big questions, goals, student loans

The Mountaintop

The Mountaintop

I know I’m supposed to have goals.

We’re all supposed to, right? We’re told by our culture, by each other, and by what sometimes feels like common sense that this is the best way to conduct our lives. We’re told that we should identify clear targets, go after them, sacrifice for them until we achieve them. And many of us are very good at this. We train for marathons. We lose the extra weight. We go back to school. We start businesses. We pay off our mortgages and our student loans.

That last one—paying off my student loans—is a goal of mine right now, no question. And I have to say, it’s a fun goal to have because it’s so huge and so clearly defined: in January I owed $56,753, today I owe $54,181, my interest rate is 6.8%…Go! As the months go by I’ll watch the progress bar move slowly towards the right, and someday the gap between what I’ve paid and what I owe will close, and I’ll treat you all to a virtual glass of champagne, and we’ll clink our glasses together, and I’ll feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

But there’s something a little peculiar about choosing debt payoff as a goal, at least in my particular case. I can’t help but notice that my goal consists of a collection of negative sentiments: I want to NOT have debt, I want to NOT have the stress and anxiety that go along with debt, I DON’T want to have to make student loan payments anymore. It’s not a goal to do or to have or to create or to become or to experience…rather, it’s a step away from danger, a wish for an absence. It’s a big, gaping hole in the ground that I’m trying desperately to fill in as quickly as possible so that I can do…what?

In other words, I know I’m trying to escape from something, but what am I escaping towards?

Here’s where the mountaintop comes in. I’ve been on a lot of hikes, and in the vast majority of cases the goal of the hike has been to get to the top of the mountain. And also to enjoy the journey, presumably. But because of our human frailty and vulnerability, we cannot safely walk up a huge mountain and back down again with nothing. In order to make it there and back, we (apparently) need special shoes, we need backpacks with food and bottles of water, we need waterproof jackets and hats and sunglasses and sunscreen and extra socks and hiking poles and GPS and maps and first aid kits and sometimes ice picks and yak tracks. And it can be surprisingly easy to get really caught up in the gear: Ooh, smartwool socks! Ooh, delicious granola bars! Ooh, the latest technology in waterproof, windproof, breathable fabric! But is the gear the goal? Not really. The mountaintop is the goal. The gear is just a means to an end, a set of tools that enables you to confidently and safely begin walking.

Sometimes I wonder if my situation is similar. Is working to pay off debt with no subsequent goals in mind the same as stocking up on all the cool gear without any current plans to climb a specific mountain?

I don’t want to belittle my goal of paying off debt, because it is a real goal, and it is important to me. But I do suspect that it functions as a stand-in, a distraction from the fact that I don’t currently have a lot of other large goals. And writing this here feels a little like a confession because I know that I’m “supposed” to have goals and that people who don’t have any goals are complacent, unimaginative, small-minded.

Right?

Then again, isn’t there something to be said for being at peace with your life right now? I can see the value in pursuing a goal if you already happen to have one, but trying to come up with things I wish I had can feel like an exercise in discontent.

The truth is that in many ways, I am really happy with my life right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m an adult with a Real Job. I’m happy to wake up early and go do my job for 8 or 9 hours, and I’m happy to leave it after that time is up. I live in a beautiful city with lots of places to explore. I get to spend a lot of my day outside, walking. I have my family and friends. I’m in good health. I’m in a book club. I’m taking Spanish classes. I practice yoga. I have access to free libraries (as do most of us) and free Internet (because my landlord is a nice guy). Honestly, if I could change anything at all about my day-to-day life, it would probably be to get more sleep. Or to have a washer and dryer in my apartment. But these small annoyances aren’t obstructing my happiness in any real way.

