do I really need to set personal goals after a terrible year?

Warning: contains mention of suicide and other traumas.

A reader writes:

2020 has been a rough year in so many ways for me. There was COVID — which let me stay home and work, and it was really more of a blessing for that than for so many others, which I feel a bit guilty about but grateful that’s how it ended up working. But it still upended society and made me worried for the many health-fragile people in my family.

On top of that, my oldest and dearest friend of 30 years was told her cancer was terminal. They stopped treatment in July and she passed away in September. She was 51. Her father unexpected passed at the beginning of July, from a cancer we didn’t know he had – he went to the emergency room and got the diagnosis on a Monday, he passed on Friday. (We had lost her husband 15 months earlier to a different disease.) I pretty much dropped everything and everybody to clean out her apartment, move her in with her son and then stay with her and be her main caretaker with him. Because she was also so sick, I’m now managing sorting out the estates and dealing with all the legalities and trusts as well as playing first mom instead of second mom to her three adult and one teenage children. (I say adult – the oldest is 25 and they have a lot of growing up left to do yet.)

At the beginning of November, I was rushed to the emergency room with severe pancreatis and had to have emergency gallbladder removal and stay in the hospital for the better part of a week. I’m still trying to recover from that at the beginning of December.

Just before Thanksgiving, one of my best friend’s son’s best friends killed himself in front of said son. 

At least three people in my family are very sick right now with flu bugs (not covid) and on top of everything else, I’m doing all the running for my mom’s medications and checking on her because my brother’s not able to help until he’s better (he’s really sick)

All of this is OUTSIDE working. I do freelance graphic design and run an adorable little Etsy shop (if I do say so myself) and that’s covering the bills. But I’ve become very unhappy in my job. It’s a small family business (I know, I know) and I only work part time. I wear a lot of hats, do a lot of things and honestly, I just don’t want to do it anymore. They are wonderful people but I don’t have the energy to continue being the fix it girl on top of the design work I do for them. And it’s a monthly deadline, so it seems like I never really get my breath caught. I’ve reached the point where if I need to take a few days down I can without worrying that I’m pretty much stopping them in their tracks until I show back up. (I am the only person who can do what I do on staff – I’m not irreplaceable, just the current one and only).

I’m moving in January (across town, not far) and I know already that I’m going to need to change my job in 2021 (Working on my resume now, based on your advice). What I’m running into is — goals for 2021. I am normally a big goal setter. I accomplished the goals I set for 2020 even with everything that was happening. But I just don’t have any energy to make goals for 2021. I don’t even WANT goals for 2021. All i want to do is sleep through it.

This makes me feel bad. I am normally a go-getter, big goals, hustle kinda girl. But I’m just worn out.

The question I’d like to get your thoughts on is — is it wrong to just not set goals for 2021? I know that I’m moving, and I’m finding a new job. There’s a few big projects I want to finish up at old job as I’m in the middle of them now. I’m also going to have to work on healing from everything in 2020. But as far as new big stuff — can I just skip it for a year? I feel like my to-do list is already excessive and new goals will just be punishing on top of it. I won’t enjoy striving to grow and reach them, I’ll be exhausted and struggling and unhappy.

I’m so sorry. You are having an extraordinarily terrible year.

Please set no goals for 2021! You really, really don’t need to set personal goals at all right now. Honestly, most people don’t! I don’t.

Goals are a tool to serve you if you find them useful, not a higher good unto themselves. It’s okay to decide they won’t serve you right now.

That doesn’t mean you won’t achieve anything in the coming year — it just means you won’t be tied to specific measures at a time when what you need most is peace and ease. You can return to having goals in 2022 if you want to. Hell, you can decide in June 2021 to set some goals then if you feel you’re better able to. But there are times in life when you just need to hunker down and focus on being okay, and not give yourself challenges. If anyone is in that situation right now, it’s you.

If you are a goals person through and through and you really won’t feel comfortable without them, you could make your goals any or all of the following: (1) Rest as much as you feel like, (2) appreciate the people around you, (3) listen to yourself about what you need right now because you’ve been through trauma, and (4) maximize peace and comfort for you and those you love.

But really, those are just good things to do for yourself right now. They don’t need to be formalized or structured goals. You can come back to more ambitious goals when you’re ready to. You’ll know when that is, because you’ll be energized by the idea of setting them, not just wanting to sleep. You’re not there right now — of course you’re not there right now — and that’s okay.

I am wishing you much peace and calm in the new year.

{ 164 comments… read them below }

    1. Mary Richards*

      Exactly. Making your way through life is, in and of itself, a completely acceptable goal. I’ll be thinking of you, OP.

    2. Silly Goose*

      I was thinking along these lines. In those shoes, my only goal would be to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to be kind to myself.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I know it is for me. I haven’t gone through the same amount of trauma it sounds like the OP’s gone through this year, but I did deal with an unexpected death in my family, five days after my birthday, of someone I cared deeply about (and who struggled all his life with mental illness, which makes it worse) – I’ve had low grade depression ever since. I went back to school to help take my mind off it, and it helps a bit, but I just haven’t been myself when it comes to work stuff. I’m still getting things done, but I don’t have the energy to go above and beyond. So I’m just going to take it a day at a time and be content with that for now.

          1. IamtheLola - OP*

            Oh my, I am so very sorry. It was horrific and heartbreaking on my end and I wasn’t related to the young man and hadn’t known him long. I can’t imagine it having been a life-long family member. I think you are doing amazing just to be able to get out of bed every few days. :)

    3. Ally McBeal*

      I have a quote on my computer monitor from the poem “Desiderata” that has brought me a lot of comfort over the years:

      “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

      >>Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself!!<<

  1. TiffIf*

    Goals are a tool to serve you if you find them useful, not a higher good unto themselves. It’s okay to decide they won’t serve you right now.

    This! This, this, this , this, this.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Plus it’s beyond futile to set goals that you want to achieve in a year that all of us have an extremely difficult time envisioning. We don’t know how the vaccine rollout will go, when things will get back to relatively normal, what the economy will be like, etc.

      I accomplished and endured quite a lot this year, but the goals I had set for myself for 2020 were like, “do x during upcoming international vacation”, “Take ballroom dance lessons with spouse”, “ host a dinner party”, etc. pretty much everything I envisioned turned out to be N/A this year because I’m not a fortuneteller. Drop all the goals and just take the year as it comes and focus on recuperating and being kind to yourself.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        (and I say this is someone who loves setting goals and checklists and monthly and weekly and yearly planning. But the chart I had on my wall for e.g. how much writing I wanted to get done this year doesn’t make me feel bad but it’s only half checked; given the year that it’s been I’m proud that I got any checks on it all. If anything, make broad, flexible, enjoyable goals such as “try out one new hobby” or “enjoy a book you wouldn’t normally have tried.”)

    2. Artemesia*

      So this. I assumed from the headline that the job was forcing goal setting but you are talking about personal goal setting. Why would you do something you don’t want to do and don’t have energy to do right now? Most people don’t do goal setting. Plus you have already articulated goals in your question itself — you indicate the changes you hope to make this year — that is your goal and it is plenty.

