So, where does one even begin?
Achieving your biggest goals can be unbelievably inspiring, but also downright terrifying. There’s the fear of the unknown, the danger of failure and potentially terrible decisions lurking around every corner.
When then 22-year-old Sophia Amoruso set up an eBay account in 2002 selling vintage finds, she never anticipated that, in a few short years, she’d be the Founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, a multi-million-dollar online fashion retailer, that was named by INC. as one of the fastest growing retailers of 2012. A creative visionary and style dynamo, Sophia was named by Forbes as one of the richest self-made women with more money than Beyoncé (no joke), found herself on Business Insider’s list of Sexiest CEOs Alive, and was hailed by mainstream media as the breath of fresh air the fashion industry craved for so long. By all accounts, Sophia led a charmed life. She must have totally been prepared for this kind of success, right? Not so much.
Sophia started Nasty Gal to keep herself productive and earn some cash. Never in her wildest dreams did she expect the rollercoaster ride that would follow. It’s difficult to pinpoint the secret sauce of any particular success story – what made it succeed – but it’s likely that it’s because Sophia didn’t allow herself to be so daunted by a project that she didn’t even begin. Instead, she focused on baby steps: sourcing clothes, photographing them, uploading the images to eBay and writing product descriptions, then packaging and shipping items once they had been sold. Day in and day out, she focused on these small but phenomenally essential tasks, ensuring that they were carried out to perfection. And around her grew a business that carried the same core elements of product uniqueness, perfect packaging and community care, as thousands of girls flocked to the site to view the latest collection.
We’ve all been taught to set huge goals for ourselves as markers against which we measure our level of success. But what happens when our dreams are so big that we’re scared to embark on them? How can we guarantee success? (Because, of course, we think failure is not an option.) And when will we finally make it? When will the glass-walled office, handsome life partner and fully-paid house settle themselves into our lives for good? Most millennials spend a majority of their twenties and early thirties agonizing over the imperfections in their lives and why they aren’t as perfect as Becky With The Good Hair on Instagram.
Often, we get so caught up in the glamour and façade of the dream that we block ourselves from identifying the steps we need to take to make that dream come true. It’s important to think ahead and imagine what you’d like your life to look like in five years, but it’s equally important to not get so caught up in the fantasy that time will pass you by before you have the chance to actually do anything about it. There are two steps to the equation of success, and you have to give equal equity to both before you achieve that sweet feeling of having made it.
Step 1: The Identification Process
What is it that you want to get? Be as precise as possible. Instead of saying you want to get into a fantastic university, think about what would make it wonderful for you. It could be the country in which it’s located, the fact that it’s an urban or rural campus, or maybe it’s the kind of education that is offered that makes it so darn perfect. If you’re going after a great job, pin down what aspects of the job are important: Do you want to work with a young team; do you want to freelance; are you more inspired in a large conglomerate or a small start-up?
You should apply these same rules to your dream house, the ideal guy/car you’ve been dreaming about for years, or the pet you’ve been dying to adopt. The idea in pinning down the goal is not to limit yourself. On the contrary, by writing down what’s most important to you and defining your values, you identify the kind of person you are and the priorities you keep close. Once you have the minors written down, put the paper away or close the document. You won’t need to refer to it for a while.
Step 2: The Implementation Process
Now that you know where you want to go, you need to bridge the gap from where you are. That won’t happen by constantly looking at your list and fretting about it. (Has it happened now?…What about now?) Instead, you need to actually go out into the world and cultivate yourself.
That cultivation doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stick to the straight and narrow, and only pick things you think will take you closer to your goal. You may want a city apartment in a skyscraper, but the rental market looks terrible. Instead of looking around in misery, learn as much about the apartment world as you can. Visit the spaces, check out the prices and developers, and then go back to your shared house knowing that you’ve just taken the first step. Get to know brokers, start reading about real estate news, and before you know it, you would have given yourself a solid foundation to rent a great place when the market stablizes. And because you knew so much about it, you’ll probably be ahead of the curve and get yourself a fab deal!
Sophia Amoruso learned so much about the online retail space and her consumers by being right there on the front lines that, when the time came for the company to expand, she had the most important information in hand: She knew exactly how the business worked.
Similarly, everyone wants a great partner, but navigating the dating scene with that mantra in your head or, even worse, including it in your Tinder profile is the most sure-fire way to not get such a stud. Don’t narrow your field of vision. That one cutie you know is just right for you (if only he could see it) may not be that great a fit after all. You’ll never know the person who’s right for you if you don’t know yourself. And you can’t know yourself unless you date guys with different tastes and interests.
The truth is in the Mila Kunis-Ashton Kutcher saga-turned-romance. Speaking to Sirius XM, Mila famously stated, “We started dating with the idea that we were both never going to get married.” Kunis had ended a relationship with Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin and Kutcher’s divorce with Demi Moore had just come through. Instead of freaking out too much about where the relationship was going (yea…that!), both Kunis and Kutcher got on board, and see where they ended up? In one of the most loving marriages in Hollywood with two babies, Wyatt and Dimitri.
As Cameron Diaz’s character, Christina Walters, confirms in The Sweetest Thing, “Don’t go looking for Mr. Right. Look for Mr. Right Now. And eventually, if he’s worthy, then one day that ‘now’ part is just going to drop away…naturally.” Worrying about ideal partners and families is going to keep you tied to Netflix because, surely, no one will ever match up to the ideals in your head. Instead, swipe on that lipstick, pour yourself a drink and go have a good time. You’ll find your man when you’re good and ready, and soon create the romance you always wanted.
