Goals and grief

Did you know that it’s completely normal to achieve a deeply rewarding goal and simultaneously feel grief ?

The common imagery of accomplishing a goal is the popping of champagne or an equivalent celebratory ritual.  I feel as though grief is often a word reserved for instances that would receive an empathetic ‘oh that is so sad’ if you were to tell your story.  

For this reason many clients I speak with aren’t able to recognise, participate with and understand themselves when grief shows up in the latter of these two scenes.  The flow on effect is that grief can be mistaken as a sign that they have been misguided in pursuing their dream – and this is untrue!

There’s been multiple times in my own life where I’ve experienced grief as I’ve reached a long held goal, and this was true as recently as a month ago.

The first 6 months of 2020 has held personal growth for me at a pace I’ve never experienced before now.  I held open the door to finding myself wrong about anything and everything and I dove deeper than ever before to surface limiting beliefs and replace them with rock solid alternatives.  What is incredibly cool is that everything I’ve achieved this year was consciously crafted into goals before I got started! 

Here’s where the logic of grief began; because I created change so quickly in my life, the goals that I’d achieved only 12 months prior were already needing to be redefined.  For example, the incredible property I’d attracted in and loved calling home was no longer a fit for the next level of which I wanted to take my life.  I found myself (as I have before) at an ‘in between’ phase of having physically ‘let go’ of what was, without yet being completely emotionally, mentally or spiritually ready to receive what will be – even though it was also exactly what I wanted.  More on that later.

It’s important to know that all significant, meaningful and lasting change comes with a prerequisite of ‘letting go’. 

That letting go may feel bigger on some occasions, and it may sit within or outside of our conscious awareness, however it is always there. What does ‘letting go’ mean? It’s the readiness and willingness to sacrifice or exchange something with a desire to gain another thing.

What I’m also keen to highlight here is the contrast of emotions that can come from ‘letting go’ in a season of life that is already great, versus ‘letting go’ in a season of life where any relatively stable or healthy decision would be an improvement.  

When we create change from a season of life where we are already incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and it serves us well, it has a different feel to instances in the past where there may have been clear toxicity or unsustainable dynamics at play.  Examples of the latter might include emotionally unstable relationships or lifestyle choices that had dire consequences for your health. 

When grief shows up alongside us gaining something we’ve said that we want, well that can be more challenging to recognise and therefore process. 

It can feel confusing, bring emotions of guilt or shame, feelings of being ungrateful or disconnected, or the story that “nothing will ever be enough to make me happy”.  

So back to the instance of sacrifice and letting go that I found myself in around a month ago. I was moving out of the house I’d been living in for the past year and into a new home with my partner Nik.  Living with my life partner was a scenario I had been deeply craving and working towards for years – well before I’d even met Nik!  

I went back to my old house and did the final exit clean on my own and spent some time reflecting and coming up with the answers to the question of “what exactly am I experiencing grief around?”.  

Below is what I came up with in the notes section of my phone while pulled over on the side of the road shortly after finishing the clean:

  • It was the first home I lived in having created complete financial independence since recovering from 10+ years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and simultaneously starting and running my own business
  • It was a sanctuary I created as I immersed myself into even deeper personal growth
  • The home had became an anchor of all my milestones in that growth, which included six of the most successful and fulfilling months of my life
  • I built my brand and grew my business all from my one bedroom
  • The combination of natural light, character and location was incredibly unique and resembled charm that made my heart happy
  • Leaving that home and moving in with Nik resembled the end to many of my independent and personal rituals in their current format

So that’s one example of how I’ve experienced success and simultaneously felt grief.  Other examples might be leaving behind an intimate relationship that was so close to being right to attract a better fit, or transitioning from being kid free to becoming a parent.  

So what do you do with this information?

The analogy I love to use in explaining how to move through goes like this: imagine you’re standing at the shiny metal gates of change and your heartfelt vision is gleaming at you through each shiny bar.  It’s so close you could reach your hand through and touch it.  You look to your right and see a gatekeeper standing there with their hand out.  You quickly and eagerly realise that the key to unlock these gates and move forwards is right there.  It’s ready and available to you.  You glance to the left and see the gatekeepers has their other hand out in front of you too, empty and waiting.  It’s a sign that before you can take the key and gain access to your hearts deepest desires, there must be an exchange made.  Anything that doesn’t fall into sync with your vision and will instead cause chaos, mishaps or in-congruency must first be forgone.  It must be let go and sacrificed – either completely or in its current form.   

Phase one

At these golden gates can feel like unidentified inner conflict, avoidance, maybe even denial and some subconscious bargaining.  You probably think you can just sweet talk your way through, or that you’re smart enough to find a way over the top without making the exchange, but really, that would just be a game of snakes and ladders with only one loop; ladder snake, ladder snake.

Phase two

Will require you to gain full awareness to what holding the key to the gate is going to take.  It can bring sadness, overwhelm, fear, and uncertainty.  Things are getting real.  You know what you have to do yet still question if you’re willing to do it.  You are deciding whether or not you will choose to believe in yourself.

Phase three

If you choose it, is clarity and acceptance to what is most true and right for you; making the exchange.  Whilst you have clarity and acceptance, there may also be anxiety for what is not yet known.  This will require you to trust yourself and your intuition.  It will see you take the key in your hands to open that gate.  And then, here it may be; grief for what you are walking away from and leaving behind.  That which was once exactly what you wanted and has been an incredibly rewarding experience, but now must be let go, sometimes far sooner than you would ideally like.

Grief can be beautiful when it is truly understood and you stand in the knowledge that you always have the power to choose. 

It is healthy to recognise the feelings that you may have about what you are leaving behind. 

It shows deep connection and awareness to what is important to you and that you’ve made rewarding choices in your past.  To suppress or shame these emotions is to be denying a piece of you.

The last gem I will add here is to surround yourself with people who love and accept you exactly as you are.  People who are patient and hold space while you do you.  People who don’t measure their own success or that of the relationship they have with you by you staying exactly as you are, and people who can actively listen without responding to sound their own story onto you.  

If these people aren’t yet available; create the space for them, be intentional, and you will attract them in.  You can let go and redefine boundaries with people, and you can absolutely fill any vacant spaces with an even deeper relationship with yourself.  

Comments 2

  1. Great article Gemma!
    It makes so much sense when you explain it like this. I’m investing time on my holiday to catch up on some reading and your posts are inspiring me to think what I want from my future. xx

    1. Post

      Thanks Nicola – I’m pleased it’s helpful. That’s so special – I always love spending some of my holiday time in introspection about what would feel rewarding for the future. I’ll be keen to hear what you come up with 🙂

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