      1. IamtheLola - OP*

        Normally, I am a huge planning and goal setting type person, it’s one of my favorite activities. This year just took all the spit out of me, and I was trying to reconcile the fact that something I normally love doing now held no appeal whatsoever. Too bad it wasn’t carbohydrates instead of goal planning that I went off on. :)

    3. Bostonian*

      Love that sentence. It’s always important to remember the “why” behind anything. If goals are going to stress you out and make you feel like you’re behind in some way, don’t do it!

    4. juliebulie*

      YES. A goal is supposed to benefit you. It sounds like something else would benefit you more right now.

      Anyway, who’s to say that you can’t set goals later in the year? IMO the dead of winter is the worst possible time to set goals anyway! You don’t have to rule out goals for all of 2021 just because you don’t feel like setting them right now!

    5. Sleepless*

      Absolutely. New Year’s is normally my favorite holiday, not because I love football and late night parties, but because of what’s happening in the space in my head. I always envision Janus looking simultaneously forward and backward. I absolutely love reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the coming year. My industry has a large conference in January that gets me fired up for everything I’m going to improve and accomplish this year.

      Yeah, not this year. I have things that may happen. Things I want to happen. Things that have a good chance of not happening at all. (And they rescheduled the conference for June, but it’s in an area to which I hate traveling in summer, so phooey.) Goal setting is just going to have to wait. And I effing hate it, but as we have all said so many times this year, what do you do?

  2. I edit everything*

    One goal: Rest.
    Okay, two: Rest and breathe.

    Those seem like the most important things for you right now.

    Also, I’d love to check out your Etsy shop.

    1. Lady Meyneth*

      And OP, le me tell you, these are hard goals! You’re still a go getter, you’re getting your health and peace back. Get better and take care of yourself!

    2. IamtheLola - OP*

      I like those goals! Yes, I am trying to work on taking care of myself better — I’ve been in crisis take care of everyone else mode and it’s a harder shift to make than I thought it would be. My etsy shop is – I sell address labels and stickers :)

    1. cheapeats*

      Coming to say just this, please OP! And also, big virtual hugs to you. Even on the scale of 2020, that is horrifying.

  3. Rachel Egan*

    Sending you so much love OP, what a horrible year. You take all the rest you need, and please consider some professional support if you think it would help. xx

  4. Momma Bear*

    Or make the goal “take time for self-care and to recover emotionally and physically from 2020”. Sounds like a doozy of a year, OP. Be gentle with yourself.

    1. Esmerelda*

      THIS. Yes. Please, everyone – be gentle with yourself this year! (and always, but especially this year)
      Reminds me of how I did my professional goals at my performance review time this year. Normally my goals are much more thought out and future-focused, but in the midst of a pandemic and all that 2020 has brought, thinking brightly of professional development seems pointless at best, not possible at worst. All I could do was focus on the crisis at hand. But my company required goals, so here were my goals for work:
      1. Maintain same level of service for clients during the pandemic.
      2. Manage the transition from in-office work to working from home.
      3. [an easy-to-accomplish small goal that could be completed within an hour]

      That is all I have to offer. My boss didn’t bat an eyelash at my goals and we moved on. I’d highly suggest anyone else struggling with professional or personal goals this year to take it easy on themselves.

  5. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    OP, I just want to say that the care and love you’ve shown your best friend and her family at the end of her life are commendable. Please don’t feel obligated to hustle any more than you have – your “goal” for 2021 can be your own wellness. We all have limits to our productivity, to say nothing of emotional energy, and you’ve more than earned some rest. I’m sorry for the losses and challenges you’ve suffered and wish you healing and peace.

  6. BJS*

    You absolutely don’t need to set any goals, other than maybe instituting some sort of self-care (whatever that looks like for you), but that’s more routine than goal. I’m not setting any 2021 goals, personally or professionally. I’m in survival mode right now. I’ll be looking for a new job, but beyond that, I’m just taking things as they come.

  7. LLCoffeeBean*

    I am a person who needs goals because I really spin out without some structure in my life, and as someone who’s also had an incredibly terrible year, I’m still going to set them. I tend to get really depressed if I don’t have some kind of thing to progress on. But this year I’m trying to focus on goals that feel restorative (but still meaningful) to me as a person outside of work.

    So far my goals are: knit a sweater (I knit a lot, but have never finished a garment and think it will be an interesting challenge!), reconnect with an old friend (I want stronger relationships in my life!), and to intentionally set aside a few minutes every week to think about what makes me happy and how I can do those things more (I’m at a transitional time in life and want to still move towards the future).

    These aren’t terribly high-pressure goals, but thinking about them has actually made me feel much more positive about next year!

    1. Neosmom*

      If you have never knit a garment, you might want to start with a sock or two. These take much less time, there are good online “calculators” for the pattern to ensure a perfect fit, and some very good teaching videos. My confidence at work is way up since I learned how to knit socks in November 2021. It’s weird how a creative success will boost you in other areas of your life.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        Although I suspect something as simple as a typo here, I am very much enjoying the idea that you are a time traveller, and Nov 2021 is so simple that one can consider knitting a sock.

        (also, I might need to learn how to knit socks.)

        1. Elise*

          Knitting socks is so fun. I always have at least two pairs going, and once you’ve knit enough of them, they are really relaxing to knit because you don’t even need a pattern. I also just feel accomplished for knowing how to do them without looking at a pattern. I highly recommend learning! YouTube is a great resource for learning.

          1. TardyTardis*

            There is a brilliant fantasy by T. Kingfisher (The Paladin, I think) where the hero is a soldier and does a lot of sock-knitting. He’s very popular with his fellow soldiers…

      2. MittenKnitter*

        Another good option on the “choose an easy-to-finish project” is mittens. My friend who taught me to knit always started people right off with mittens, because you learn all the stitches and techniques you need to make a sweater (cast on/off, stocking stitch, ribbing, increase, decrease, sew a seam), AND it is small and portable and finished relatively quickly. I’ve taught the same way; when people want to start with scarves I say “those are so boring and can take forever! let’s try something with variety and a quicker turnaround to the gratification of completion.”

        1. TardyTardis*

          I know how to make slipper socks, very adjustable pattern for different–the basic pattern was given to me by my Great-Aunt Lillie (class of 1914, she gave me her class ring for my HS graduation gift from the same school) and it’s very easy, though you do have to put the two sides together ‘sewing’ with yarn (either a big safety pin or a paperclip works well to hold the yarn as the ‘needle’).

      3. Pibble*

        Socks are a completely different beast than sweaters, though. If LLCoffeeBean is excited about knitting a sweater, they should knit a sweater!

      4. anonymoose*

        I actually find sweaters a lot easier than socks! sure, they are bigger, but they are also less fiddly and toes/heels are, in my opinion, a lot harder than sleeves and necklines.

        I second the recommendation for tin can knits patterns; their flax and flax lite sweaters can be completed by anyone with a general knowledge of knitting + access to youtube for specific questions.