And actually I do have goals. It’s just that they don’t happen to be particularly expensive ones. I want to remember friends’ birthdays early enough that I can get it together to send a card or gift in the mail. I want to be kinder to strangers. I want to find more ways to communicate better in difficult situations. I want to get better at my day job. I want to figure out the next step in my career. I want to become a better writer. I want to improve my Spanish. I want to stay healthy. I want to read more books. I want to keep learning and growing as a human being. I want to find more ways to add value to the world. Most of these goals are free, or nearly free, and few of them are easily measurable. And more to the point, I can pursue any and all of them whether I have student loans or not.

And so here is my real confession: I don’t think it’s necessary to have humongous, measurable, expensive goals in order to live a meaningful life—at least it’s not necessary for me at this particular point in my life. I believe that it’s okay to have goals that are embedded in the day-to-day, goals that defy measurement or are imperceptible to others. I believe that goals can take the shape of intentions, that they can slide in and out of hibernation or materialize without warning. And I believe that in some cases, goals can even be buried, hidden beneath the surface, visible only when we find ourselves suddenly at the top of a mountain that we didn’t even fully realize we were climbing.

As for those bigger, visible, measurable goals, maybe I’ll end up formulating one or two or ten of those sometime in the future. And maybe not. But I figure in the meantime it can’t hurt to pay off these loans as quickly as I can.

What do you think? Is it necessary to have big, huge, expensive, measurable goals? Do smaller goals hold less meaning? I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot lately and would be very curious to hear your thoughts. 

 

Disease Called Debt

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63 Comments

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor April 12, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    I love this thoughtful post. I think finishing your doctorate degree & landing your Real Job are huge goal accomplishments & it’s awesome that you’re content with your life now. We haven’t set huge goals outside of debt payoff, because we want to focus on the type of people we feel called to be–our roles, if you will. And out of that flow our “small,” often immeasurable goals, and be flexible enough to adopt big or little goals along the way. (I wrote about this here: http://www.pretendtobepoor.com/do-less-be-more/). So I definitely see where you’re coming from.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:07 PM

      Cool, I am definitely going to check out your post. I think this is a really important topic to talk/write about — big, expensive goals tend to get most of the spotlight, but I really do think that other goals are often equally as important, if not more important, because they often involve personal growth and relationships with others.

  • Reply Ernie April 12, 2016 at 7:37 AM

    “And I believe that in some cases, goals can even be buried, hidden beneath the surface, visible only when we find ourselves suddenly at the top of a mountain that we didn’t even fully realize we were climbing.” I totally resonate with the sentiment of this statement! When it comes to goals, I’m in a similar place to you – I just want to be out of debt! After that I’m not really sure what my goals are, but I’ll worry about that as I get closer to the mountaintop.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:11 PM

      Glad you can relate, Ernie! I think it can be really hard to think past the goal of debt payoff, and I’ve decided that I’m just going to be okay with that. Who knows what I might want to do a year or two from now anyway? 🙂

  • Reply Des April 12, 2016 at 8:21 AM

    I’m so happy that you’re in such a happy place right now – and I think your goals are AMAZING ones! My god the getting-it-together-for-birthdays thing alone. I need to do that.

    I definitely don’t think goals need to be expensive at all – when I look back at my storied goal-setting career (working at lululemon will do that to you) I can only think of a few that were truly expensive, but most of them required little or no money to achieve! Expensive: study abroad in Australia. Inexpensive: earn X amount of freelancing income! And about a million other ones.

    Plus, another lululemon-learned lesson: instead of NOT wanting debt, you want to be debt-free 😉

    (It’s a little weird that working in retail was such a formative experience for me, but oh well. It was back when no one had said anything weird about how some women’s thighs aren’t meant for their pants, so.)

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:15 PM

      Oh wow, lululemon. I’m glad it was a positive experience for you! Did they really emphasize goal-setting? I’ve actually never been in a lululemon, but I know in yoga class at least the teachers tend to talk about “intentions” rather than goals. But maybe that doesn’t carry over as much into the world of yoga corporations. Also I just realized that I’m not sure if lululemon is actually a yoga store or if they’re just a store that sells yoga stuff. Anyway. And YES, why is it that I cannot remember to do anything for anyone’s birthday until the day of? I should see if there’s an app that can manage this for me.

