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The goal-setter’s dilemma

When it comes to things I want to do/achieve/experience, I have long gone the route of dogged persistence, holding on to the belief that it will happen because I believe it will, that I’ll find a way and figure it out and negotiate my way through, course-correcting on the fly to keep my eye on the big goal as things unfold, being flexible on the details and making conditions favorable for the goal to come into being… versus setting a goal, then letting go of outcome and letting things fall where they may. To me, it’s the difference between a goal and a wish.

But lately, I’ve been forced to confront this idea rather squarely: indeed, some things require waiting, some things require others, some things need time to cook, some things are out of our hands, and some things are harder than others. Still, I’ve known the difference between tough goals and impossible ones, between great ideas that need to percolate versus ones I should jump on asap, I’ve known when to keep pushing and when to jump ship, and I’ve felt in my gut when something is right and when it is not.

And, suddenly, I don’t know. Or, rather, I do know just fine, but whatever unseen forces of the world seem to be really heaping on the resistance harder than ever before. I’m not afraid of persistence, of being pushy or persuasive to get what I truly want from this one wild and precious life, and, indeed, I’ve had my share of actual and figurative rejection slips and figured out a way to make my goals work anyway. (Hell, I’m the woman who did a marathon on crutches because I didn’t want to give up and sit it out; I’m not afraid of giving something even asinine levels of effort when needed.)

But what happens when the layers of resistance start running deep enough to drown? When no amount of effort can budge the damn doors open? When being persistent is met with pushback, annoyance, or silence (possibly the worst of all, because you then have no indication of why), or an even louder “no”…? What then? What happens when suddenly nothing is or seems negotiable? When even stripping everything down to the bone and exposing pink underbelly isn’t enough? It gives way to a terrible feeling of sitting by the phone, of waiting, of wondering, of not knowing, of self-questioning, that’s what. And the worst thing to do in those moments is to fill the void with the wrong things, the wrong goals, the wrong people, the wrong projects, while the best thing is to keep at it, so I’ve long believed. But when “to keep at it” means even harder resistance… what then? How long do you keep banging your fists on the door before you become a fool?

Are the “set goal/forget goal” people on to something I don’t know? Because that route is perfectly valid if it feels right in your bones, but it doesn’t feel right in my bones, yet I feel a million perturbed fingers pointing me in that direction right now, to walk away from some of my goals, forget them and let them unfold rather than keep putting heart and soul and mental energy behind them. Even writing that makes my skin crawl, like a defeat, or like giving up, so deeply do I know that’s not the way I’m wired. To completely let go of whether or not goals come to pass feels passive, or worse, like clouding the things with hopeless negativity and dooming them forever.

I’ve known terribly busy times, and learned the hard way to cherish a slower, more mindful pace, but it’s not pace I’m talking about. It’s forward movement versus stagnation. When I’m sure of things, I’ve always found a way to have forward momentum. And, indeed, I’ll find it in this weird standstill soon enough, too. But, it’s weird. It’s painful and unusual to be so down-in-my-bones certain of paths only to have boulders pile up along them. It’s frustrating if not downright emotional, frankly. It’ll pass, and I’ll eventually find a way to tunnel out and who knows what perspective I might have picked up by then. In the meantime, I’ll keep at things the only way I know how, and try so very hard to accept that my usual level of forward momentum feels upstream on a strong current right now, and to just sit with that until it changes. And, I’ll do the things, I do: dogged persistence, holding onto belief that all my goals will happen because I believe they will, that I’ll find a way and figure it out, I’ll course-correct as things unfold, and keep making conditions favorable for the goals to come into being.

One Comment (Add Yours)

  1. Very good read Amy. I too have the dogged persistence gene and it has taken me to some great accomplishments. What I’ve found though is that there are goals and there are dreams, sometimes they are both achieved, sometimes they aren’t. I’ve come to realize that I like to fulfill the goal, the task, the list, whatever, but leave the other aspects alone. The recent example is that I’ve just finished writing a screenplay. It still needs a lot of work and even when I get it to a point where it can be read by others, odds are really long anything will come of it. But I feel accomplished. More to the point, I feel good, regardless of the “success” that might be achieved. Thanks again.