If you don’t know where you’re going, you never get there

For a lot of my life I worked very hard to have no goals.

It wasn’t that I was vague or aimless or uncertain. No, I worked hard to have no goals. If I had no goals, I reasoned, I couldn’t fail at them.

I dislike failure. I think most people do. Failure is that state where the things you wanted to do or be are not coming to pass merely because of your own personal inadequacy. You are not good enough, at whatever it is, to make it happen. If you are fortunate you have merely failed yourself. But, most likely, you have also disappointed others.

Who wouldn’t want to avoid this?

So I avoided goals. If I never meant to do anything, I couldn’t fall short. I didn’t commit to plans, it was always, “sure, maybe, we’ll see.” I didn’t strive for improvement at things, because who knows how that might go? I kept my head down and muddled through without any aim.

The problem, I gradually realized, is that if you don’t have goals you never succeed.

At anything.

If you don’t have goals, you’re never done. It’s never enough. You could always do a bit more. If you have a vague sense that you want your house to be cleaner, and you put all the dvds away, okay, fine — but why aren’t you vacuuming, too? What about putting the books away? Why are you stopping now? Why aren’t you doing more? If you have a vague sense that you want your partner to be happy in the relationship, okay, fine. Do you buy him flowers? Do you pay off her car loan? Do you get up in the night with the kids? Do you cook breakfast? How do you know when they are happy? How do you know what part you play in that happiness? How do you know what to do? How do you know when you have done enough?

Unless you know what you are heading for, you never get there.

A person’s goals can be a bit amorphous. Let’s take housework as an example, as that’s easier than human relationships. A goal doesn’t have to be “clean the house.” Gods, no! That’s a terrible goal. There’s no done there. But one could sweep the kitchen, mop the kitchen, tidy the general space for twenty minutes, and put all the dirty dishes in the house into the sink. Those are goals that a person can master, goals one can complete. Those are goals that I could mark off of a list in confidence, secure in the knowledge that I have DONE those things.

I remember, as a young adult, various people trying to explain this conundrum to me. That goals are what allow a person to succeed. I never understood it, at the time. I was so very afraid of failure — specifically, of failing other people. Yet all my fear of failure gave me was a constant sense that I wasn’t good enough. Whenever my friends or partners were unhappy, I didn’t know what to do. When authority figures were disappointed in me, I didn’t know how to remedy this. When I erred, I didn’t know how to apologize. No apology was sufficient, no accomplishment was enough, no gesture of love or affection met the standard — because there was no “enough”.

I could have poured all my self into doing, and never met the end. I was always going to fall short of the end, as the goal was endless.

That is, in my opinion, a silly thing to do to one’s self.

For pity’s sake, Sigrid, just pick some damn goals and work towards them.

Floss your teeth. Solve world peace. Wash the dishes. Write 150 words. Make the phone call. Conquer cold fusion. Answer one email. Find your shoes. Fill the car with gas. Buy a cookie.

Come to think of it, I like that last goal.

Buy a cookie.

I think I’ll go get one, now.


One Response

  1. I’ve been thinking about these issues quite a lot recently, but from a different direction. I tend to set unrealistic goals for myself and get frustrated. I might have a good weekend with fun activities and getting things done but I feel bad because I wanted to accomplish so much more. I completely agree that “clean the house” is a terrible goal.

    My current goal is to set aside half an hour for fun things every day. For me this means fiber arts or reading. A lot of other things I do are fun but not relaxing for me. Aikido, for example, is great fun but also requires a _lot_ of concentration. Going for walks with V is fun, but it is our best time to discuss challenging issues. I need some time every day when I’m not being responsible.

    I have a pretty good grasp of appropriate goals for aikido. On Fridays my goal is to not hit any of my partners over the head with a stick. Friday is weapons class at the end of a long week and my control needs work. Getting up from rolls using my abs with my knees in good alignment. Matching my pace to my partners. I have a whole host of teachers’ voices in my head telling me what to do. Whatever I choose to work on will make a difference in my practice. I wish I had that confidence about the things I choose to do in the rest of my life.

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