“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” How many times have you heard that? I tend to think so much about the future. My future job, my future house, my future spouse. I plan hairstyles months in advance. I’m thinking about dinner before I eat lunch. I write budgets, organize my bill payments and think through my finances (although I never stick to them),constantly and repeatedly. All of this obsessive planning, without reflection,only inches me toward achieving my goals. I had to stop and think about how to be more productive in my short and long-term planning.
Think about yourself today. One year ago today, where were you and what was happening in your life? Five years ago today? Dare I say it, 10 years ago today, what were you planning? Don’t think too hard – social media makes it all too easy to reflect and get lost in nostalgia. Daily recollections that provide glimpses of days in years past live on Timehop, Memories on Facebook, Memories on Snapchat and on IOS in For You, a special section of your photo album with suggested groupings by face recognition, location, dates, the list goes on. Instagram’s recent addition Story Highlights allow us to look back at key moments we captured on our stories, but also enables us to share a curated reel with our followers. I look back at photos from my 2016 trip to Las Vegas quarterly, simply because I loved that version of me. I digress.
Reflect effectively, not selectively
Back to the exercise, I’ll go first. I have to consider the highs AND the lows of my past. Ten years ago, I was in college with no money, no couth, no clue, and most importantly, praise God, limited to no social media. Smartphones and iPhones were fairly new. We still carried around 8-megapixel digital cameras and manually uploaded photos to our outdated computers. Facebook was king and evidence of my worst behavior lives only in the memories of those lucky enough to bear witness. Reflection: I learned so much from those failures and misguided decisions, but at least I had a good time!
Five years ago, I was working at my first full-time job,barely stable with my finances, still grasping how to maintain healthyrelationships with friends, family and beyond. Getting comfortable as anewly-minted adult, I started putting thought into my future and focused ongoal-setting. Reflection: What goals did I not accomplish and why? Were those the right goals to set? What are best practices and affirmations that I learned in 2013, that I still use today?
One year ago, I was dating someone, processing the fact that it was not going to work and bracing myself for the mental exhaustion of being single. I was one month into a new job and still playing financial catch up due to a 10-month career pause after having my daughter. Reflection: Am I the same person today that I was just a year ago? How am I better? How could I still improve? By this point, in my late twenties, I was thinking about and planning my next wave of awesome: my sweet spot.
What is the Sweet Spot?
When we do all this planning, goal-setting, dreaming, Pinterest boards, to-do lists, etc., what happens when we achieve success? Big or small, what are next steps? When I was an intern in college, I couldn’t wait to get a job. Then I got an entry-level job and couldn’t wait to advance. A couple years later, I asked for a promotion, earned it and then what?
That moment I was promoted, I consider my sweet spot, a first of many. I’ll get into the details later. In sports, the sweet spot is “the point or area on a bat, club, or racket at which it makes the most effective contact with the ball.” Imagine the ball is a single element in your life. The ball might be your job. You have a fulfilling job or career, but still have advancement potential and opportunity to grow. Imagine the ball is your relationship with your parents. You are closer now than you can recall in the past decade because they respect you as an adult and are available in an ideal capacity e.g. unbiased advice, shopping partner, doting grandparent. Whatever space that is, you are solid and it feels good to be your own person, not just their child. Imagine that ball is your finances. You made a goal to save money every month and you reached it. Now what? The sweet spot isn’t meant to be the happy ending of a story. It’s the beginning of a chapter that changes the plot for the better. It’s a milestone that requires attention and reflection to get you to the next one.
Consider your Approach
As we age and grow, we are always moving in a direction. Assuming that direction is onward and upward, what is the best approach to stepping into what we dreamed of and planned for?
Maybe you planned certain things and now they have happened. Maybe you didn’t plan anything but when you look at the big picture of your life, things are pretty damn good. Personally, I’m obsessed with ranking things from 1-10. I rank my daily mood, shoes I want to buy, items on my grocery list,everything. Whether you rank or apply some other measurement tool, it’s important to assess: What do you have? What do you want? What do you need? This allows you to set benchmarks for success and makes it easier to identify when you’re moving from planning for the best to living your best life.
