Reaching our Life Goals: What gets in our Way?

I´d really like to have your reactions to this case:

  • What name would you give to “what happened” to Gregory?
  • What psychological theories can explain what happened to him?
  • What could have helped him?
  • Any other reactions?

Gregory is about to finish high school. He desperately wants to pursue a life as a professional classical pianist. He loves music more than anything else, commands sufficient talent, and is equally willing to engage in the necessary practice hours – as he has done all through his childhood. On that note, he has already successfully applied for a renowned conservatory to finish his musical education. Yet, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all have sought successful and very rewarding careers as medical doctors. His father has at times conveyed that – while valuing Gregory’s musical talent and ambition – he would very much like to see him stick with the “family tradition” and become a doctor as well. After several rather emotional discussions with his parents, Gregory decides to dismiss his father’s appeal and enrolls at the academy of music.

After doing well for a couple of months, he begins to feel more and more stressed. He starts to skip practice sessions, delivers flawed performances on important rehearsals, and gradually loses much of his enjoyment in performing the music he once loved. About two years later, he’s admonished to leave the conservatorium, due to diminishing prospects of success. Inconsolable, Gregory moves in with his parents again to sort out what to do with the rest of his life. He looks at the homepages of some pre-medical schools, but cannot make up his mind to enroll. Currently, he makes some money by giving piano lessons to children in the neighborhood and is considerably happy doing that – but deep inside, he feels like some part of him has died.   


3 thoughts on “Reaching our Life Goals: What gets in our Way?

  1. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey would likely call this a “competing commitment.” Take a look at their book Immunity to Change.


  2. Walter Sowden is a Ph.D. student at Michigan studying “relational dilemmas,” wherein concurrent loyalty to different individuals, groups, or ideals lead to confounding situations. On a much more practical level, Stewart Friedman has a book / program called Total Leadership that speaks to the need people face to create “four-way wins” among work, community, home, and self. In my Capstone on making big life decisions, I wrote about this as a process of integrating our own interests with the interests of close others. Hope these are some helpful leads!


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