This is the year my goals broke and I think I like it.
You can blame this whole post on the fact we’re pondering what to do for our next summer holidays, which has me reflecting on our road trip to Brunswick Heads last year. Somewhere on the inland road north from Sydney, probably under a waterfall, my goals started to fall apart.
We left the big smoke and headed up the New England Highway in a bit of a flap, because we had 14 friends-of-friends staying in our house while we were away = a ridiculous amount of bed making. Somehow in the midst of all that I lost my pretty goal folder. I usually take it with me on holidays to write my yearly goals and break them down into actionable parts.
Our first night’s accommodation was booked in a fabulously daggy roadside motel in Muswellbrook. I was kind of excited, because I have an inappropriate nostalgia for places with lumpy mattresses, faded wall art and kettles that only work if you give them a bash. I just didn’t realise it was a mining town, so the drive in was past big gashes of mining. The reality our nation rides on the back of those open wounds always leaves me wondering why we need more, more, more.
I started thinking about my goals and I pondered the goals I had dutifully written out in my pretty goal folder for the last ten years. From memory, they all had a similar tone.
By now, I would be earning 150g a year, be independently wealthy, be the author of several published books, be ten kilos lighter, be going on date nights once a week and be going on overseas holidays every year.
Hmm… more, more, more.
I haven’t achieved any of those goals and it dawned on me, as I noticed my heart rate rising just thinking about the goals, there’s a lot anxiety hidden in the spaces between those goals. The message behind all the ‘be this and be that’ is that our lives aren’t good enough now. We’re not good enough.
What if we just did what felt right in each moment? What if we just did what aligned with our intention or purpose? Would our lives spin out of control? Would we become passive? Would we no longer be the ‘drivers of our lives’?
I reflected on why I’d achieved none of the goals I’d dutifully written down ten years ago. I didn’t think I’d be a blogger back then, because it hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t realise I’d enjoy hanging out with my boys and lose some career ambition along the way (don’t tell my feisty teenage self, she would be horrified). I didn’t know I would lose interest in having more stuff.
This made me wonder if goals can actually be limiting, whereas choosing to lead a meaningful and purposeful life – ‘A beautiful life that doesn’t cost the earth’ has been far more useful for me. All those boxes to be ticked don’t seem as relevant now. I say yes and no to things based on if they align with my purpose, not because I have a box to tick. Yes, I still do some work that isn’t exactly inspiring, but it helps feed my family and that’s very meaningful to me, but I’m slowly becoming less dependent on that work. Mostly, I earn a living doing something that means a lot to me.
Yup, it was cold, but it left me feeling ridiculously alive.
I decided to compromise with myself and make my goal vaguer and more flexible and more of a summary of what I’ve been trying to achieve over the last couple of years – I would strive to build a beautiful life – goal done.
The problem only dawned on me halfway through the year. We can’t ‘build’ a beautiful life. We can only live it. Right now. It’s not about who we’re going to be. We’re it and that’s okay.
Dang, all those smug people with the ‘live in the moment’ posters for being right. It hurts to type this, but I had one of those annoying realisations – I’m as good as I’m going to get, striving wasn’t going to make me more myself or happier.
This is when all my goals broke and I wondered what would happen if I didn’t write goals? What if I took that holiday feeling and just said yes to things that feel right, things that align with my intention?
So far, I’ve said yes to work that feeds my family, because that feels right. I’ve said yes to things I love doing, like sharing and wrestling ideas with people. I’ve said yes to simplifying and slowing down and going to bed earlier (hello boys who wake up 5.30 every day). I don’t drink as much as I used to, because that feels right for my brain (and see previous). I exercise most days, because that feels right. Sometimes I do none of the above, because that feels right.
It feels so weird to type it out and I’m not sure I can recommend it as a way of life, because it kind of hurts to give up on long term and bite-sized actionable goals. It lacks the sense of security of predicting my future, but clearly I wasn’t very good at predicting anyway. However, the big win is that I’m finding it a lot easier to live in the moment and pay attention to my surroundings and how I’m feeling.
I still have ideas and projects I want to do with people and for those projects I write a to do list to brain dump and clear my head. Perhaps, it’s just semantics, but somehow it feels different to me.
Goals mean I’m striving to ‘be’ someone else, whereas if I don’t do everything on my to do list it doesn’t reflect on my sense of self worth as much. Maybe, I should call it a ‘what if ‘list? Would that be taking it too far? I guess we all have to find what works for us.
I don’t know if I’ll live this way forever, but it feels right at the moment and it’s the reason I giggled when I found my pretty goal folder in a recent decluttering and confirmed my suspicions. NONE of the things I had planned for had happened, but a lot of other interesting and fun things had. So, I threw my pretty folder out.