Have you ever set a goal, achieved it, became content, and then went looking for the next thing? It’s fascinating how quickly our lives adjust to reaching a goal: We get our dream job and, soon enough, start wondering when the next promotion will come. We move into a new house and then, a few years later, start dreaming of the next dream house.
We quickly adjust our realities, constantly creating “new normals." And then we want more.
We all have different goals—different mountains to climb. One person’s climb may be about sobriety; another’s may be about diet; and someone else may be trying to find a passion. And we often think we've reached the top of the mountain, only to realize it was really just the base of another, larger one. And so we start out again. Generally, this works: If we had to reach the zenith all at once, we might be too intimidated to begin.
Popular inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant puts it another way, positing that there are curves in the road because if you were shown how long a stretch you actually have left, you’d never drive yourself there. These curves that only show a little bit of the road at a time so you can just focus on that piece. The lesson? Today, focus on the piece that's in front of you. The better you manage that stretch, the better you'll be set for the next leg, whatever it is.
And when we make it to a peak, or what appears to be a finish line? We discover that it's just a plateau or a curve that we couldn’t see—couldn't imagine—from the place where we began.
The reality is that our journey stretches as long as we live, and if we ever think we’ve made it to the end, we might be limiting ourselves. We just don't realize it when we set our current goals. This is why so many of us never feel truly happy, or fully satisfied. We want to see today's goal as a destination because that allows us to feel a sense of certainty, finality, and accomplishment when we reach it—as it should.
However, there is another piece that often gets lost, which is that we’re always in a state of change. It’s not about wanting more, but about being present for where we are, and the people we've become at every new stage of our journeys. It’s not specifically about the better job, home, or relationship—the truth is that wherever we are, there will always be something more to reach for.
The question, then, becomes how we balance being content—and grateful—where we are, while also being okay striving for something still greater. It's not easy: Oprah Winfrey once said, "I got so focused on the difficulty of the climb that I lost sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb."
It’s admirable to have new goals, but as we look for the next best thing, as we aspire to the next peak, we first need to take time to appreciate the views from the climb, and take those feelings to our new destination.
So take time to pause, look around, and see how far you’ve come. When we start driving up the mountain, we’re hyper-focused on the road ahead as we drive in a demanding zigzag formation. But if we pause on the side of the road after a time to (safely) look over our shoulder, we'll realize how far we’ve come from the base.
I’ll leave you with one last quote, from Jon Bon Jovi: "Any time that you think you’ve hit the top of the mountain, the truth of the matter is you’ve just reached another mountain. And it’s there to climb all over again."
Think about where you are in your climb: Have you reached the top of one mountain and are now enjoying the view, or are you already preparing for the next climb? Maybe you’re in the middle of your climb and struggling to make it through. Wherever you are, you can enjoy the view. There's something worth seeing from every point in your journey.
Rubin Khoddam is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Southern California whose research and clinical work focuses on substance use issues. He founded a website, Psych Connection, with the goal of connecting ideas, people, research, and self-help to better connect you to yourself and those around you.