Living without Goals - Using the wisdom of children to navigate life as an adult
For most of my life, I insisted on having goals for everything I wanted to achieve.
Fitness? - “This is how I want to look and these are the things I am going to do to get there”.
Wealth? - “These are the things I want to have and these are the things I will do to try and get them”.
Everything had a goal, and each goal had milestones and steps needed to accomplish them.
After years and years of banging my head against walls trying to achieve my goals, I realised something very important about goals - that striving for and achieving them are both equally pointless and unfulfilling.
The only thing I ever seemed to get out of accomplishing a goal was a momentary sense of achievement and then it was back to either getting bored with nothing to do or planning the next goal to strive for.
I was racing a never ending race with myself, while somehow pretending to myself that I was actually competing with other people and accomplishing a greater purpose. But the truth was no one else really cared about my achievements. They were too busy running their own races for their own imaginary purposes to actually have time to pay attention to me.
Once I had this realisation, there was no way the whole idea of chasing after goals could seem anything other than pointless. I knew that goals weren't the answer. However, I didn't know what was, and I knew I wanted an answer.
Sometime soon after, I came upon the concept of being path oriented instead of goal oriented though I don’t think I really understood what it meant at the time.
For the longest time afterwards, I would still have goals, draw the straightest line possible from where I was to directly achieving the goal, call it my path, and then tell myself I was now path oriented because I was focusing on the journey instead of the destination. Obviously, nothing had changed and this silly definition of path oriented meant nothing.
Very recently though, I’ve come upon a new way of looking at life that doesn’t even involve goals. I don't really have a fixed destination or path any more. I just walk wherever I want and enjoy the path I happen to be taking at the time.
Looking back, I realise now that this might possibly be what people really meant by being path oriented. Or maybe it isn't. Who knows what other people really mean when they say the things they say.
Nowadays if people ask me what my goals are, I can respond with “I don’t really have goals anymore. I just do what I feel like and flow with life”.
Luckily for me, no one ever asks me to explain what this means or how I ever get anything done without goals, which is a good thing because I still have no idea how to really explain it in a way that others can understand.
I just don’t set goals anymore. I still have dreams and wishes but I don't try to chase them or actively try to achieve them. I wander about doing whatever I feel like doing, like a little child, and somehow magically everthing seems to just work out. That’s it. Doesn’t sound like much, does it?
But here is the odd thing. Everything I want ends up happening anyway. When I want to get fit, I’ll magically find the right exercise I enjoy and I’ll feel like doing it. No willpower or motivation needed. When I want to learn a language, I’ll magically find the right study material and the ideal practice partner. No planning or searching needed.
Everything seems to happen on its own as soon as I want it and I just happen to come along for the ride and watch everything as it happens. I don’t really do anything. Everything just happens.
In the words from the Dao, this is described as "when nothing is done, nothing is left undone". I think the concept of 无为(traditional: 無為 pinyin: wú wéi) best captures what I am trying to describe.
However, no hard I try, no amount of description can do it justice. Most people fail to understand the concept with some interpretations having no relation with what it really is. A reasonable description is "following your internal compass" .
In fact, based on what you have understood some of you may even wonder, if I am not doing anything to achieve goals then what am I even doing?
Let's just say, I’m too busy enjoying life and experiencing everything as it happens to worry about what I’m supposed to be doing.
It’s life I’m enjoying, not my life. So I don’t really need to interfere with it since it isn't mine to interfere with. Life takes care of itself, and me.
Everything just feels so simple and effortless nowadays. I can’t imagine going back to struggling with life or setting and chasing goals anymore.
Would I recommend this for anyone else? Most definitely not.
I assume you are a motivated, goal oriented person who always works towards and accomplishes their dreams and goals. Please keep doing so.
If however you have had the (mis)fortune of getting into the same boat as me, do let me know. It would be nice to know that there are now at least two of us floating around together.