What Happens When We Shift the Goal to Where We Are Now?

Photo by Markus Spiske.

Yesterday I wrote about an insight I gathered from Emily Nagoski's very smart book Come As You Are. Well, now I am going to share another one. Later I will probably share more. This book is full of wonderful wisdom.

This one is about goals: you know how, in an ideal world, we set goals and then work hard and then achieve them?

It's a great process, when it works out. But what if it not only doesn't work out, but can't? What if the goal is to change something about yourself that is unchangeable and the effort will only lead to misery?

In the book, Nagoski is, of course, talking about sexual things. She is talking about women who think they should have desire or pleasure that work in one particular way. Women who have the goal of changing how their body works, which is going to be very difficult at best, mostly leading to increased heartache and decreased pleasure.

Her suggestion? Change the goal. Either make it closer, and thus more achievable, or just flatten the space between yourself and the goal completely. What if your goal was to be exactly where you are now and all you had to do is enjoy it?

This reminds me a little bit of a lightbulb moment I had in my career several years ago. You see, I got hired to run the marketing and publicity for a theatre company with very little pay, zero experience, and ambivalence about whether I was tragically giving up on my dream of being an actor or embracing a life that I was better suited for. I never really felt like I had "made it" - I was always working to figure out how to do my job, how to afford to live while doing my job, and comparing myself to very successful artists AND producers.

Then one day, an actor who also taught at a local university asked me if I would speak to his class. He wanted them to hear about my job and how I approached my work. He thought my experience would be useful, and even perhaps inspiring, to them.

I spoke to the class, and then afterwards was flabbergasted to realize that, for those students, I was living the dream. I had a paying, regular job in theatre that was creative, challenging, and interesting.

If I shifted the goal, I wasn't trying to make it; I had made it.

Seeing my life and work from this new perspective didn't make me stop desiring to learn and grow, but it did help me see that I could enjoy where I was along the way. I was starting in a good place! The climb was along a scenic mountainside, not trudging out of an endless and smelly canyon!

Goals are good, they help us improve and can provide direction to life, but it all depends on what the goal is. Working to learn a new skill is one thing. Believing that happiness is on the other side of changing how your body or personality or desires work is another. That's like setting a goal to become taller when you are 34 years old.

Or here's an even worse one: believing that happiness is on the other side of changing how another person works. That's like setting a goal to make someone else taller.

So if you have a goal that is making you miserable, just imagine: what if you've made it? What if the goal is wherever you are now and you are done? What does that mean? Where does that idea bring sadness? Grief, even? What if we imagine letting that grief pass - what's on the other side of it? Where does that idea bring freedom? Relief? Joy?


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