New Year’s Day
I’ve been thinking a lot, over the past year or so, about life, human nature, expectations, happiness, and things of that sort. To even convey a fraction of the conclusions I’ve drawn would require me to stop writing music and write blog posts every day for a year, at least. But I’ll tell you what I’m thinking for the New Year.
My New Year’s Resolution: BE LESS GOAL ORIENTED.
Yes, you heard me right. I’m going to consciously work on setting and achieving fewer goals. Surely such a thing is anti-American, right? Maybe. But don’t call me Shirley.
Here’s my thinking: we, as a society, are heavily goal-oriented. From gold stars in grade school to AP grades, ACT scores, game scores, to job evaluations, project completion deadlines, budget surpluses, dating-as-spouse-hunting, house hunting, and practically any other example you can think of. Even in the artist’s world, there are goals GALORE. I have to finish these songs by X date, or sell 4 CDs tonight to cover my gas for tomorrow. I have to have 15 people paid at the door or the promoter won’t book me again. I have to get that youtube video edited while the song is still topical or before I leave for the road.
This is a valuable and totally logical way progress through life, mind you — I’m not knocking the theory of it. I’m knocking the practice. Because what happens when you’re a very goal-oriented person? In America, that typically means you’re an objectively successful person. You set goals, you reach them, you prosper. You do well in your job, as does your spouse. You have nice stuff, and well-dressed and well-mannered kids, all underneath a very nice roof, no doubt. But, in order to stay goal oriented, we have to develop a brutal and counterproductive habit. Immediately upon reaching a goal, we have to minimize it. Because if we don’t, then we rest on our laurels. We ‘fail’, and people who don’t rest ‘succeed’. So that thing we just spent months working towards? It was nothing. It was easy. Anybody could’ve done it. This next thing, well, now, IT is gonna be a bear. A challenge worthy of our time and energy.
Now, I could get into a lengthy discussion of how I think we’ve done a bad job defining ‘success’, ‘worth’, ‘failure’, and lots of other such concepts, but this isn’t about that. A direct consequence of being goal-oriented is that we become future-oriented, never appreciating where we are now because we’re always reaching for the next goal. But we don’t live in the future. Life is only lived in the now — that unimaginably brief snapshot between perception and cognition. By the time we process that a moment has happened it’s gone forever. I said that being goal-oriented is a totally logical way to progress through life — I believe that. What I don’t believe is that life can be progressed through. It’s not a video game, where you beat one level to move on to the next one, collecting all the coins and power-ups along the way to get a bigger and badder character. Sure, you can collect coins and power-ups, but there’s no winning or losing. There’s only contentment with your choices, joy in the little moments, and a constant awareness that we cannot win, we cannot lose, and we cannot quit. We can only journey.
So, I’m going to attempt to be less goal-oriented in ’13. Less outcome-dependent. More focused on the joy of the work rather than the result of the work. Maybe I won’t reach as many goals that way, but the point is to be a happier and more centered person all the time, rather than a person who is defined by accomplishments; branded and stamped ‘success’ or ‘failure’ due to completion of arbitrary tasks under a deadline assigned by social conventions and societal expectations.
Or at least that’s the theory. Goals are inevitable, but I think changing how I view them will do a lot for my day to day life. Want to join me?
(Special thanks to my man Bryn Loosley, for writing the song New Year’s Day that I posted up top. I remember distinctly where I was when I first heard it, which is an indication of how powerful it is.)