worth it.

 

Darcy Sterling, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Alternatives Counseling in New York City.

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