    2. Anonyme*

      For the sweater I’d recommend Flax or Harvest from Tin Can Knits Simple Collection. Really great directions, diagrams, and some videos. Also free!

  8. Quinalla*

    I’m a big goal setter too so I get it OP, but no, I’m not setting any goals right now as I usually do for each new year and you don’t need to either if you aren’t feeling it. If you are feeling it later in 2021, great, do it then, if not then do not worry about it! Sometimes we just need to be in survival/recovery mode and that is ok. I feel like this past year with COVID and everything else, the majority of us are in the mode and it is a weird situation to be in with so many people at the same time being in that state. Good luck OP, I hope you are done with crises for awhile and can get the rest and break you sorely need!

  9. A Poster Has No Name*

    Oh, man, OP. I was trying to figure out how to answer the “professional development goals” for 2021 on my annual review and I only had the generally crappy year many of us have had, without all of the additional trauma and grief.

    Don’t set goals for yourself in 2021. If it really stresses you out to think you won’t have goals, say you’ll set them in a few months or something, then you can forget about it until then and then re-evaluate.

  10. AuntAmy*

    OP, I am sending you Jedi hugs if you want them. You sound like a remarkable friend and family member. I wish you comfort and healing.

  11. CeeKee*

    It sounds like OP is such a dedicated goal-setter that she does it without even realizing–she opens a paragraph with “is it wrong not to set goals,” and then proceeds with a whole list of goals she ALREADY has–moving, finding a new job, healing from a terrible year (which is a huge project in itself!). It doesn’t sound like she doesn’t want to set goals, it sounds like she doesn’t want to set MORE goals.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I agree with this. OP, these are your goals – you’ve written them down already! Make them SMART if you want to (or don’t, if you don’t), and call it a day. There’s nothing else you need to accomplish next year – or heck, for the next ten years, after everything you’ve been through. Please get some rest, and take good care of yourself. <3

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Seriously! LW, you have more goals planned for yourself already in 2021 than I have ever had in my life and more than I probably ever will have! It is OK to say, “all this and no more” because jeez that is a full plate.

    3. Weekend Please*

      Yep. She has set some pretty big goals already. If she feels the need for another goal, she can always put “improve mental health” onto the list to make sleeping and relaxing feel like achieving a goal.

    4. Global Cat Herder*

      I thought the same thing … She’s listed several things – new home! new job! recovering from surgery! recovering from loss! – seemingly without realizing that most people see each one of those as its own MAJOR goal.

      OP, you already have several major, life-changing goals for next year. It’s enough.

    5. +1*

      This. OP already knows the goals for 2021. It’s just a matter of giving themself permission to have self-care goals of moving, finding a new job, etc. instead of other more nuanced goals. For me, this was what life was like in 2019. I needed a year to focus on simple things like daily and weekly routines, and I’m not ashamed to admit that one of my goals that year was staying current in washing, drying, and folding laundry.

      So, to the OP — moving, getting a new job, etc. are still pretty noble and big goals. Don’t discount them just because they aren’t numbers-related or quantifiable in the same way.

    6. IamtheLola - OP*

      Thank you :) I guess I didn’t consider them goals as much as I considered them “things I needed to get done” and in my brain those go on a different checklist, along with cook dinner and remember to get the oil changed in my car. You guys have given me the great gift of seeing that these are already big goals by themselves and that just accomplishing what has to be done this year will be a huge thing.

  12. The Original K.*

    If this means anything at all to you, coming from a stranger on the internet:

    My year hasn’t been as hard as yours but it has been one of the hardest of my life. I lost my father (not to COVID) three weeks after losing my job, and I’m dealing with everything (including the estate settling) that comes with that, and it’s very, very, very hard. I can’t talk about my dad without tearing up, yet; he was sick with a kind of cancer but we lost him suddenly. I miss him a lot.

    I, too, am someone who sets intentions for the new year (I had a wry chuckle when I read over my intentions for 2020 because COVID destroyed them), and I’m not doing that this year because I just can’t. And I’ve forgiven myself for it because 2020 has been so awful that being here, still standing, is enough for me. I will say that I’ve made a point to tell people close to me that I love and appreciate them in a way that I didn’t always do before, because I’ve received some really wonderful acts of kindness in this time. If I get through this, whatever that means, it’s in part because I was fortunate enough to have had a lot of help from people, and it’s important to me that they know that. But other than that, I’m just trying to do my best, which some days is pulling the covers over my head and crying. When I feel like I can set goals again, I will. I think it is completely fine to just tap out of that this year.

    My best, most sincere wishes for peace in 2021. Please take care of yourself.

  13. Emmie*

    People sometimes think goals need to be this big, amazing accomplishment. They do not. Your goal can be a new one you set each week or each month. Goal: rest because your body needs it. Goal: clean out one closet. Goal: take five minutes to enjoy the sunshine. When life is a $hitstorm, functioning is the goal. Getting through each day can be the goal. Maybe that’s all the capacity you have. And that’s okay. It’s also okay to say “f” it to goals to focus on surviving. I am sorry 2020 has been so terrible to you.

  14. Chip_pan_fire*

    OP, I had a truly shitty 2019
    My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in July and died six days before Christmas. A friend died of a horrible brain cancer in September. Another friend was hit by a car on my birthday in November. My father in law died unexpectedly at the beginning of December, then my partner’s uncle the day after Christmas. Then my aunt on new years eve
    In the midst of this I got a promotion at work and took on staff for the first time in forever. A year ago, everything was bad

    My only goal for this year was to survive, and tbh that’s my main goal for 2021 also

    You need to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to wallow, to do whatever is needed to just get through, and it’s not a flaw to need that time

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      I am so very sorry for your losses, i understand how much it shook your world. Mine is still shaking but hopefully the tremors are starting to subside a bit. Much love to you!

  15. Not A Girl Boss*

    Oh friend, what a year. I’m sorry.

    This book has helped me find so much inner peace this year: How to be an Imperfectionist.
    It is written by the same guy who wrote “Mini Habits” which, despite its name, is about how perfectionists tend to use goal setting to brand their self-flagellation as ‘being a go-getter’.

    With the help of this book, I’ve learned that its ok to have goals for the day/week/year like “Watch TV for a solid hour tonight,” “don’t forget to eat breakfast,” and “say yes to irresponsible things if they make you happy.” As a result, I have let go of the toxic productivity that used to make other people think I was super awesome, but made me feel like I was running on a water wheel and if I paused even for 3 seconds to catch my breath I would fall off and drown.

  16. V*

    I was in the middle of big career changing study when a few years worth of things went down, and I have had to put that aside in favour of the goal of resting, grieving, and caring for myself. My world for now got so much smaller – paint a room, or plant some annuals, or bake a dessert. So I get to grieve not going after my dreams just now, too. But better to take the space and listen to my need to be still and calm for a while.

  17. Manchmal*

    OP, you do have goals! And they are some pretty big ones! They include:

    1. Moving
    2. Finding a new job
    3. Finishing big projects at old job
    4. Healing from everything in 2020.

    What else would you possibly need to add to that?? The first three are very SMART (the acronym for setting a good goal). You could certainly add some specifics to the last one, like healing through self-care by cooking more at home and doing yoga 3x a week. But…do you want to learn Chinese or computer coding on top of all of that?

