We're all about living in the moment, but can you blame us for wanting an awesome, fulfilling, enviable future, too? That's why we're all about thinking BIG for every stage of life, from the teens on up. Here's the catch, though: For all the goal-setting people make, they often miss the mark.
Cassi Christiansen, a Master Certified Life Coach who specializes in women's leadership training, says that we often don’t reach our goals because they're too precise — and therefore too difficult to reach. “When I talk about goals with clients, there’s a heaviness and a feeling of ‘This is what I’m supposed to do. If I’m not doing it, I’m not successful or normal,'” Christiansen says. "Goals come from your head and dictate what you think you 'should' be doing.”
Intentions, on the other hand, naturally provide more leeway than hard-set goals. “Setting an intent to do something is more 'being' versus 'doing,'" Christiansen explains. Setting intentions can expand the definition of success. (As an example, few people can achieve a goal of becoming a global rock star, but many people find fulfillment through setting the intention to make good music.) What's more, setting intentions helps you tap into the power of yourself and a collective energy, which opens up possibilities.
Framing goals as intentions can help you identify and live your happiest life — and, by the way, that isn't necessarily about popularity, a high-powered job, or pretty babies (though, of course, that might be part of your personal path). Instead, these intentions aim to deliver self-discovery and satisfaction from your teens to your 50s and beyond. With a little planning, creating a large-and-in-charge tomorrow is totally doable. So, what should you do with your life? Everything — now, here's how to get started.
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Teen girls are generally most concerned with their friendships and romantic relationships, says Christiansen. "What do others want from me?" they’ll commonly ask. And, while it is indeed important to develop good relationships with guys and other girls, why not challenge yourself to set more self-serving intentions?
The intention: Make a pact with yourself to try new things — whether with your friends or on your own. No matter how awesome your friends are, delving into your own interests is a way to cut the degree of drama others can bring in your life, says Vickie Chang, Ph.D, a California-based therapist who specializes in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for teens and adults. “I hear about a lot of friend and dating drama with teens. In having an activity that feels like you’re contributing or competent, you have an experience that is in some ways more in your control."
Dabble in this and that; try a little bit of everything to see what sticks. Listen to music outside of your favorite genre, or take a dance class (even if you think you’ve got no coordination). You may find you have a penchant for Burmese food, brocade decor, or mixed martial arts. The best part? You don’t have to commit to anything for the long term — the only thing you need to be successful in setting this intention is curiosity.
The challenge: Know that it's all right to break away from the pack. When friends and love interests mean so much, it’s easy to hung up on what people will think of you. In these tricky times, recall your intention. While a friend might turn you on to an ah-mazing new band, he won’t be able to tell you everything about yourself. And, try not to freak when some of the things you try don’t work out. Christiansen says, "You’ll never know who the ‘real, authentic you’ is until you give yourself permission to put yourself out there."
Are you doing the things you want to do — or the things that you think are expected of you? It may be time to embrace the “me” in your "me decade."
The intention: Discover and explore your personal interests. The developmental milestone of our twenties is all about becoming our own person, says Chang. People in their twenties, she says, are trying to figure out what they want (as opposed to what friends or family might want).
So, then: Do you want to travel? Check out nursing? Live in a certain city? Celebrate the “me” years by filtering out noise, norms and expectations of others. Instead, go with your gut and explore more deeply the interests and passions that you discovered as a teen.
Chang suggests making time for reflection. “You want to be able to think, 'Did I have fun with that group of people? Is this person a good friend to me? Do I feel good in this relationship? What do I like about this job?'" She continues, “You want to be reflecting on the fact that there are things your friends might do that you don’t want to do anymore. Start to make those distinctions.”
The challenge: Fulfilling this intention may make your parents, partner, or roommate balk. Be respectful that they want the best for you, but ultimately, remember this: It’s up to you to find your passions and live your happiest life. That starts with going with your gut and pursuing what you feel is best for you.
At this stage in the game, you’re probably forging the path of a particular lifestyle. But, because it's a busy time, it’s easy to get so caught up in managing all of life’s responsibilities — work, family, continuing education, regular dental cleanings — that it’s easy to lose sight of what you really want in your life.
The intention: Get clear on what you want to create for yourself. Ignore your messy kitchen and Twitter feed for a bit and really think about what you want. Do you want to go after a job promotion, find a dream apartment, make it rain on your retirement account? Hone in on the major things you want in life, then be mindful about taking steps to creating those possibilities. Christiansen suggests exploring what it is you'll be "giving birth" to, so to speak. Is it going to be a business? A baby? A project? A cause? It’s likely that what you create will be your life’s work, so it’s important to consider what you want, rather than just taking what’s dealt.
The challenge: Realize that while you can have it all, you might not be able to have it all at once. Now's the time to make some big life decisions regarding career, family, and financial goals for the future. Not sure what you want? Create space in your schedule to explore these issues by practicing a little self-care. Carve out quiet time, whether it’s journaling, taking a bath, doing a creative activity, having a cup of tea, or finding time to connect with friends in a meaningful way. It’s often in these quiet moments that we realize our bigger wants and dreams.
After mastering the point of focus of your thirties — be it a career, family, or business — avoid living in auto-pilot by thinking about how to apply your expertise in a way that serves a wider scope than yourself or your nuclear family.
Twenty years after your “me” decade, Christiansen suggests coming back to focusing on yourself. Many women she’s worked with at this age say that they feel as if they’ve lost themselves after years of making external pursuits — such as work and family — a priority. It’s a great time for most women to re-examine: What’s my purpose in life? Only this time, the introspection comes with an arsenal of wisdom.
The intention: Become involved with a cause that’s bigger than yourself. You’ve got the wisdom, bandwidth, and the no-BS attitude. Acknowledging a force beyond your immediate family and friends is a powerful way to flex and define your purpose. This isn’t to say women 40 and older need to do something as grand as start a foundation. If you have what you need, ask yourself, “How do I give those needs to others?” Embodying this could be as simple as throwing a birthday party for yourself in which attendees present gifts for charity.
The challenge: Sometimes women give when they should be taking care of themselves — and that can be a death trap when it comes to giving. Chang reminds us, “Notice how it feels when you perform these acts of generosity. Are you doing it out of guilt or obligation? And if so, does it feel good? If not, notice that and don’t do it.” Instead, Chang suggests looking for ways to give that evoke feelings of fulfillment. "It doesn't have to be something big," she says. "The more important thing is it coming from an authentic place, rather than feeling forced."
There’s a serenity and peace that embodies the fabulous 50s, according to Christiansen. Yet, women of this age group can also feel lost as past roles, such as parenting, can fade. This becomes a time of reinvention, with a mindfulness directed toward what kind of footprint you want to leave.
The intention: Claim your legacy. Christiansen advises women of this age to ask themselves: “What mark do you want to leave when you’re gone? What do you want to be known for? If you can do and be known for one thing, what is it going to be?”
The challenge: The concept of leaving a legacy can be a daunting one, to say the least — but it doesn't have to be. Chang points out that making your mark doesn’t necessarily mean founding a business or having a business erected in your name. “It could mean a lot of different things, like dedicating yourself to something you love, like your kids or your garden," she says. "It’s more about doing what you love. That, in some ways, is just as heroic and meaningful as starting a multimillion dollar company. It’s all about your own happiness and meaning.” The icing on the cake? Growing this way in your 50s will set the stage for the decades to come.