The Problem With Goals

goal So here goes. I am facing a dilemma. Personal crisis. Life crisis. Literally. It’s possible the entire foundation of what I have been writing about needs rethinking.

Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but the essence of my struggle is this: why make goals? Do goals add to my wellbeing or take from it? Is the fact that I have set goals preventing me from being content with who I am? Are my goals frustrating my ability to enjoy the moment, to be content with where I am now? Do my goals leave room for spontaneity and flexibility? Is the goal itself the very thing that zaps the fun out of the doing, that turns the things I love into have tos and shoulds?

The answer I have come up with is equally confusing: yes and no.

Yes because in fact that is the way my goals have been affecting me. And no, because if I look a little deeper I can see that it is me who chooses to define goals and doing things in a way that disempowers me.

Here’s how it started. Two weeks ago, after arguing with myself for a while about whether I had taken on too much, I actually sat down and wrote out all of the things I want to do in a week. I estimated the amount of time it takes to do each thing, added in seven hours of sleep per night, eating and self care, and I came up with something that scared me: three hours on Sunday. The only free time that I had left myself in an entire week was three hours on Sunday!

I thought about this and immediately came to the conclusion that I had taken on an unrealistic amount of things. Unexpected delays, distractions, and the occasional inefficiency or procrastination would almost certainly take up those extra three hours every week. There was no room for spontaneity. No room to relax or enjoy an unexpected activity or conversation without failing to complete everything I want to complete in a week, which would lead to getting behind and failing to achieve my goals. I decided I had set myself up to fail, and since failure is not something I like, I decided something had to change.

So last week I thought a lot about quitting. What I wanted to give up. I even wrote a blog post about quitting. I was giving myself permission to quit something that I really wanted to do without feeling guilty about it. And I do believe it is important to empower our choices and not view quitting or changing our minds as failure. But after all that rationalizing I just couldn’t bring myself to quit anything. Not anything big anyways. I wanted to do it all.

So what is a girl to do?

My motto for the year is "nothing is impossible" and I was determined that there had to be another way. I started strategizing different possibilities that could give me the freedom and flexibility for spontaneity and to enjoy the moment, but still achieve my goals. I was stumped.

Then last weekend while in Victoria, I gained some insights into another way. I was visiting one of the judges I had clerked for and we were talking about life. I shared my dilemma with her and she told me some of the stories that make up her rich and fascinating life. She also told me something else, which initially I found strange. She’s never set a goal for herself. She’s never tried to define, or set out to attain, success. This initially shocked me, as she is one of the most successful people I know.

As I let this sink in over the next few days, it came to make more and more sense. Instead of being guided by a particular predefined outcome, she was guided by a deep sense of who she was. The words groundedness, intuition, values, principle, and integrity were constantly floating around in my mind.

I immediately liked this option. It left immense room for flexibility and enjoying the moment, yet I could still be guided by those things that are important to me. I thought with all of these ingredients surely I could come up with a solution to my problem.

An alternate plan was hatched.

I began talking these ideas over with a few friends and came up with an alternate universe. In this universe I don’t have goals. I may have some short term projects that I am working on, but there is no rigidity, no have tos, shoulds, and by whens. My direction in life would instead be guided by principle, by my values, and the things that are important to me. I would simply trust that my life would take on the course it was supposed to take, and I would end up where I was supposed to end up.

I thought I had it all figured out.

I ran my alternate universe by my life coach on Thursday. After an hour of trying to convince her that I had figured out the solution to life, fielding her questions about what I was going to do with my projects in this alternate world, and listening (a little grudgingly) to her suggestion that I may want to take a look at how I define the word “goal”, I was no longer sure my solution was as simple as I had made it out to be.

Although I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea, I could see that what I was trying to do was “fix” my problem. It was an all or nothing approach to projects and goal setting. Either I have goals and rigidity and what I love turns into have tos, or I have no goals and lots of flexibility and I can enjoy the moment.

I thought a little more about my alternate universe and how it would apply to each of my projects. Did I want to just throw the goals out the window? What about the marathon, for example? It has a defined end date; a date by which my training will be complete and I will step out on the road and run 42 km. How can I eliminate the goal on that one?

I was back where I started. Or was I?

While I was not ready to let go of my goals, I also was not ready to let go of a more flexible approach to life; one where I trust myself a little more to act on what is important to me, without having a schedule that only allows me three hours of free time a week.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just wanted to share with you my thoughts as I’m right in the thick of it. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you have some insights. Maybe there is no answer at all.

To be continued I'm sure...



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