  • Reply Daisy April 12, 2016 at 8:43 AM

    I love your analogy about the goal of the mountaintop with our life goals. And how you were self-aware enough to question where you were headed. I learned that lesson the hard way years back when I ended up where I didn’t want to be & wondered how I got there. It’s great that you were able to question these things this early for this particular goal.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:17 PM

      Thanks, Daisy! 🙂

  • Reply our next life April 12, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    Mountains and money –– you’re speaking my language! I definitely don’t think that goals have to be expensive, and thinking about our own expensive goal, I do think at times it detracts from our happiness. Big and expensive goals have a way of focusing us entirely on the future, and make it much harder to be present and focused on the current day, which is a shame. I think letting yourself focus on the present for a while, enjoying your happiness, and focusing on becoming debt-free (positive!), is a really good thing. If it’s time to have a big expensive goal in the future, you’ll know. 🙂

    • Reply Lucky Girl April 12, 2016 at 4:16 PM

      ONL said everything that I was going to say, only more eloquently. Enjoy your present! You have recently made a big transition from being a student to being a worker, and its great that you are enjoying your job right now. Don’t rush.

      • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:48 PM

        Thanks! I’m definitely doing my best to enjoy it — and doing well so far. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:30 PM

      Yeah, trying to balance future goals with present happiness can definitely be difficult. I feel like you guys are very thoughtful about that balance though — like your recent post about not letting your goals eclipse your present life/values, or your post from this week which I have read but have yet to comment on. Plus, you made a conscious decision not to complain about work, which I think is admirable and unusual, since for most people work is the #1 easiest thing to complain about.

      And I’m sure it’s very different when you do actually have a big huge goal in mind. I hear what you’re saying about it potentially detracting from your happiness, but I bet it actually increases your current happiness in certain ways too, no?

      • Reply our next life April 13, 2016 at 12:30 AM

        To be 100% transparent about it, just because I blog about something doesn’t mean I’m perfect at it. So I’m still impatient, still future-focused, and I still complain (albeit much less) about work. 🙂 But thinking this stuff through and thinking about what I want my daily life to be like helps a ton. And I realized that I really was living for the future, and that I didn’t want that, and I’m working to change that. Same with the complaining and the impatience. I don’t want to be a complainer in general, so why not start with my most frequently complained about subject?

        But YES, to your question, having a big goal and making progress toward it does bring a different kind of satisfaction. I wouldn’t call it happiness, exactly, but it’s certainly a feeling of excitement. But, for example, we recently hit a notable milestone in our numbers, and it pretty much changed nothing about our lives. I think it’s different if the numbers mean something — like being free from debt or saving up enough to buy a home, for example — but so much of the big stuff is almost academic. I think focusing on what’s right in front of you, and your everyday life is a very satisfying way to go. (And I hope that when we quit next year, I’ll be able to shift to that thinking — sometimes I worry that I’ve been future focused for so long that I won’t be able to adapt!) (sorry so long!) 🙂

        • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:48 PM

          Well, I can definitely relate to that: just because I blog about something doesn’t mean I’m perfect at it either! Sometimes I feel like my blog posts reflect the best version of myself — like, it’s definitely my voice, but it’s a particularly calm, thoughtful, hopeful version of me. (It’s the version of me who says she wants to be kinder to strangers, rather than the version who glares at people for walking too slowly or taking up too much space on the sidewalk.)