    Good luck in 2021, and go easy on yourself!

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      I’m not at all sure I want to do anything except lie on a beach for the next four months drinking margaritas and reading novels

  18. Zetta*

    I am a goal-oriented person, and I set annual goals with a few words/mantras for the year. For 2021 I have words like “Nurture” and “Grounded” because 2020 was crazy and that feels reaaaally good/right for me right now. If you feel bad that it stresses you out to set ambitious/traditional goals, you could aim for something that feels more supportive of your current needs, like this.

    Or also, DON’T! :)

    1. History Chick*

      I too am goal oriented and for the past six years have done my personal goal setting through picking a word to focus on. (My words have included seek, adventure, joy, unafraid, balance, confident). At first I signed up for a class that guided you each month on keeping your word front and center with assignments and projects (Ali Edwards One Little Word). Then then I found more of a journaling/reflective exercise from Susannah Conway. Then I just went off on my own and did my own thing. All of these options have served me well because these words have given me something to focus on one month, to not focus on another month, to have structure, or to not have structure. It’s like goals but NOT goals. Like @zetta said you could pick a word that feels good for you and your needs without pressure. My word in 2021 was unafraid and let me tell you – I was very afraid for most of the year (COVID, my dad having open heart surgery during COVID, my dad having kidney stone surgery during COVID, loosing my aunt to breast cancer, my dad finding out he has cancer & starting chemo last week and him now being in the ICU sedated and intubated b/c of a blood clot in his lung.) I am so so so afraid and not unafraid at all. But still, I like having this word of unafraid to just focus or mediate on sometimes. And I think in focusing on this word in the back of my mind and in no real structured way AT ALL throughout 2020 I’ve managed to become less afraid of not having structure, not having answers, and not having a plan for anything at all because 2020 has smacked that out of me. I just offer this in case it would help you during this time. But it’s also perfectly okay to just not have any goal at all. My heart is with you! And I would love to check out your Etsy shop!

    2. IamtheLola - OP*

      I love the idea of words and mantras to define my path for the year this year instead of active goals :)

  19. Janon*

    OP, I recommend this book all the time to everyone, but I would love it if you would read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. It’s about many things, among them the idea that the work of care, maintenance of things/places, nurturing, observing, and being in community with others is incredibly vital to society and the earth yet chronically undervalued and overlooked. The work that you have been doing (outside of your paid job) and that it sounds like you will continue to do in 2021 is the stuff that holds the world/communities/families/people together. Please be gentle with yourself and give yourself credit for all that you do. Happy new year.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      This is a GREAT recommendation. I’m also a goal-setter and I feel like a failure if I don’t set and live up to goals, even when it’s totally unrealistic. This book is helpful for people like that. OP, also know that you are not alone in your struggle this year (though it sounds like you’ve had a *particularly* bad year).

    2. OtterB*

      Here’s another book recommendation along the same lines: Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going, by David Kundtz. There’s a spiritual component to it, so if that makes you itch, then skip it, but it was useful to me trying to settle in as the parent of a kid with special needs (Catholic) and my boss who was sort-of-involuntarily retiring (Jewish). The idea is to stop and recenter yourself. The author identifies three types of stopping: Stillpoints, which are brief pauses of a moment or two to breathe or check in with yourself; Stopovers, which are longer periods of retreat and refocusing; and Grinding Halts, which are often involuntary times to reset, e.g. major illness, job loss, death of a loved one, divorce, etc.

      You might find it useful for the message that sometimes the best way to move forward is to stop, rest, and find your way again, not keep pushing on relentlessly.

      I am sorry you had such a dreadful year.

      1. IamtheLola - OP*

        Two more books added to my reading list (I do so love to read!!!!!) and that also checks both the relax and pleasure boxes for me. Thank you!!!!

  20. SongbirdT*

    Many years ago I made a New Year’s Resolution to never make a New Year’s Resolution again, and so far I’ve been able to stick to it. ;)

    So maybe similarly, your 2021 Goal might be something like “I won’t set any goals for myself unless the idea of accomplishing something new makes me feel excited and energized.”

  21. mean green mother*

    Oh OP, I am so sorry about the truly horrific trauma you have been (and are currently) living through. Instead of goals for yourself this year, what if you chose a word of the year? I did that a few years ago when I was struggling to adjust from being a go-getter to someone who needed to just not do anything for my health, and I chose the word Gentle. It was almost like a mantra I would come back to when I felt my old “should’s” coming back. I still remind myself “gentle” from time to time, and it feels like taking a deep breath. Please be gentle with yourself. If all you do in 2021 is rest, take space, and love the people around you (without trying to meet every one of their needs!) it will be more than enough. xx

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I also do a “word of the year” instead of specific goals – I had no idea how many others were doing the same! My past WOTYs include calm, strength, stability, growth, presence, focus, planning, career, and engagement.

      Funnily enough, my word for 2020 was “home” – I was going to focus on making my house a comfortable and well-maintained place to live. It turned out to be a good idea – who could have predicted how much time I would spend here this year!

  22. Dreama*

    My sincere condolences for having to suffer so much crap this past year. You deserve a trophy! For 2021, make “Take care of Me” your mantra. And then, do that. Best wishes.

  23. Strawberry Secrets*

    I think after having a similarly traumatic year and stressing over it affecting my previous level of engagement and dedication at work, I really needing to hear this response for my own peace of mind. Thanks for always being to kind Allison. And I’m so sorry for your year OP. I wish you the best and hope you can take time in the coming year to do what’s best for you and heal.

  24. Nea*

    Okay, here is a no-stress, high-reward goal:

    Every time you accomplish something big or little – making the move, unpacking the last box, landing the new job, getting a room in your new place set up so it is relaxing and inviting, do something that makes you feel less stressed/aids your recovery – heck, even if you find the perfect blouse to complete an adorable outfit – any accomplishment at all, large or small – write it down.

    Write it down. Just list them all. And if something gets overcome by events and done twice, then list it twice, because you accomplished it two whole times.

    Look at that list when you feel like you’re not “doing anything.” Look at that list when you think “I should be meeting goals.” Look at that list when you need the reminder that you really are moving forward.

    1. juliebulie*

      OMG, that is brilliant.

      My to-do list bums me out. Perhaps keeping an already-done list will make me feel a little better.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      The last box never gets unpacked, though. At some point you realise you don’t even know what’s in it, and you’ve obviously never missed whatever it is, so you can just put it outside for the vultures.
      That would still count as an achievement in my book!

  25. cmcinnyc*

    What. A. Year.

    As a goal-setter, I do understand that it can feel disorienting and like “giving up” not to set them, so OP, I offer you this strategy that has worked for me in my own hell years: January 1st is our common new year, but if you’re not up to setting goals by then, the Lunar New Year will come along in February. Not ready? The Persian New Year is on the Spring Equinox. Any season change will do. Your birthday. The Roman New Year (April 1st). Can’t handle it? Rosh Hashana, Samhain, Diwali. You get to press “start” or “do-over” any time.

