why goals can be overrated
I wonder if sometimes we get so hung up on a goal that we disconnect from the dream.
Human beings are remarkably lousy when it comes to predicting the things that will make us happy. Which is ironic, given how many of us state that our main goal in life is to Be Happy. But when happiness is your goal, it becomes just like any other goal. You’re busy chasing it down — it belongs in the future. What about now? Has your ‘real life’ started yet?
There’s happiness, and there’s hedonism. Hedonism is awesome in its own right – if anyone tells you different, they’re lying – although, as with any force of nature, you must treat it with respect or pay a heavy price.
It’s a high and a buzz and a thrill, and arrives in fabulous outfits, but it is not deep joy.
Joy is harder.
It’s in our nature to pursue meaning, to find and make meaning, and deep joy is an indirect benefit of that. Which means it’s often bittersweet. It comes shaded with loss and pain.
Meaning seems to come out of struggle. Something happens to us, our life takes a zig when we planned for it to zag, and we’re forced to figure out what to make of it all. We have to decide how to tell the story, even as it’s still unfolding. How you explain your past shapes the present and creates the future. The beginning of any story contains the seeds of that story’s end.
The phoenix will rise from the ashes, but first it has to burn (that part sucks) and be in the ashes (that part also sucks). But even in the ashes, it knows that it’s a phoenix.
If it tells itself that it’s a sparrow, the story turns out differently.
The danger of a goal is that we get so focused on the end result, the destination, that we ignore what the journey is trying to tell us. So we get the goal, only to discover that it’s meaningless – and we’re not happy. Or we get so afraid we won’t achieve it — so paralyzed by fear, disappointment and potential humiliation — that we stop. We get stuck. We give up on the wrong things. We go after things we don’t care about. We get comfortable and complacent and find ways to justify our choices – and we’re not happy.
What if you made the journey a goal in itself? Or what if you knew that wherever you are, is exactly where you’re supposed to be, in order to go after whatever it is you think you want? Or what if the journey is trying to tell you that what you really want – is something else? Maybe it would free you up to relax, to play, to pay more attention to the moment, to take more enjoyment in the process and less investment in the outcome (which actually makes the desired outcome more likely. Go figure.)
The journey is real life.
The destination is a pausing place.
The meaning of any story develops through conflict. There is a beginning, a middle, an end. A set-up, a complication, a resolution. A separation, an initiation, a return. The hero is called to action, but can’t achieve what she wants to achieve until obstacles, problems, confrontations and bad guys force her to change in some way, to restore a missing quality to her character. That’s the adventure.
It’s this same lost-and-found quality that makes her success inevitable, even if it doesn’t arrive in the form she expected. You go after one thing, but win something else.
It’s the lesson, the shift in paradigm, the transformation. It gives your experience
meaning and makes it sacred. It makes your life a story worth telling in the first place.
And then you rise.