          I’m sure it will be quite a journey to adapt to a new lifestyle/goals/way of thinking! I’ll be very interested to hear how it goes — hopefully you’ll still be blogging. 🙂

  • Reply Fervent Finance April 12, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    I definitely relate to this. My main goal (my only real goal) right now is financial independence. I know I want it because I DON’T want to work, for someone else at least. But what I do struggle with is what would I be leaving work to do? Sure I like travel, but I wouldn’t want to do it non-stop 24/7. Do I want to garden? Teach a community college class? Woodwork? Read? Sleep? Start a business? I have plenty of time to think of my goals post FI and you have plenty of time to thing of goals once you pay off your debt. I think your current goals are great, and they’ll evolve as you finish them and move on.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:33 PM

      Ah, yes, I totally understand what you’re saying. Financial independence is not something I’m expecting to reach as a young person, but if it were, I suspect I would have the same dilemma with figuring out exactly what I would do with my time. I bet you’ll figure it out naturally though, at some point. And in the meantime, live the questions, right? 🙂

  • Reply middle_class April 12, 2016 at 11:12 AM

    When I was in my 20s, working my first job, I didn’t have a lot of BIG goals either. It’s good to have bigger goals but that’s really the time to explore the world, make human connections and enjoy life! You just landed your first “real” job and it’s a good goal just to do your job well so that you can earn more in the future. I truly enjoyed my 20s and I don’t have a single regret. Note: I didn’t have much debt.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:36 PM

      Yes, that’s exactly how I feel too: exploring the world and making human connections are hugely important. I plan to do a lot more of both while I continue to gain more work experience. 🙂

  • Reply Maggie April 12, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    I completely agree with you. And kudos for doing so well balancing your life now for your life later. I’m proud you’re paying for Spanish classes. You still are doing something tremendous (pay off all that debt) but you’re managing to do it with a clear idea about what you want your life to be now. For me, this balance is a constant struggle.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:38 PM

      Thanks for the encouragement, Maggie. 🙂 I’m glad I paid for the Spanish classes too.

  • Reply Courtney April 12, 2016 at 11:53 AM

    What an amazing, thoughtful post. I’ve been living a life of BIG GOALS here for a couple of years. Move into Airstream; Sell Everything; Retire Early; all big humongous goals. I’m excited for them but I am also getting tired. I honestly am looking forward to a year from now where hopefully my goals list looks a lot like yours does now. A content life with smaller goals. A life where I can be as present and as thoughtful as you are now.

    I agree that we’ll go through phases of life where big, expensive goals are necessary and times when they are not. I guess we enjoy what we’re working towards while we’re doing it and wait to see what the future holds. Meanwhile kudos on prioritizing paying down your debt. That is a worthy goal that your future self will certainly thank you for.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:42 PM

      That’s an interesting perspective: that the size or type of goals we have may change throughout different phases of life. You’ve been working on some pretty Big Goals recently, so I can definitely see how you’d want to take a break and reevaluate! And maybe I’ll get some Big Goals soon and we’ll have switched places entirely. 🙂 In any case, I hope you’re able to get some rest now or in the near future!

  • Reply kara19 April 12, 2016 at 1:46 PM

    I think your point about how your goal is not working towards something, but rather the absence of something is well said. But by losing the debt, you’ll hopefully be making space for those other small goals you want. Maybe once you lose the stress and time consumption of number crunching that goes along with debt, you’ll have an easier time remembering your friends birthdays. Maybe once you’re not anxious about your financial future, you’ll be kinder to strangers.

    I think you’re 100% spot on that goals don’t have to be big and expensive to be valid. I do also strongly believe in goals. It’s good to strive to put yourself in a good place. And once you’re there, I think it’s also good to just chill, take a look around and appreciate it.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:46 PM

      That’s an interesting point that debt may be causing stress that spills over into other areas of my life. I hadn’t really thought of that before, but it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I feel like the whole debt payoff thing is exciting and sometimes I do find it stressful — it’s hard to say which one wins out. In the meantime, I should just try to find an app that will help me remember my friends’ birthdays. (Or, you know, just use Google calendar reminders.) 🙂

  • Reply GEOFF April 12, 2016 at 3:28 PM

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post! I’ve also been thinking about what my goals in life should be, beyond the basic financial ones. Turns out there is a limit to what answers I can find through spreadsheets! Perhaps the most important goals are within us, rather than “big” things that people can see: car, home, travel.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:47 PM

      Haha, yes, well said — there is definitely a limit to the answers we can find through spreadsheets! I agree that the most important goals probably lie within us, despite the fact that they are far less visible than cars and houses.

