Areas of Unrest
31 December 2000 - On Goals
QOTD: "A long dispute means that both parties are wrong." - Voltaire
Reading: Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone
Listening to: Kirsten Braten Berg, From Senegal to Setesdal
Before I get to the real subject of this entry, I want to mention that I drove down to Dana Point (a beach town in the Laguna area, aoutheastern Orange County) yesterday to do a Volksmarch. It was perfect weather for a seaside walk and I didn't even mind that it was fairly crowded with other walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and kids on scooters. I mention it mostly because I've lived in Southern California for 15 years and I've been aware of Dana Point as a place for most of that time. And it was not until doing this walk yesterday that I realized that the Dana it's named after is Richard Henry Dana. How odd for somewhere in Orange County to be named after an actual famous person, as opposed to a real estate developer! It would be most pleasant to sit on a bench at the harbor and read Two Years Before the Mast.
I also took advantage of being in that vicinity to stop by the South African grocery store in Laguna Beach and buy some Stoney Ginger Beer. I would have liked to stock up on Just Juice, too, but they only had litchi-pear and I really wanted mango-orange and/or grenadilla. Oh, well, there are other walks in that area I haven't done yet.
What I really wanted to write about is goals and why people have trouble with them. Part of this was prompted by Ceej's recent entry in which she talks about people using self-destructive behavior, instead of taking charge of getting out of a situation that makes them unhappy. And part of it came from finally putting together my "life list" of goals and accomplishments, which is something I wanted to do even before Monique's escapade list. But the trend she started was additional motivation.
Anyway, I think there are two fundamental problems with setting goals. The first is that you are forced to prioritize. You can do pretty much anything you want in life, but you simply can't do everything. Or at least not at the same time. If you're going to devote yourself to training for a marathon, that's time that you don't have available to work in a soup kitchen. I think a lot of people make themselves miserable because they feel they have to do everything, instead of just picking out the most important things.
The second fundamental problem is that we're conditioned to believe we should want certain things. The vast majority of people never attempt to separate out what they want from what they think they should want. What makes this particularly distressing is that the emphasis on what we should want tends to be material. I doubt that most people, in their heart of hearts, really think money is the answer to what they want in life.
I'll also add that I think the real reason people continue in bad situations is that effective goals need to be positive, not negative. Knowing what you don't want is a small step. Knowing what you do want is a giant leap. And my experience is that few people can tell you what they do want. I used to run into that all the time when I had a managerial job and interviewed job applicants. To be fair, I know that some of them will be vague about what they want because they don't want to give the "wrong" answer and cut themselves out of the running. The problem is that if you're vague and a manager doesn't see through it, you run the very real risk of ending up in a job you'll hate. (I use the job example, but this obviously applies to lots of other things, especially relationships.)
Another thing worth mentioning is that people often run from success because they don't have another goal ready. I think that was part of my problem when I was working on my Ph.D.. Once I finished, what was I going to do? I wasted a lot of time watching television and reading trashy novels instead of writing because I couldn't figure that out. It wasn't until I had some perspective (which came largely from being successful at work), that I was able to get my dissertation finished.
So what does all this have to do with my life list? One of the things I made a point of doing was mentioning things I have accomplished. There are plenty of other things I could put on that list, but I chose ones that had to do with fulfilling goals I had formally identified before doing them, rather than things which just seemed to happen. There are inevitably things I've forgotten. As far as the things to do, I wanted to have 101, because a hundred is a conventional number for these things but I distrust round numbers. I made sure no more than half were travel-related, largely because it would be all too easy just to list a hundred places I'd like to see. I hadn't originally intended the "creating" category, but I saw a pattern developing and thought it worth identifying that I get real satisfaction out of working with both hand and mind.
I doubt that anything on the list will surprise anybody who knows me. The main reason for writing it was to have a way to keep track of goals. There are some things on the list that I'm reasonably sure I'll make progress on fairly soon, and others which seem remote. What I expect to do is to check in on it every six months or so and see whether I'm on track.
Copyright 2000 Miriam H. Nadel
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