Western culture, at least in the United States, is very goal oriented. We make new year resolutions. We have five year business and personal plans. My sons, who both have autism, have a meeting every year to set goals for the year with measurable checkpoints during the year. In fact, for many of us, our lives are structured that way, with large and small identified goals and measurable steps. We set goals, work towards our goals, achieve our goals, and bask in the success of having met our goals. At least for a moment until we set new goals and start the process again.
Goals are associated with progress, accomplishment, hard work, even good character. They are encouraged, and those who set them and achieve them are admired. I doubt that Olympic athletes, for example, would ever get a medal without some single minded focus and dedication.
There is nothing wrong with that. Goals serve a purpose. But when we have blinders on that allow us to see only the goal oriented path ahead, I wonder what opportunities we miss. Some of the best things that have happened in my life were not on my goal trajectory. In fact, more often than not, they completely derailed my goal progress.
For example, when I moved to Portland, I had a very specific job goal in mind. I began to search out the leads that would take me in that direction. When someone mentioned a temporary job opportunity that was not goal related, I almost dismissed it. Then I decided I would take that job to provide some income while I looked for the job I really wanted. The first day of the temporary job, I went home amazed that someone was paying me to have so much fun. When the time was up, I figuratively chained myself to the gate until they decided to keep me. Twenty years later, I retired from a job that continued to be fun and deeply rewarding.
On the personal front, I was living a full and busy life as a single parent with two kids. I had all I could handle, or so I thought. My goals targeted balancing home and work while meeting the needs of my autistic son and making sure that my daughter had her needs met as well. My goals definitely did not include more kids. And yet, suddenly there was my son’s classmate, also autistic, who, for reasons beyond the scope of this post, was in crisis and needed a family to care for him. So, for reasons beyond the scope of any rational explanation, I took him. And his presence has now blessed our family for more than twenty years in ways I never could have planned or anticipated.
Those are “big” life examples, but similar things happen to us all the time in big and small ways. At some point I realized that when I was not focused on goals, things that needed to get done still did, in a more natural, organic way rather than forced. I began to trust that life would lead me, and that when I was aligned in harmony with an open, receptive attitude, my path forward would become clear. And if it didn’t, then I knew to wait until it did.
When people ask me these days what my goals are, I have a hard time coming up with any. It seems to me that they get in the way more than provide helpful direction. Sure, I make plans. I go to the store with a list in hand, and my calendar has appointments to attend. I am respectful of people’s time and do my best to honor the promises I make. The difference, perhaps, is that my life is not driven by personally selected goals as much as carried by the current of divine energy that flows through all creation. (That actually is a lot more practical than it sounds!) The first sometimes has a quality of anxiety on some level that seeks to control. The second often has a quality of trust that rests in faith. Life is more enjoyable, relaxed, responsive. And when challenges come, as they surely will, they can be met with resilience rather than struggle.
It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to plan and control every step forward in my life. That was exhausting!
Perhaps you might examine the role that goals play in your life. What is the nature of your goals? What is your emotional relationship to them? You might not abandon all your goals, but maybe you might discover one or two that you could hold more flexibly. What would that be like? Maybe try it and see what happens.
Acquiring wisdom is great but it is not the goal, applying it is. ~Idowu Koyenikan