    May it all get so much better for you, and soon.

  26. EPLawyer*

    Echoing everyone who says “self care is a goal.”

    Let me just say this loud and clear: You are not some big failure at life if you do not set goals for 2021.

  27. Llellayena*

    Oh my! That is a crazy awful year, even on top of Covid. Do you have the ability to just…not work…for a few months? Or just rely on the Etsy shop? It sounds like you need to focus on self-care, grief therapy and resetting a life routine more than a job. Don’t even worry about goals. Goals in this case are “get out of bed in the morning (at least more often than not).” My only goal for 2020 got trampled on by covid (I was not about to go into quarantine during a sugar cleanse!) and I don’t see any point in resuming goal setting until after covid because it’s likely covid will trample on that too.

    And please share the Etsy shop? It’s a great way for us to help out a bit, as well as indulging our love of cute stuff!

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      I wish I did — if I had a different job without a monthly cycle and me the only one to do it, I could probably swing a short sabbatical or use FMLA to get life back under control. It’s one of the reasons I’m looking to change and move away from that job (the people are awesome there, tho). I told somebody earlier all I really wanted to do was lie on the beach for the next 4 months with endless margaritas and good books :)

  28. Randomity*

    Oh my goodness OP. You have so much going on. Sending you hugs if you want them. In your shoes the only goal I would set is “heal” and quite frankly after all that you might find it takes more than a single year.

    FWIW, I don’t set goals at all. I probably should, but you’re really, really ok not doing so <3

  29. Tuesday*

    Just joining in to say you’re already moving and getting a new job on top of everything else. That is a lot! Taking care of yourself in the midst of all this is important, and I think it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and the people you’re caring for.

  30. WendyRoo*

    My only goal for 2020 was to quit smoking cigarettes. And I DID (!!) even though it was by far the worst year of my life, and I smoked for over 10 years. Considering how 2020 went, I think “staying alive/sane” is a perfectly fine personal goal for 2021.

      1. IamtheLola - OP*

        I had a friend I watched do this and it was a huge challenge and accomplishment and I was so very proud of her for kicking the habit. I’m proud of you too!!!!!

  31. Dream Jobbed*

    You have a goal to move. You have a goal to find a new job. Two huge goals if you ask me.

    I am so sorry about your year and all the loss you have experienced. My best energies are heading your way for a much better (and recuperative) 2021.

  32. Sara without an H*

    OP, please, please, please give yourself a break. You’ve had a horrendous year AND it sounds to me as though you’ve been pouring so much of yourself into helping the people around you that you’re dangerously close to empty. It’s great that you’ve been able to support your friends and loved ones, but now you need to take some care of yourself.

    I don’t do well with annual “big” goals — they always turn out too vague to do anything with. If the idea of setting goals helps to organize you, why not make small, actionable, short-term goals, then review them quarterly? You already named two major goals in your letter: 1) moving to a new home, 2) starting a job search. That’s plenty for at least 6 months, maybe for the whole year. I also like Nea’s suggestion (see comment upstream) to periodically write down all your accomplishments, even small ones.

    And, may I offer one piece of advice from my personal experience? Allow yourself time to mourn. When you lose a friend or close relative, it can be tempting to get very busy in an effort to keep the grief at bay. It never works, and it’s bad for you in the long run.

    So please, treat 2021 as a gap year. Get your move done, then take some time to make your new home comfortable. Read everything in the AAM archives about job-searching. Prioritize sleep, exercise, and just sitting quietly. Turn off the news and stifle the social media. Rest.

    Jedi hugs and may you be in a better place by this time in 2021.

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      I love the concept of this year as a gap year. That had literally not even occurred to me! Thank you so much!!!!

  33. Not playing your game anymore*

    Echoing all the people who say it’s ok not to have goal… And remember self care is a goal.

    2011 was my worst year ever, even moreso than 2020 so far. Dx with cancer and had a number of other challenges big and small.

    The one goal I ended up making and achieving was to take a picture of the sunrise or sunset every day. I’m not a great photographer, but I enjoy it and I needed to do something to remind myself to look for the beauty. I still go back sometimes and look at those pictures.

  34. West Coast Reader*

    2021 is not a year for us to be goal setting like it’s a normal year because it’s not a normal year.

    I tried the whole 30-page goal setting workbook the last few years. They don’t really work for me, and I’m definitely not doing it for 2021.

    We need flexibility and grace to respond to the situation as it unfolds. Rest and preserve your energy to handle what’s already on your plate and whatever will come. You’re already doing more than what most people with goals are doing.

  35. memyselfandi*

    This amount of loss is very traumatic. Give yourself time to recover – lots of time. You will feel the loss forever but it can take a year or more for the fog to dissipate.

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      Thank you for the timeframe. This post and a few others have included timeframes in them and that’s actually really helpful to me because it helps it become concrete in my mind. I know the timeframes aren’t concrete and that depends on each person, but having that general idea of how long it might take (or longer) makes it easier for me not to push myself to try to get through everything in a month.

  36. Washi*

    In addition to what others have said (feel free to focus on healing, and also, you already names a bunch of goals!) I just wanted to say that I like to do my yearly goalsetting/meditation on my life in the fall each year. Even once I left school, September still felt like the year’s beginning to me because first I worked in education, then at a Jewish organization (Jewish new year is in the fall) and it just made more intuitive sense to me. January is a cold, groggy month anyway in the best of times anyway.

    So if you’re attached to the idea of formal goal setting, maybe put it off to September 1 and treat yourself to some fresh pencils and notebooks :)

  37. LTL*

    So sorry about everything you had to go through this year, OP.

    PS: Don’t feel guilty if you’ve seen some upsides due to the pandemic!

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes! there are upsides, being able to WFH when the boss had previously been reticent, being able to have a baby and not contend with all the awful visitors, just stay in bed with baby all day, no need even to vacuum, all this stuff can be held on to as some good coming out of the bad. Not that “there’s a reason” for anything at all, mind.

  38. Karia*

    I hope this isn’t out of bounds but I have some practical suggestions.

    When I was furloughed I volunteered with a charity offering grocery delivery, medication delivery, financial counselling and emotional support over the phone. There may be something similar in your area that could really help you with some of the practical aspects of caring for two families single handed during a pandemic.

    I would also seriously suggest looking for free / cheap counselling for your friend’s kids, and for yourself. You deserve care too. That may seem insurmountable but I recently had to access services via charity and found out if I was willing to go with CBT via Zoom my wait would be two weeks instead of six months.

    You are looking after so many people and being so wonderful, please take care of yourself.

  39. Jane Smith*

    Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Mapping is a lovely alternative to goal setting if you want to work towards something.
    But I agree with everyone here who says you don’t need to set yourself a goal at all, just look after yourself and give yourself permission to let yourself off the hook. You sound quite a tough task master to yourself. How about taking care of yourself in the way that you’d take care of your friends and family if they were in need?

