Setting goals, living intentionally and finding beauty in what you cannot foresee

Last year around this time, prompted by a Medium post by Chris Castiglione, I took a closer look at what I wanted to accomplish in my 26th year, my year as a 25-year-old. At the end of the year, what would I be proud of? What did I want to do more of? Less of? How did I want to learn and grow?

I swam competitively for 18 years and, as a result, am no stranger to setting goals — some quite lofty — and writing down what it’ll take to accomplish those goals. But I’d never thought through and written down goals for my life before. Why not give it a try?

I used Chris’ post as a guide for picturing my 26th year. It took me several weeks to nail down exactly what I wanted to focus on, but I honed in on some key areas, wrote everything down and printed a copy to keep on hand in my apartment, a road map of sorts for the year ahead.

The goal wasn’t to plan my life but rather to make sure it didn’t pass me by, to make sure I was actively engaged in making the most of my next 365 days.

Throughout the past year, I checked my plan from time to time — admittedly, a lot less in the past seven months. Truth is I didn’t need to look at it every week or every month. In writing my vision down, whether I realized it or not, my plan became part of me. I didn’t obsess over it. It was simply clear what I wanted to accomplish and why.

Visualization and putting pen to paper are powerful tools. Because I’d taken the time to think through what mattered most and write it down, it was easier to hold onto my goals — and know when I’d seen them through.

I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do, and that’s okay. I accomplished more of what I wanted to do — and feel good about what I did and the ways those experiences have influenced who I am today.

As February and my 26th birthday grow closer, I’ve been thinking more about the past year and the plan I put forth last year at this time. In thinking through what I set out to do and how my story’s unraveled, more than anything, I’m celebrating the beauty of the pleasant surprises experiences bring.

My biggest takeaway from setting life goals and tackling them? It’s not about checking a goal off your list; it’s about the experience that goal allows, the capacity it has to move and shake you in ways you cannot foresee.

I’ve been moved in ways I never imagined by experiences I “planned” a year ago. I now know what you take from an experience, how you let it transform you is a beautiful, magical thing. It’s part of the adventure, and mystery, of life.

I shared this thought with two friends over drinks a week ago. We were discussing one-year and five-year plans. In hindsight, and now looking forward, what I love most about my goals and my life is that I can “plan” experiences but will never know what they mean to and for me until I see them through.

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