  • Reply C@thesingledollar April 12, 2016 at 4:51 PM

    I’m actually a pretty big fan of not having enormous goals. I mean if you do, that’s fine. But for myself, “goals” often seem like focusing on the things I lack in my life, instead of focusing on the things that I have and do. I found, for example, that the goal of finishing grad school became such a thing in itself that when I fulfilled it, I was kind of at a loss, emotionally. (This is a very common reaction, so my psychiatrist told me.) I feel much better when my goals are — I don’t want to say smaller. More diffuse, perhaps. Things like “volunteer” and “eat vegetables” and “remember birthdays” and “vote.” I did make some overall financial goals and I like having them because I find they help me make better day to day decisions. Maybe that’s the difference? Good goals keep your life running smoothly on a day to day basis, while unhelpful goals just make you obsess about how you haven’t fulfilled them yet.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:16 PM

      YES, that’s exactly how I feel: that making up big goals feels like trying to be less content with my life as it currently is. Whereas smaller or less measurable goals often involve enhancing aspects of my life that already exist. More diffuse, as you say, and therefore possibly more integrated into daily life. I think that’s a helpful distinction.

      It’s funny that I didn’t view finishing grad school as a goal per se. I think I saw it more like something I just had to get through. I’m not sure why that is.

  • Reply J April 12, 2016 at 5:39 PM

    Hola, buenos días! It was refreshing to read this and I have to say, I can relate. I don’t think there is any goal too small or a meaningless goal. We all have unique circumstances and I think even our individual happiness is different from everyone else’s, so it’s important that we find out how to achieve it. It seems that you’ve already defined your happiness at this point and that’s a huge achievement in itself. Congratulations! I recently wrote about how I feel about not having anything huge to write about in my blog; how I’m only writing about my savings when everyone else seems to be writing about early retirement and paying school loans and paying off mortgages. Sometimes, I do feel I don’t belong but writing and being a part of this community helps me improve my finances, so I try to put my negative thoughts and doubts aside for that trade-off. Besides, everyone in the pf community is awesome, I wouldn’t want to leave it.

    I hope your Spanish lessons are going well. I never got past beginner level because I told myself I will go to Spain for an immersion lesson instead. Never happened. Oddly enough, I’m learning Mandarin these days. Haha! Languages are fun!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:25 PM

      Thanks for your comment! I feel like in any community, the more diversity, the better. If everyone is writing about the same goals from the same perspective, how can any of us learn from each other or think in new ways? I think it’s important to have more voices from more people on different journeys. I’ll have to check out your blog!

      Yay for Spanish! And Chinese! I actually lived in China for a year but was super lazy about learning Chinese (which in retrospect is embarrassing), so I never got past the basics. Hope your studying is going well!

  • Reply Harmony Smith (@CMK_Harmony) April 12, 2016 at 5:53 PM

    Keep in mind that your priorities will shift over time. It’s great that you’re happy right now, but still disciplined enough to make paying off debt a priority. Having no debt will give you options and flexibility to follow new goals that arise down the road. Maybe once you climb this mountain, you’ll see another one off in the distance that you want to climb 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:56 PM

      That’s a good point: who knows what I’ll be thinking in a year or two? Maybe I’ll have a better idea of what else I want to do after I’ve had some more time to think about it. And in the meantime, I’m just going to focus on the debt so I have more options for whatever I decide to do next. 🙂

  • Reply Michael @ Financially Alert April 13, 2016 at 5:54 AM

    Another thoughtful post, Sarah!

