The Problem with How We Perceive Goals

Me, sitting on my sofa and working on my laptop.

I’m jumping off of last week’s post and continuing my rant against traditional thoughts about resolutions, goal-setting, and achievement. I understand and have felt the euphoria that comes with the sense of completion. I’ve also felt desolation as a result of not meeting a self-imposed deadline. Here are a couple paradoxes I’ve discovered: Completion is often a concept instead of a reality (unless you’re talking about making dinner, cleaning the bathroom or putting together an IKEA dresser). And often even when you think you haven’t begun something you want to do, you really have. Why is this? Because we are always in process.

I believe that we have begun a process once we get an idea. To think that a certain step has to be taken to make it real dismisses the real need to imagine, consider, weigh, dream, brainstorm, contemplate, meditate, etc. I think we create goals out of our need to compartmentalize and “chapterize” our lengthy lives, particularly once we finish school and no longer have semesters or years to break it up.

Distinguish between tasks and goals

I’m all for making lists of things I need to get done on a daily or weekly basis: laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, making appointments, etc. When I talk about goals, I’m talking about aspirations. These are projects that are meant to take us from where we are now to an improved position in life, or to change us from who we are now to an improved version of ourselves.

The problem with those kinds of aspirations is that they come with an implied judgment that we are not enough as we are. And when we attempt to “improve” or “change” our situations or ourselves, any setbacks are usually met with judgment. Why aren’t we consistently moving “forward” toward achievement? If we’re “bad” at our attempts at improvement or change, should we stop?

Setbacks are a part of the process

When we think of our lives as a process, we can see a supposed setback as just another step we take as we go through life. It’s meant to be there. We learn from setbacks. They boost our creativity because we are forced to look at things in different ways and seek new solutions. They may cause us to rethink what it is we really desire. All of these results are positive, but we rarely think of setbacks in that way.

We also can’t experience real accomplishment without also experiencing failure (although setback does not equal failure). Contrast is necessary in our lives. It’s worth learning to appreciate the meaning that ups and downs bring to our lives.

Taking a break is okay

Similarly, often when we take a break in our process toward achievement we may receive criticism, or attack ourselves, for seeming to “give up.” But I believe in incubation. And being ready. It’s true that we may never feel truly ready for something, but I do believe that if it’s something we really want, and we have learned to listen to and trust our guts, we won’t hesitate before proceeding. If the “break” seems to have no end, and we’re not hedging from fear, we have to ask ourselves if we’re pursuing something we don’t really desire.

(Almost) everything is optional

I don’t want to waste my life spending time in pursuits that media or even those close to me insist I should be involved in if it doesn’t feel right in my bones. And I definitely don’t pursue what makes me feel bad about myself, makes me unhappy, or fills me with dread. Not everything in life is pleasurable, but I know that if I can appreciate the small, good things in the moment, as well as the bigger things that bring the most meaning to my life, I can enjoy the process that much more.

Robyn Kern is the Tangentier. A long-time writer based in Los Angeles with a degree in screenwriting and an interest in mindfulness, many tangents led her here: a place where people can come to find and share inspiration, dwell in each others' passions, and learn how to surround themselves with what they love on the daily.

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