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      Book 5 on my new list of “great reads just for me” :) And yes, I am much harder on myself and I don’t think I even see it until others point it out. Thank you!!!

  40. Jaybeetee*

    “Goals” can mean a lot of different things. I imagine in 2021, a lot of people’s goals will be somewhere between “get through the day” and “try to re-establish some sense of normalcy post-vaccine.”

    If I were you, I’d make 2021 a Year of Self-Care, and set goals to that end.

  41. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    I say this as a person who loves making New Years Resolutions and checking back each month to see if I’m on track….I’m pretty sure I said chuck it to all my goals by the beginning of April this year. I’m not sure if I even know where the journal with the goals in it is located by this point of 2020. I had a 5 minute inner debate before I got a 2021 planner at the $1 Tree store because after 2020 planning just seemed like a waste of time. Its perfectly acceptable to not seat goals while you are still reeling from all you’ve been thru OP. You can make goals when you feel like it, or not. That’s ok too.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I think it’s fine to seat goals, you can also give them a drink to nurse while you flail about in survival mode ;-)

  42. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

    As the last third of 2019 was an epic clusterbomb in our family, we had All!The!Goals!to!Make!2020!The!Greatest!

    2020 laughed.

    LW, I have so many good karmic wishes and giant internet hugs for you.

  43. Generic Name*

    Do you have formal reviews that require goal setting? My company requires them (our system won’t let you leave the goal areas blank!). It’s totally okay to put in bullshit but believable goals for a job you know you will be leaving soon. Heck, I believe the goals I set for myself for 2021 at my job are related to “getting back on track”.

    1. I'm just here for the cats.*

      Ive had a job were we were strongly encouraged to put personal goals along without job goals in the stupid tracking system. I really wanted to say “yeah, here’s my goal for the week, get off your freekin’ team!”

    2. IamtheLola - OP*

      No, there are no formal reviews, no goalsetting, nothing like that in my current job — we just have to hit the monthly deadline every month and it’s always the same product. I do want to finish up projects there before moving on, but that’s an internal ethics thing with me, not anything that has been formalized. I like “getting back on track” a lot.

  44. No Sleep Till Hippo*

    Maybe I’ve completely misread the question, but throwing this out there just in case it helps:

    You mentioned updating your resume right before you start talking about goals, which gave me the impression that maybe you were looking for goals to put on your resume/cover letter? If that’s the case – feel completely free to leave them off. Having just reviewed literally 130 resumes for a single job, I can say with confidence that their absence will not be missed in the slightest.

    And if I misinterpreted, so much the better – you definitely don’t need more to worry about! Either way I’ll be here wishing you boundless love and peace, now and in the new year.

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      nope, the new job search was just a bit of a mish mash in there with all the other details. It had never occurred to me to put goals on my cover letter or resume. Now I shall have to google and see what that looks like. Not because I’m going to do it — just because of absolute curiosity :)

  45. Betsy S*

    I heard a lot of goals in your letter:
    -settle friend’s estate
    -find a new job
    -physical healing, recover from surgery
    -mental healing, recover from all of the blows and the pandemic
    -take care of six young adults and one senior
    (breaks down into innumerable subtasks)

    That’s a BIG PILE of goals right there!


  46. I'm just here for the cats.*

    At first I thought that maybe you had an employer who made you set personal goals along with your professional goals. But it sounds like your putting too much pressure on yourself. Set 1 goal: to get better, and relax.

  47. Properlike*

    This may seem out of left field, OP, but since you are handling the duties of an executor for your friend, if it hasn’t been spelled out officially, know that it is perfectly reasonable to be compensated for the time you spend doing that. I suspect it’s not something you’d want to do because she has kids whom you obviously care about and who need a lot of support, but you’ve taken on a huge task and those extra funds may help ease some of the financial stress. Put the money toward some self care.

  48. Ashley*

    Personally when I am stressed out I like to set goals to remove thing from my plate. So things like:
    set up prescription delivery for mom
    steps to closing out friends estate — hiring professionals where pratical
    finish most stressful work project

    Best of luck and I hope 2021 brings you far less stress.

    1. IamtheLola - OP*

      i like this idea of removing things. And some things can be removed (and some things only have to be done once, which helps). We HAVE hired someone to deal with the estate sale and cleanup and house sale once we have finished going through and pulling out the items we want to keep. The house was FULL top to bottom and 2 sheds outside; he was a bit of a horder but at least it was mostly items that had either substantial monetary or sentimental value. Digging through and sorting it has been a bit of a never-ending task but we are close to the end now. I think we have half a room and the two sheds left and I have both godsons to help me with that.

      The most stressful project at work is actually a new website, but i helped them find an awesome and trustworthy website developer who I work with on a regular basis to help them. So even if I left before it was finished, I’d still be helping finish it through here. The rest of it is all documenting processes and things like that.

      I can’t do the subscription service for mom – We have to give her a days medicine at a time and my niece (lives in the home) is actually the one who makes sure she takes them on time. This means either my brother or I have the opportunity to check on her every day and see that medically and emotionally she is okay. She’s 87 and I’m not sure how many years are left, but this is not something I even want to change; it makes her SO happy to see us, I’ll walk through my exhaustion for that any day.

  49. Batty Twerp*

    Holy Moly, I didn’t even make it to Alison’s answer before I was almost screaming at my laptop “No – you do NOT need to set personal goals for 2021!”

    At least not beyond the goals you already have set (moving is a significant goal – it’s in the list of most stressful things to experience, and you’ve hit at least another two of the top 5 of the rest of the list already).

    Echoing every other commenter here – your only additional set goal should be to look after yourself.
    And to steal from the latest update (because I read posts in reverse order) “May next be as good as this year was bad.”

  50. CatWoman*

    You already have goals, as you stated in your last paragraph:
    “I know that I’m moving, and I’m finding a new job. There’s a few big projects I want to finish up at old job as I’m in the middle of them now. I’m also going to have to work on healing from everything in 2020. ”
    Honestly, accomplishing these is more than many do in a year without a pandemic, not to mention on the heels of suffering crippling losses.
    Be kind to yourself. If you accomplish the goal of getting up each day and putting forth your best effort, you are already ahead.
    I wish for you (and everyone) a peaceful 2021.

  51. Daisy-dog*

    I used to set a lot of goals, too. The last time I tried was at the end of 2018. I have no idea why I set those goals because my life was quite upside down at that time (not for traumatic reasons – it was all planned, just very unsettling). I found them recently and had forgotten I’d even done that because my 2019 was quite insane. I didn’t even try for 2020 thankfully.

    You very much need to just give yourself a break. Without goals, you will have more freedom to act more intuitively.

    I’m so sorry for everything.

  52. Jessica*

    LW, if I were facing my own imminent death and knew I’d be leaving behind my orphaned children who were barely into adulthood and still reeling from the grief of other recent family losses… well, I can only feebly try to imagine the anguish of that situation, but if I were in it, the greatest blessing I could possibly have would be a friend like you. Knowing that my kids would have your care and devotion would give me as much peace of mind as anything could.