    Some goals are certainly better than no goals. 🙂 As long as you’re happy with the ones you have, that’s all the matters.

    For me, I typically like to have at least one BHAG (big harry audacious goal), simply because it pushes me to my limit and challenges me to do something I’m not sure that I can do. I believe it’s that final stretch when you think you can’t do something, and then you do, when you grow the most.

    Like Harmony above mentioned, priorities will shift over time. You just completed a huge goal with your doctorate, so a little breathing room from a huge goal is well deserved. No doubt you will get through your debt goal and find financial freedom someday. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:50 PM

      Thanks, Michael! I think I’ll continue to evaluate the goals as I go along. Right now I feel fine with having small, day-to-day goals plus the one big goal of paying off my debt, but who knows what other goals I might have in the future? I’ll wait to find out! 🙂

  • Reply A April 13, 2016 at 2:06 PM

    This is great. As I’ve been obsessing lately about paying off debt, it’s great to read a different perspective. Sometimes I just need to calm down and realize that I’m doing things about 95% right to pay down my debt as quickly as possible and no amount of obsessing over it will change it or make it move any faster. Thanks for reminding me to keep my other goals in mind (reading more, playing more, etc.) while focusing on my big goal of debt reduction. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:54 PM

      Glad you liked the post. 🙂 I definitely think it’s possible to do both (enjoy your life and pay down debt). Like you, I find it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a limit to how fast I can pay off this debt, and obsessing over it isn’t going to make it go away faster. So in the meantime I want to make sure I’m taking care of myself and doing other things that are important to me. 🙂

  • Reply Dear Debt April 14, 2016 at 1:41 AM

    Great post! Now that I’m debt-free, I’ve felt a little aimless. I’m happier and better off, but working toward this one goal for so long was tough. It’s important to be well-rounded and have other goals as well.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 14, 2016 at 6:15 AM

      Glad you liked the post, Melanie. 🙂 I bet it’s a huge psychological shift to complete one massive goal that you’ve been working towards for so long. I’m glad you’re feeling happier, and I’m sure that as time goes on you’ll feel less aimless, as new goals and opportunities arise.

  • Reply seattlegirluw April 14, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    I know what you mean about negative goals. It felt like that last year when we were saving for Tim’s oral surgery. Technically, the money was going into savings, but it was more like prepaying debt. Blech.

    I don’t have a lot of big goals except in the abstract: Put more money into retirement, pay off the house, save up for a rental house, etc. Mainly, my goal is to make it from day to day without:

    a) Blowing up at a customer — easy to avoid since I work online
    b) Giving up due to the huge number of things we have to do — easy since I just focus on one or two at a time
    c) Crying at the huge number of things that still need doing — like 99.9% success here
    d) Not killing my husband because at least one of us is uber-grouchy — 100% success rate here, if a little touch and go at times

    As long as I can keep that up (and slowly increase our savings balance) I’m pretty happy.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 14, 2016 at 5:43 PM

      Yeah, I can definitely see the application of this concept to medical bills: it’s like you’re paying for something NOT to be wrong (or paying for something to be LESS wrong than it currently is), rather than paying for something you actively want.

      The more I think about it, the more I really think day-to-day goals are where it’s at. Those ones are usually more connected to what type of person we are and how we treat other people and how we respond to situations, whereas the big goals are often less connected to personal strength or character or relationships.

  • Reply Allan Liwanag April 15, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    What you are doing or have done are big accomplishments. Kudos to you.

    Goals don’t need to be big or expensive. For me and my wife, we like to reach goals that are simple but meaningful to us. We like to raise our daughter to be the person we want her to be, that is, a good, loving and caring citizen. We like to travel the world and do it together. We love to retire early and don’t worry about living paycheck to paycheck and that’s why we are saving money considering there’s only one income coming in the family.