Embrace Your Sweet Spot
Maybe you are living your best life. You just reached your health and wellness goal. You just came back from a trip you put on your vision board three years ago. You just got engaged. You just graduated. You just moved out of your parent’s house. You just got an iPhone XS Max. Whatever you did or whatever combination of winning experiences just occurred, it’s important to think about what happens next.
I’ll give an example. I got a job after searching tirelessly for months. Maybe someone can relate. I needed a job and it was all I could think about. When I got the congratulatory email, I was numb because during that time, it was all I wanted. It was the answer to all my problems. I thought, now I have it, do I stop being proactive and productive? Hell no. I had to learn the company culture, perform well, define my benchmarks for success with my manager, consider and map out a path for advancement, either at this job or elsewhere.
Today, one year later, I’ve been promoted, I feel confident and I’m in my second career sweet spot. This didn’t come without challenges. I was on the brink of being let go. I took risks in the position that were not guaranteed to pan out. I made mistakes and I learned some lessons about myself and how I want to be perceived by my peers and colleagues. Getting the job wasn’t my sweet spot, but it was the first step toward it. I still had to plan and prepare for where I am today. Now that I recognize I’m in this stage, I’m conceiving what that next phase should look like. My next sweet spot isn’t exclusively tied to my career. It’s another ball that I want to hit, just right. For me, that’s probably finances. But first, before you move on to the next sweet spot, give yourself permission to exhale. Enjoy your life and where you are. You earned it. I’m definitely basking in these moments of clarity and reward, but also bracing myself for the next episode.
I think the path gets clearer as we learn and inevitably know ourselves. I have not read Michelle Obama’s book yet, but we are all becoming ourselves and hopefully that self is as exceptional as you imagined.If I look back 10 years, five years and one year, I’d say I am on the path of being and maintaining a pretty dope version of me – a “me” I was raised to be,aspired to be, and more importantly worked my ass off to be.
Never stop goal-setting. I want to save more. I want to be a better mom. I want to be a better friend and sister and daughter. I might not be fit for marriage but I don’t want to get old alone. I want to see people that look like me, women and people of color, thriving. After I get this money, my list of wants tell me I want to work on my personal relationships and my impact. Now what do I need to do get there?
Set practical goals. Breakdown your efforts by steps. I want to be a better mom. How much time can I spend with my daughter realistically? Take out daycare and work, we have time in the evenings and on the weekend. Maybe we read more. Maybe we learn a new song every week. Maybe I take her on two play dates a month to meet other kids and watch her interactions to make sure she’s not a bully. These are real examples for me, but maybe I keep it simple and just keep my phone on silent in the evenings until she goes to sleep. Whatever I do, this sweet spot will be the day she acknowledges how great of a mom I am and I collapse into tears lol.
Think about your goals. Now write down the steps that you can take to reach them and what success looks like. Your sweet spot is yours and it can refer to anything in your life. Reflect, thoughtfully. Be grateful for your experiences – good and bad. Be honest with yourself and be productive. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. But guess what? Your best day may be yet to come.
To navigate your sweet spot effectively, ask yourself these questions. What does it look like? What have you already done to bring yourself closer to it? What can you still do to make it a reality and what comes next?
Charlia is dedicated to helping others overcome various forms of social isolation through community-building programs and efforts. She currently works as a Project Manager in AARP’s Public Policy Institute,focusing on the development of resources and programs to empower family caregivers in multicultural populations. She is obsessed with understanding identity to promote effective communication that will lead to compassion and healthy relationships – the key to establishing emotional intelligence. Outside of work, Charlia spends time with her daughter Jayce, pet chiweenie Desmond,and is a Girl Scout Troop Leader for two troops in Washington, DC.