I always struggled with long-term goals and other life-mapping strategies that a middle school guidance counselor would love. Aside from wanting to be alive and happy, my mind would draw a complete blank. I convinced myself for a long time that I could never see my “future” self because I didn’t think much of my present self. It was something that as a child I never really thought about. I wasn’t the kid who knew what she wanted to be when she grew up (barring a brief time when I wanted to be a Disney princess or a vet). I spent most of my time in my own imagination, playing make-believe and otherwise trying to escape from my tumultuous reality. I was also highly emotionally sensitive to the emotions of everyone else around me, often shutting down with exhaustion from taking on too much.
For a long time I considered all of this to be “bad”. It made me feel like I was irresponsible, a daydreamer, lazy and unmotivated. In part, there was a lack of motivation stemming from a deep-rooted belief that I wasn’t worthy of having the life I wanted. In fact, I kept telling myself that I should be grateful for whatever life brought me and not complain. It took many years to work through all that conditioning. It was hard to give myself permission to want things and to truly feel like I was worthy and deserving of them.
Oddly enough though, the goals part was still proving to be tricky for me. I was feeling happy and confident yet I still couldn’t concretely picture where I wanted to take my life. I knew the things that I desired like writing and traveling. Those things lit me up and I knew I wanted them to somehow be a part of my life. I was worried people would expect a “plan” out of me and I began to put a lot of pressure on myself to come up with one that would make all of us happy.
Suffice it to say that I was never able to shell out a concrete plan. The best I was able to come up with was a certainty about how I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel inspired, free, and magical and many other words. I made a list and stuck them up on the mirror in my bathroom to look at every day. They became my affirmations that I would silently recite to myself as I brushed my teeth.
Following my feelings led to many unexpected decisions, like quitting my paralegal job and freelance writing. Implicating this way of navigating my life was met with much criticism and judgment. I was “supposed” to have a plan completely laid out from A to Z. I was “supposed” to be rational about my choices and was “supposed” to sacrifice my happiness for money and security. I needed to commit to a plan. I took everyone’s resistance as a sign to stop looking to others for encouragement on what to do next. I had to let go of knowing what “next” would look like. I had to relinquish control.
I suddenly realized that in trying to make goals I was trying to outsmart the universe. I wasn’t trusting that things would work out for the best and I was so afraid that if I let go of the wheel, life would drive me off a metaphorical cliff. But the more I surrendered needing to know the outcome, the more that things in alignment with how I wanted to feel started showing up. I found work with two local businesses that I had loved and admired for years. A magazine I had pitched for picked up my idea. There was still no trajectory yet I found myself no longer worrying about the future and instead, feeling so grateful and excited about the present.
There is liberation in discovering that it is more than okay to not know where you’ll be in five, ten or fifty years. Rather than having goals, have desires for things you want to accomplish, people you want to meet and places you want to see. Do it all.
Most importantly, chase the feeling. When you become too fixated on what the goal or end destination should look like, it makes it almost impossible to see life (possibly) trying to steer you in a different and probably even better direction. You continue to navigate out of fear and the conviction that somehow you know better. Instead, why not stay open to possibilities you weren’t otherwise expecting? What if the life you thought you were meant to have was no where close to what you were actually meant to have? Maybe letting go is the only way to really open up and receive. If you decide to stay committed to the emotion that you want to feel, then at the end of the day, you will be successful.
Truly, the only goal is to not have any at all.