    We also want to build a small house for our. When I say small I mean like 800 sq ft. From where my wife and I came from, that is the Philippines, the average size of a house for 4 is around 700 sq ft. I think we’ll be able to live comfortably even with a small-sized house.

    We like to attain goals that are simple but meaningful to our lives.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 16, 2016 at 7:46 AM

      These sounds like great goals, Allan! I especially love that one of your goals is to raise your daughter to be a loving and caring citizen. The small house sounds great too — best of luck to you as you work towards these goals!

  • Reply Mel April 16, 2016 at 9:35 AM

    I think I have a lot of trouble staying motivated to do anything without clear goals, but it’s cool that you’re content and happy! I think THAT is a lot of people’s goal and you’ve already pretty much achieved it.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 16, 2016 at 1:21 PM

      Well, we’ll see. 🙂 It’s definitely an ongoing journey. I feel content with my life right now (other than the student debt), but I might think of other things I want to do or changes I want to make in the future. I just don’t think it’s necessary for me to sit around trying to think up goals just for the sake of having goals. As an earlier commenter said, when I have a goal, I’ll know. 🙂

  • Reply -N- April 16, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    I think what you are experiencing is normal. It’s frustrating to slog along and do what you need to do. The word “not” is not fun and makes a necessity even more onerous. Reframing – changing your wording – might help. Try “Soon I will be debt free and I can have fun.” Or something like that. And there are times in our lives when being unambitious is part of lying fallow, allowing time to create itself, and time to let yourself be in the process of becoming. Just my opinion, but I really believe that. Also, other words to get rid of, in addition to “not,” include “why” and “how come.” Change those with “what” and emotional garbage disappears, and the brain turns on. Emotions are not ignored, but understood.

    Great post!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 16, 2016 at 3:51 PM

      Thanks for these thoughts. 🙂 I think your comment about sometimes needing time to lie fallow is very wise (also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “fallow” in a blog post or blog comment before, and I love it!). Maybe that’s where I am right now. I’m sure that with time, things will change, my desires and level of contentment will change, etc., but I’m trying not to worry too much about that right now. I’m getting a kick out of paying off the debt, little by little — maybe when I get closer to the finish line I’ll be able to see what lies beyond it.

      • Reply -N- April 16, 2016 at 5:40 PM

        There is always something beyond!

  • Reply Tyler April 16, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    I think many of us trying to get out of debt are so focused on that we really don’t have any idea what we’ll do once we get there. I keep telling myself that once I get debt free I’ll stop working as much because we won’t need the money. But is that really true? I doubt it, I have the spark and work hard now much harder than ever before, I honestly don’t think I could go back to even working the amount of time I was before I started taking my debt seriously. I however, have a while to think about the next steps for me.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 16, 2016 at 3:53 PM

      That’s an interesting thought, Tyler. I do think that for me, as for you, the new focus on being responsible with money and trying to earn extra where I can is probably something that will stick with me for a long time, even after the debt is paid off. It will be interesting to see what the next steps are for both of us — perhaps we’ll think of other goals when we are close to making the last payment.

  • Reply Hayley @ Disease Called Debt April 17, 2016 at 3:12 AM

    Interesting read Sarah, I know what you mean. Sometimes having great big goals, they give us focus yes and help us to improve things, but it can seem like we’re always striving to reach something new, rather than being happy with the way our lives are. My own goals are much looser this year than in previous years since I always felt bad at not meeting them. I think that’s ok.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 17, 2016 at 1:58 PM

      Yes, there’s also that balance between having big goals and psychologically needing to feel that we are succeeding at them at least some of the time. I definitely am averse to setting goals that I know I can’t achieve (like: pay off ALL my loans this year by working four different jobs and sleeping zero hours per night!!!). I think goal-setting is actually a pretty complex activity in a lot of ways because there are so many things to balance.

