The grief of getting what you want

Photo courtesy of Ted Court

 

It’s always nice to hear from people who are achieving their goals. Whether it’s getting through school, taking a trip across the world, or even finding a partner, it is always inspiring to hear these success stories.

(Or at least it can be. At low points in my life it has made me feel worse, assuming that there is something “special” about other people. Pro tip: there’s not.)

My mom recently fulfilled a dream of long-standing: she added a deck to the back of her house.

I was there to share in her celebration. And yet, as we were watching the boards put in, she confided that there was a certain sadness there. I think I understood why.

Longing

Longing is normal. The more you long for something, the more normal it feels.

In fact, I believe it is possible to become attached to the longing itself.

The feeling becomes familiar, almost like a companion (if not quite a friend). And pervasive feelings are like belongings that you never put down; they can almost become a part of you. To be a touring/performing musician was a longing of mine for many years. I have since parked that aspiration, but for a long time it felt like part of my identity.

A friend says goodbye

An old friend (click on photos to enlarge)

Attaining

So what happens when what you long for actually comes to pass?

Obviously, there is a certain joy in attaining something. But you’ve lost something in the process: In attaining your goal, you’ve lost the longing.

That desire that you’ve been holding on to, that “old friend” of yours, is now gone. After all, you can’t long for what you have.

This leaves a hole inside you. It seems strange to think about it, but it’s true: you can miss your longing. And why not? What if you’ve been wanting something for years? That was years of sitting with something that is now no longer there.

Thing.

Saying goodbye

Longing for longing

There’s a tendency to feel a little ashamed of being sad at this point. Your internal monologue may be saying: “Why are you sad? You’re getting what you want!” There’s a real danger of considering yourself ungrateful.

But this is missing the point. You’re not sad about what you’ve achieved. You’re sad about something else entirely: losing the desire you’ve held onto for so long. This nuance is easily missed, but it’s crucial.

So if you’ve ever gotten what you wanted, only to wonder why your feelings are intensely mixed, I want you to understand where that’s coming from. And for those of you who are on the verge of achieving your own goals, don’t be surprised if a unexpected feeling of grief overcomes you. You are not ungrateful. You have lost a friend.

Thing.

Not ungrateful

Postscript

A week or two later, I talked to my mom and asked for an update on the construction. After sending me some pictures, she added:

“Every time I walk into the kitchen without doing steps, I literally giggle. And the grief feelings have dissipated, more like: What to dream for next?”

The grief passes.

What to dream for next?

What to dream for next?

But enough about my family. Have you ever felt sadness after achieving something?

And thanks to my mom for letting me post about this. Congrats, Mom.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on July 21, 2014