Achieving your goals is one of the best feelings in the world, but goals can be total slime balls, and the goal you had been working so hard to accomplish since you were 18 may not feel so great at 26—actually, you realise, you hate studying medicine; you don’t want to go on holiday with bae because, truth be told, you don’t even know if you want to be with bae; and you’re fired from your job, but instead of being upset, you feel surprisingly relieved.
The very nature of goals – in fact, may be what constitutes the term – is its distance from your current life, and when you finally get close enough to touch them, they cease to be the gigantic gift you imagined. There are complications and nuances you didn’t expect – you got your dream job, but you’re practically working 24/7 – and you need to go back to the drawing board.
Sophia Amoruso’s Nasty Gal went on to be a whopping success until November 2016, when the company abruptly filed for bankruptcy. Plagued by lawsuits, a couple of rounds of layoffs and falling profits, Sophia addressed the bankruptcy announcement as “the most responsible thing to do right now,” and while Nasty Gal won’t disappear from the fashion scene anytime soon, it certainly put a screeching halt to its upward trajectory.
Goals can, sometimes, not work out. Relationships break, companies fail, the world changes and moves on. The reason you put away the piece of paper or closed the document containing your goals is because goals are as much about attaining them as they are about experiencing the journey to them. And if you get caught up in the title line of a goal – ‘I Want To Get A Great Job After University’ – you forget to enjoy the steps leading up to it. You’ll breeze past catching up with friends, talking to interesting people and going on an extra holiday, and dedicate every moment of your time to ‘Getting A Great Job’, unaware that it’s these little steps that will not only determine how successfully you’ll get to the goal, but also how effectively you’ll move on from that goal once you achieve it.
Sophia’s company might have filed for bankruptcy, and she might be stepping down from her role as Executive Chairwoman, but along the way, she amassed herself a media following of hundreds of thousands, and is the face of the global #Girlboss movement that counts masses of millennials and a core group of Hollywood stalwarts in its army, and a hit podcast, two bestselling novels and a slated Netflix series under its belt. The original goal may have ‘failed’ or Sophia may have been forced to move on, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t garnered a s#!t ton on the way!
So, as you work towards your goal-den years, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Small Tasks
It’s the little things that make the biggest successes. When Christene Barberich, the Co-Founder and Global Editor-in-Chief of Refinery29, started off in her role, she read and edited almost every story on the company’s website. As the brand grew and expanded rapidly, she found that it was almost impossible to continue as she had been doing, but her experience getting down and dirty with the content meant that she was perfectly poised to take the company to increasingly higher levels because she knew how it worked all the way up the food chain.
You can’t be afraid of rolling up your sleeves and understanding exactly how the world works. It may be stressful and messy, but it’s the best way to get ahead. Relish in the small tasks of packing parcels and editing stories—it will remind you of who you were and how far you’ve come when things really take off.
Relish In The Fear Of It
Declaring that you’re going to ‘Achieve A Goal’ is a big deal. Suddenly, it’s not just a little dream in your head. It’s out in the world where people can watch you trying to achieve it, and that’s a whole lot of pressure on your shoulders.
Speaking to INC., Christene Barberich describes the beginnings of Refinery29 and the anxiety that hit her as the company was being developed. So many years later, she says, “All of those doubts, all of those worries I had…they weren’t coming from whether or not Refinery29 was going to fail or I was going to fail. They were coming from this feeling of ‘Oh my god, I’m not going to do this. I’m going to chicken out…and it’s going to be the biggest mistake of my life.’”
As daunting as chasing after your goals may seem, take it as a challenge and keep moving forward. Don’t let fear of a bad decision or a misstep hold you back. Those will happen and there’ll be plenty, but it’s all part of the journey of getting to where you want to go. The biggest goals you’ll achiever are the ones that have scared you silly – where you fell in over your head and had to keep going – because those are the ones that mean everything, and you’re absolutely obligated to push for success!
Create Your Version Of A Successful Life
Stop letting other people dictate where you should or shouldn’t be at a certain age. As long as you’re fulfilled and inspired, and you keep finding new experiences and talking to different people, you’re building your own version of success.
One of the first times Christene and her co-founders spoke about starting a company, she couldn’t deny the spark. They just had it! But she was in her early 30s and worrying about “getting married and probably starting a family, and maybe acquiring property at some point!”
But Refinery29 inspired her like nothing else and, ultimately, she made the decision to stop overthinking what could constitute a good life in the eyes of others and focus on what would be a good life for her.
Find Your Place(s)
There are many different ways to work, live and love, and one size isn’t going to fit all. As you’re pursuing your goals, you should explore the many different arenas that would make you happy. Christene always knew that she was not meant for “traditional corporate culture.” Instead, what excited her was “being entrepreneurial and doing something that felt personal, new and needed. [So] when the prospect of Refinery29 emerged, it really felt like an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”
There’s no one prescribed way to achieve goals, and the more approaches you try, the more likely you are to succeed. If you discover a new avenue that feels inherently right, embark on it. Chances are, it’s a shortcut to success that no one else has figured out yet.
This article was originally published as ‘Goal-den Rules’ in the March 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more life advice and tips, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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