November 8, 2020

What if you had no goals?


For most of my young adult life, goals motivated me to do things.

The experience of setting, documenting, sharing, reviewing, achieving and reflecting upon them was a significant source of satisfaction for me.

Until it wasn’t. Until it occurred to me that the hedonic treadmill really has no end.

Goals are for the person you are when you set them, not necessarily the person you’re going to be when you reach them.

That’s the inherent paradox here. Fulfillment itself already contains the urge to move beyond what has been attained. The destination is forever unknown until we find ourselves there. And the moment we hit our goal, or don’t hit it and abandon it, we just set another one and start the process all over again.

Somebody please tell me that’s not why we’re here? To check boxes? Aren’t there more important things in this life than competing, attaining results, being the best, crossing the finish line and hitting our numbers?

In my experience, all that addictive, striving, goal driven behavior mostly just introduced unnecessary stress into my life for a marginal return. Certainty made my ego happy to have and hold and hit all of my fancy goals. But it robbed me of the joy of the process.

Because when you’re attached to outcomes, treating every task or person as another goddamn vehicle to get somewhere else other than this moment, it’s a form of objectification.

But we don’t need another thing to take us away from the only thing we have, which is right now.

What might be healthier is focusing on what is up to us, which is our effort and mindset. Letting go of how things will turn out and enjoying the journey.

Linklater, the artist who sparked the indie film movement in the nineties and became a moviemaking legend, said it eloquently.

The ride does not require a destination, only occupants.

And so, if you’ve been feeling disenchanted around the concept of goals, here are several reframing questions to ask yourself. Fair warning, these questions are abstract, esoteric, existential and unconventional. Humor me for a moment.

What if you had no goals?

What if you just worked on whatever you were working on and ended up wherever you are?

What if you just did whatever you felt like was the right thing to do in the given situation?

What if you trusted that your discipline alone was enough to lead to creating value for yourself and others?

What if milestones were merely stopovers where you learned what you needed to learn and set out to continue on your path?

And what if however it ends up playing itself out over time is how it ends up playing itself out over time?

Wow, there’s a sense of acceptance there that’s profoundly soothing. It feels sustainable. It feels respectful of the human experience.

Rather than a goal that gives people one way to win, it’s a system that can surface many winning paths, some of which we never could have imagined at the outset.

What part of the process are you robbing yourself of enjoying?