    And what I see in your letter is not just that you are a loyal friend who stepped up in a big way in your friend’s hour of greatest need. You’re also a good friend for all seasons, who over the years has built and nurtured the kind of relationships that make those kids think of you as a beloved and trusted “second mom” and made you the person your friend would call on.

    If you were the next to die in this pandemic, LW, your obituary probably wouldn’t talk about the earnings your Etsy shop posted for the third quarter, or how many steps you walked last week, or whatever the goals are that you’re wondering if you should reproach yourself for not setting. It would talk about what you meant to the people who knew you, and the difference you made in the lives of your fellow human beings. Those are the most important goals–though I don’t doubt that you are also good at many other things–and it looks to me like you’re knocking it out of the park. I’m wishing you a peaceful and healing 2021.

  53. Duvie*

    It’s okay if you don’t feel you can set any goals right now. It’s okay to just wait: wait for brighter days, better health, fewer times when you are overwhelmed by what washes up against your personal shore. You don’t always have to keep moving forward. I am a baker of breads and I have learned that the waiting time for a loaf is absolutely essential. You wait at the beginning, to allow the flour to begin absorbing moisture. You wait in the middle while the yeast does its work, and you wait at the end for the loaf to cool and firm. The waiting is essential for good bread. It’s okay for you, too.

  54. so anonymous dept. manager*

    I just had one-on-ones with my entire staff about our 6 month reviews and annual. I stated that I have been documenting exemplary work/outcomes. They didn’t need to sweat it. All of our unwritten goals are to get to the next fiscal sane and healthy. Our written ones will be to keep doing what we are doing.

  55. Kali*

    I’m so confused. I’ve heard of people setting yearly resolutions but I’ve never heard of it as being something people are expected to do, to the point that other people would have Opinions on it not being done, it’s more like a just-for-fun thing. And I’ve heard of people being prompted to set goals as part of a performance review, but it doesn’t sound like anyone is prompting the LW to do that. It sounds like…she’s under the impression that everyone is Expected to set professional goals, to the point that other people will have an Opinion on it if the LW doesn’t, and so she feels like she needs a really good reason not to write them. Is that a thing anywhere, for people to have goals they write on their cv or talk about in job interviews, or which would come up in some context like that?

    I mean, it’s possibly I’m the unusual one, and I live in a little bubble where this isn’t a thing and 99% of the world is very familiar with the expectation to set goals that other people have Opinions on every year. Is it that? Or maybe the OP is in a small bubble where this is common, and other people are as baffled as me?

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I was a bit confused as well, I thought they were trying to get out of a goal-setting ask at their job but it seems like they were just going to be doing it for themselves? You don’t need anyone’s permission to not do that! I wonder if from all the stress and burnout and there being so much to do that they are constantly pushing themselves to just get things done because they have to get things done, so then they are struggling with the idea of not having to do something.

      This is so much stuff you have dealt with this year. Too much. I can’t even imagine. But it sounds like everyone is very lucky to have you in their lives to help them through such hard times. I hope that soon you will get to have more time to take care of yourself instead of having to take care of everyone else. Please, please please take everything on your plate that isn’t critical and throw it off your plate ASAP. Anything that does not *have* to get done–just don’t do it! Setting personal goals is definitely not something that has to get done. I can vouch for that because I have literally never done it and I’m getting by just fine!

  56. Aubergine Maven*

    Have you heard of the idea of yearly themes? Instead of goals – which can be stressful and become irrelevant over the year – a theme can be a more forgiving and applicable guide.

    Might I suggest the theme of Healing.

  57. Flora*

    For real, please make your only dang goal for 2021 to survive it as intact as you can. You have in this letter ticked basically every box, often more than once, on the list of “things that psychologists understand to be major stressors,” and it looks like almost all of that has happened in the last five months. That’s nuts and you are allowed to take the time you need.

    The only thing I would add to Alison’s list of goals, if you have the means and the energy, is 5) find a professional to unburden all this to. It’s a lot, and you deserve to lose some of it.

    (but. If you are a person who really needs and wants goals and those feel too loose? I have another suggestion. Here it is: Make personal goals for 2021 by the end of June.)

  58. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Bit late but here goes:

    Started 2020 with the goal of not being unemployed. A few months later I was in a psychiatric ward because I, quite simply, went insane and was a danger to myself. Lost friends to Covid, stress, depression, isolation, fear etc. I’m guessing you’re feeling a bit similar to how I did: like I try so hard but the world keeps slapping me, why? Is this my new normal? What can I do to stop it?

    Psychiatric help (okay and a lot of meds, some of which I’m still on) helped because they convinced a part of me that it’s perfectly okay to just take each day as it comes, no goals beyond “okay, let’s try doing (small task x) today”. It’s a difficult mindset to get into but when it clicked it felt enormously freeing. I got dressed, went out for a drive (need fresh air) and cleaned the cat litter tray yesterday and I feel pretty good about it.

    I also cut out reading the news/spending ages on Facebook etc. because I don’t want to stress about things I literally cannot do anything about. At first I felt selfish but then realised that practically all humans are selfish so it doesn’t matter.

    Bottom line, when we’ve been wounded mentally or physically it’s a good thing to retreat to heal. If you want to set goals try making them small, short term and achievable. Even getting dressed can be a milestone when it feels like the world and your sanity has gone kaboom.

    Sincerely do wish you the best. Internet hugs if you’re ok with them.

    1. Blue*

      Keymaster, congratulations on putting on clothes, leaving the house and taking care of the cat, all in one day!
      I haven’t had quite the shitshow of a year you have, but as a disabled and neurotypical person who’s seen my friends in the disability community drop like flies this year, and seeing everyone cheerfully write us off as basically disposable…it’s been a year, and some days making sure my pet rats are clean, fed and happy is my day’s big achievement.

      OP – if it feels like a weight off you to say, “Nope, no goals this year,” please do that. If you’re the kind of person who feels better with some concrete goals to aim for, please believe that “Take the best care of myself I can and survive and start to heal,” are good goals for this year and plenty challenging enough. Virtual hugs if you want them.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        just a big virtual hug for all of you who may be feeling like you’re basically disposable. You all bring something unique to this world.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Goddess, yes I know what you mean. I verbally tore into a friend of 25 years because he expressed the opinion that disabled folks like me should just ‘stay inside and not be a drain on society’. He’s now an ex friend, which makes me cry a bit when I think about it because it’s another loss.

        I’m thinking of getting another tattoo next year when this is all over, probably of a sunrise over a calm lake. Reminding me that I survived to see the new dawn.

        1. Blue*

          I am embracing “I’m still alive because sheer spite.” And yep, I’ve lost a friend this year because of exactly that conversation, and it’s soul destroying
          Thanks, Rebel, it does help to hear people say it.

  59. nonethefewer*

    An actual conversation I had with our new department director:

    Him: “So where do you see yourself in five years?”
    Me: “How dare you ask me that in this the year of our patience two thousand and twenty?”
    Him: “…yeah, fair.”