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach April 18, 2016 at 9:34 AM

    Being single minded in a goal is not a bad thing at all…especially if you ARE enjoying life, like you said you are. I think people feel pressure to OG (over-goal) themselves because they see other, let’s say bloggers, creating this huge list. Not necessary. And time consuming at that. Where is the time for fun and spontaneity?

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 18, 2016 at 11:26 AM

      OG, haha. Yes, that’s what I’m trying to avoid: OG-ing. There’s no reason to make up a fake goal just to be like other people. And I definitely agree that fun and spontaneity are key!

  • Reply ourfrugalescapades April 19, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    Great blog! We’ve been in those shoes ourselves where your only focus is on the debt you have to be rid of. It’s a noble goal, but you’re still young! Live your life and don’t allow it to consume you. You already have your act together and will do just fine. Heck…you should have seen us at your age…we were a disaster in the making! At least you have a goal(s)! Ha ha! 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 19, 2016 at 10:19 PM

      Thanks, haha. I’m working on that. As much as I do enjoy my life in general, it’s actually hard to mentally get away from debt repayment sometimes. I’m working on a post about that right now, as a matter of fact…

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  • Reply Jef April 20, 2016 at 12:22 AM

    You’re certainly not alone Sarah, I think a lot about goals as well.. For me I’ve started to develop habits that then cascade into goals i.e. the habit of tracking my wealth / expenses etc then cascades down into a goal of creating passive or residual income or a habit of tracking my sleep cascades into the goal of being “healthier”..

    At the same time each person is different and a big focus is being really grateful and happy with the now plus figuring out where I gain fulfillment and enjoyment from, which for me is freedom and flexibility 🙂

    Great post and very thoughtful question!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 20, 2016 at 6:09 AM

      I love the idea of concepts cascading into goals. That sounds like a good way to keep yourself on track yet stay realistic, since most goals really are achieved by the little choices we make each day. And yes, being grateful and happy with the now is definitely something I’m striving towards (and am writing more about this week!).

  • Reply Vic @ Dad is Cheap April 21, 2016 at 1:53 AM

    I don’t have any clear and definite goals like you have in paying your debt. My goals are more general – retire early, put my daughter through college, and have some fun along the way (while being financially responsible). I’ve been hesitant into putting a specific number or end date to both of these goals as I’ve honestly been crazy intimidated by them. I know I need to save and invest more for retirement, but I haven’t looked at how much yet. I just know that I’m saving as much as we can so that we can retire. One day I’ll look, but I’m just not there yet :).

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 23, 2016 at 10:22 PM

      I think it’s really hard to put an end date on big goals like that — partly because the end date can seem far away, and partly because there’s just no way to know how long it will really take. But I like that you put in “have some fun along the way” — that’s really important! 🙂

  • Reply Millennial Boss April 27, 2016 at 2:00 AM

    I typically put a goals list together at the beginning of every year but only check in on it a few times a year. I think the way you are looking at it is actually healthier. Being happy with your “now” is actually the quickest way to get to your ideal future. This actually reminds me of every time I tried to go on a diet in the past haha. I would convince myself I looked bad and then stress out about it and try to lose a few lbs and then binge eat when it was over. Once I was OK with where I was in the present, I found it alot easier to lose weight naturally and was less stressed out about it because I felt better about myself. I hope that less-stress for you in the present leads to a wonderful debt payoff moment in the future! Also – side note: I started getting 8 hours of sleep two years ago and it changed my life. I’d give it a try because it’s amazing.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 27, 2016 at 10:32 PM

      Oh gosh, diets, yes, I can totally relate to that too. There are so many similarities between paying off debt and dieting, I feel.

      I would loooooooooove to get 8 hours of sleep; unfortunately, I have to get up at 5:30ish for my job most days, and I can’t quite get it together to go to bed early enough to squeeze in 8 hours before that time. But it does sound like something to work towards!

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