Goals or Dreams?

Why is it that age is a predictor of successes and failures? I remember crying on my 30th birthday because there were so many things I hadn't accomplished by then. I now have 4 years left till my 40th birthday. Will I cry then, too?

Believe me, I know what failure feels like, probably more than most. And, I know what it's like to make goals and meet them. But do we really need to dwell on the infamous question, "where will you be in 5 years?"

If you think about it, goal setting based on age is really nothing less than comparison. You want to do something by age 30 because others have, more specifically, others you deem as successful have. Perhaps social norms say that you should accomplish things by a certain age. And, if you don't meet that goal by a certain age, does that make you a failure? That was always my assumption, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that way.

What would happen if, instead of viewing things we are supposed to accomplish as goals, we see them as dreams? What's wrong with always having things you'd like to accomplish? Afterall, why would you want to accomplish everything by a certain age? I would challenge you to ask an older adult if there are still things he'd like to accomplish. If there is nothing left to do, to give meaning to your life, life would be pretty depressing, wouldn't you think?

So, I have a plan to create a new way of thinking -
First, what would you still like to do?
For me, I'd like to return to school and earn my PhD, I'd like to have a child, I'd love to travel to all of the continents, and I'd love to take a train cross-country through both the US and Canada. Of course, I'd also like to have a career where I am professionally and personally successful and where I can sufficiently financially support my family. These aren't far-fetched dreams. They're all achievable. The question is, should I set these as goals to meet by a certain time point or should I say these are things I want to accomplish before I die. I don't want to see myself as a failure again, so I will choose to see these as dreams and set the expectation that I will be happy if I can do each of these dreams before I breathe my last breath.
Second, do societal norms or other individuals really demand that you accomplish certain tasks by a certain age?
I would argue that they do not. One thing that I have learned is that those I admire who work in fields where I wish to work have met milestones at different points in their lives:
  • Neuro-educational consultant, Judy Willis, developed a passion for combining neuroscience and learning while being a neurologist. She was 50 when she earned her M.Ed. Of note, while she does have a doctorate in medicine, she does not have a PhD in psychology or education. But, honestly, does she need it when she has been recognized as an expert in the neurology of learning and is an in-demand speaker who almost always sells out her seminars?
  • Neurologist and educator, Oliver Sacks, completed his residency as a neurologist at the age of 32. He wrote Musicophilia, which I found an excellent example of music and cognition, at the age of 74.
  • Professor and researcher, Virginia Penhune, earned her PhD in psychology at the age of 38. She currently is the principal researcher at the Penhune lab, and she published her most notable research at the age of 50.
  • Cognitive Scientist and musician, Daniel Levitin, also earned his PhD in his late 30s. And, like Penhune, he became known for his analysis of music cognition with his books, This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, in 2006.
As an aspiring neuro-educational psychologist interested in music and cognition, I've found individuals who earned their PhDs before age 30 and even more who earned their PhD after the age of 30. What justification do I have to earn my PhD by a certain age? It's simply not logical.
I'm sure there are more steps to put this plan into action, but the most important lesson? Don't think of yourself as a failure because you didn't complete a task by a certain age. And, never give up on your dreams!
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