    Set no goals beyond “survive and succeed”, and take care of yourself as much as you can.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      A friend was made to do her annual review during the March lockdown. Her job as a pharmacist was to handle the dispatch of medication to hospitals, so absolutely essential, and she was totally swamped with work, not to mention having to help her tween with schoolwork and supervise her adventurous toddler. She was asked that question, and at that point she just burst into tears and said, given that she was high-risk, she had no goals beyond staying alive at that point in time.
      Luckily she found a much cooler job a couple of months later.

      Managers, please be sensitive!!

  60. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I just love the goals Alison is suggesting!
    I do volunteer work in an NGO, working with young mothers. So many will be busting out trying to keep the house clean for all those visitors who want to “see the baby”, trying to be diplomatic as they deal with said visitors, trying not to “let themselves go” just because they’ve had a baby… but! they’ve just had a baby and what they need most is to rest, for their body to recover from pregnancy and birthing and focus on breastfeeding. I have often suggested putting “rest” and “feed baby” and “snuggle in bed with baby” as imperatives topping their to-do lists.
    OP you’ve had a rotten year and I even feel like ordering you to get some rest and have no goals beyond just getting through each day!

  61. CM*

    The point of setting goals is to make your actual life align more with your vision of how you want your ideal life to be.

    So what do you need right now? What’s your vision, and how can you take steps toward getting there that will nourish and restore you?

    You mentioned in your letter that you want to use 2021 to heal. That’s an excellent goal.

    One tricky part for you, I think, is figuring out where the career stuff fits into this and how much energy you have to spend on it. Sounds like you’re in an unhappy work situation but have very limited energy for getting out, and I’m wondering whether you’re so focused on goals because you’d normally have a strategy for getting an awesome new job, but it’s just not in you right now. Job hunting does feel like you have to at least pretend you’re super-enthused about your work and this new opportunity. So my suggestion is to look at your work transition through the lens of how much energy you have, and the long-term payoff — maybe it’s worth pushing yourself a bit to find a better work situation if you’ll end up with more money, time, or stability that you need; or maybe you’re just working to get by for now and you’ll do whatever makes sense until you’re ready to focus more on your career in a year or two.

    1. Uncomfortable*

      After a very rough two years — including a job switch that has had mixed results — I’m trying to plot a course toward getting out of my current job, but I just don’t have any mental energy. My dad died in 2019, I spent the whole year dealing with that, jumped to a new job, then the pandemic hit 3 months later and I was forced to work from home, feeling continually lost and drained. Right now I’m being tasked with planning a virtual event that used to be a big in person dinner, using a new platform that I’m nervous about.

      If anyone tells me to “embrace getting out of my comfort zone,” I will do so by exiting my comfort zone and punching them out. I’ve done nothing but get out of my comfort zone for going on 2 years now, and there has been no payoff whatsoever.

  62. Observer*

    A little re-framing might be helpful here.

    You actually DO have goals – and they are significant ones. New job, new living situation, big projects at work – these are all goals with concrete end points.

    And they you have the goal to heal. That’s BIG. And really, REALLY important. If it helps. set smaller sub goals for the things you think will help you heal. So, upgrading your diet, making sure you get some unstructured me time every week, finding time to take up an activity that is simply something you enjoy are the kinds of things you could turn into a mini-goal. That will give you a sense of accomplishment.

    But also, looking at it that way makes it easier to see that you ARE getting things done. And if that’s important to you, this is a good way to get it without setting yourself up for frustration.

    1. Former Employee*

      Thank you. That’s pretty much what I was going to say.

      And on top of the new home, new job, work projects, there is the ongoing helping of late friend’s kids. Even after the estate stuff is done, OP will probably be their substitute mom forever.

  63. Quill*

    Stay alive and get vaccinated are the only two goals you probably need to worry about beyond recovery from this dumpster fire of a year.

  64. Blaise*

    I thought this post was going to be about like official goals to make for work…

    Why would you make goals if you don’t want to otherwise? Things you do for yourself are just that- for yourself! If they won’t serve you, don’t do them!

  65. J.B.*

    I have some music recommendations:

    I’m still standing by Elton John
    The next storm by Frank Turner

    I’m so sorry for everything, and you are amazing.

  66. IamtheLola - OP*

    I’ve been a bit in coming back to actually answer all these amazing and wonderful comments…. It appears that out of nowhere I am going to get custody of my godson (my best friends’ youngest) from his grandmother. Unexpected and causing a whirlwind of activity, but at least it’s good :)

    For those of you who are not goal setters (which is totally okay!), I am very much the type of personality who loves to set goals and make and follow plans and create that structure for my life and my direction. Generally, they are pretty big goals for me, and a mix of personal and business (my own business, not job-related) and it forms the backbone of my activities for the year. Now — not that I always reach them, not that they don’t get changed, and not that some of them don’t get discarded along the way for one reason or another, it’s just how I’m built. I am so thankful for every single one of you who is NOT built that way, because I desperately needed you around to talk me down :)

    And someone used the word “intentions” instead of goals which I absolutely LOVE and am completely stealing for 2021! There were a multitude of other wonderful suggestions, that is just one that stood out to me at the moment. I’m going to go back through and answer individual comments as I can.

    In the end, my intentions are to get “settled” to the new normal – new apartment, new “roomie”, new schedule. Then to create a “new normal” for my work – be that a new job, new freelance clients, growth in my etsy shop. The overriding intention for the year is creating healing/better health/taking care of myself.

    You have all been wonderful and I cannot describe how much lighter and better I feel after reading through all your comments. It really is a weight off me :). Thank you for bringing your love and your perspectives and your suggestions. It is all greatly, greatly appreciated!

    1. CM*

      I’ve been checking back, wondering if you would respond! Maybe Alison could post this as an update?
      I’m so glad you’re feeling lighter, and I like your “new normal” idea — suddenly having a child will definitely require some adjustments and time to figure out what a “new normal” even looks like. Wishing you serenity and joy in 2021.

  67. Jennifer*

    You deserve to do whatever you want after the year you had, girl. You don’t owe anyone any explanations either. Do you. I hope you have a beautiful 2021.

  68. Katelyn*

    LW, I am so sorry for all you’ve been through this year. It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time and energy caring for other people in your life, and they are all lucky to have you to lean on. I hope that now and going forward you are extending that same care to yourself. Whether it’s getting into therapy, making time for a hobby you love, or even giving yourself permission to veg out and do absolutely nothing for a little while, I really believe it’s important to “put your own oxygen mask on first,” so to speak. I know people mean well when they say “getting back to normal is your goal!” or “being healthy, happy and safe is your goal!” but if the idea of goal-setting is stressful rather than motivating, I think you should absolutely abandon goal-setting for 2021. Be gentle with yourself and next time Alison calls for updates, please let us know how you’re doing. I truly hope things get better for you.

    1. Katelyn*

      whoops, just saw your comment – it looks like goal-setting is a positive thing for you rather than a stressful one. So ignore my advice to abandon goal-setting! I do stand by my advice to be extra kind to yourself, though! you sound like a wonderfully caring person and you deserve nothing but good things in 2021!

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