To some that title will be shocking. It wasn’t uttered sarcastically either as the above video illustrates. In my opinion it’s actually a pretty hard task to never become anything in our Society. Every decision we make corrals us into a bracket with a series of parameters that need to be adhered to. Every day we work in a given job we become more and more likely to continue to spend our lives working in that same line of work.
Fear of insecurity makes us do it to ourselves. In general we don’t like to feel insecure. However, living right on the cusp of my fears and always feeling a little insecure is where I, personally, have found I grow the most.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller
This brings me to a thought I’ve been having lately in regards to setting goals for oneself. I’ve tried to put some form to it as every time I bring it up in conversation it is met with much consternation. Expect me to revisit the subject in the future.
My thoughts are that Goals are a bad thing. But only a particular type of goal.
Let me elaborate.
The word “goal” has a pretty broad definition. We’re in a New Year now (gosh is it February already!) and people ask “What are your goals for this year, or, your New Year Resolutions?”.
For me I’ve got a series of expectations for myself this year. I’d like to do a sustained technical route on a large mountain. I’d like to lead a multi-pitch rock climb. I’d like to get better at Down Hill MTB. There are a few peaks and hikes that I’d like to visit also. There’s also my endeavor to drop my body weight below 170lbs and run in the Squamish50 23km race as written about here
So I have a bunch of goals you could say. But why do I want to achieve them? This is the crucial part. I want to achieve them because I believe I will feel more fulfilled by doing so, that it will help me grow as a person and that reaching these goals will be a source of happiness for me.
So, in short, for me Reaching Goals = Fulfillment + Growth + Happiness.
One problem with the mentality behind setting some goals for ourselves is that we can potentially imprison ourselves within the parameters of that goal. The further away in time we set that goal and the more specific we make it the more we are forced to make predictions about whether or not we’ll actually want to reach that goal by the time we get there.
What happens when you live a life based around personal growth is that you tend to grow away from who you were in the past. What motivates you changes as you gain new experience and knowledge. I know for a fact if I were to travel back in time 3 years that I would have very little in common with the person I was at that time. It would be foolish of me to assume now that I will have anything in common with the person I’m going to be in 3 years.
“The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn. Unlearn and relearn” – Alvin Toffler
“I felt empty inside” is something I’ve read quite a few times as the feeling people get when they achieve certain goals. I’ve felt it too on occasion but not always. Upon the completion of some other goals I’ve felt awesome, the feeling I’d expect to get. This disparity didn’t make sense. I’d set myself a goal, I’d work towards it, I’d achieve it so the outcome should be consistent. The inconsistency in how I’d feel led me to understand that there was some variable I wasn’t accounting for.
When I thought back over the goals that I had reached that left me feeling slightly adrift I realized what had happened. The minor goals, that were stepping stones on the path to some larger goal felt great to complete. But the larger goals never felt that good. The problem was that there was no horizon past the larger goals. I’d narrow my field of view onto that goal alone as my destination. When I reached it I guess I expected some conclusion. But of course life doesn’t just stop when you accomplish a goal. Life goes on and I’d feel adrift from losing my raison d’être.
The solution is actually rather simple. I set myself goals, but they are all stepping stones now. There is no final large goal that I am aiming for. Past each and every goal I set there is a horizon of other possible paths to take and ways in which to grow. The important differentiating aspect of these goals is that they are merely a direction to progress in. They can be changed or removed at any point. The process of continual progress is paramount, the goals are merely checkpoints that you pass on the way. There is no destination, only the next checkpoint, and at each checkpoint you have a choice, continue on to the next one or choose a different path and a new checkpoint. It’s that easy.
“When you stop growing you start dying.” – William S. Burroughs
So getting back to the title of this post and the opening video, a quote by the eminent Irish Poet Oscar Wilde, I believe my approach above is what he was referring to when he mentioned “the dynamic life”. A life with constant progression and growth but never with the aim of becoming something, but rather with the sole endeavor of growing perpetually in whatever direction life takes us.
It’s about always flirting with the cusp of our comfort level and embracing that feeling of fear and insecurity. Setting goals to test ourselves but not to make us become something or someone. Living untethered. Living wild.
Do you agree?