How many of the goals we’ve set out for ourselves are actually our own, discerned after careful deliberation? How many of our life goals come from others’ advice, or from our unseen tendency to follow the bandwagon?
Growing up, I repeatedly fell victim to the invisible pull of influence that haunts us all. I dreamt of being part of the Basketball varsity team in grade school because my older siblings played, not because I particularly enjoyed the sport. The goal was to get so good at basketball to gain their acceptance and approval.
I clearly remember not dating someone in high school because I thought she wasn’t pretty enough for my friends and family, although I liked her and was attracted to her well enough. My goal was to find a pretty girl friend, one that turned heads and increased my social ranking.
I played with the idea of becoming a priest (sorry mom, maybe in my next life!) – probably thanks to one of the many celibate and sheltered priests or numeraries my adolescent years was surrounded with. My goal, I imagine, was to make God and my religion (and my mom) happy, at my own happiness’ expense.
While I can’t blame my choice of school for university on anyone but myself, where else would I have gone but where my father and 3 older siblings went? I didn’t even consider any other schools as desireable options.
I was too dependent, closed-minded and narrow-sighted. My goals back then revolved around fitting in and making the people around me happy, in search of favor, attention and love.
So as I look back, it seems I have not been living my own life after all, but someone else’s; down to the ideals of wealth accumulation, going on luxury vacations, having beautiful lovers, having a wife and children and having a stable career.
“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.” – Frank Zappa
What do you lose when you live with someone else’s goals? Sometimes, the love of your life; your dream passion project; your youth and life spent in a cubicle – a room – instead of wherever your heart calls you to be.
I imagine some lose their entire lives to the goals they think they set out for themselves – believing that the “template goal” of our generation was what we really had to reach to be happy in life:
Get rich, own a company, have kids and settle down, own a beautiful white house with a picket fence (or a doomsday-prepped house with high spiked walls and a crocodile moat), own a sports car and a yacht, etc.
Is this what the midlife crisis is all about – to realize that what we have spent the last 20 years gaining has been all for naught? So middle aged men and women all over the world get divorced / separate, sell everything and go off to find themselves? If that’s what it’s all about, I’m glad people are figuring it out sooner.
No matter how old you are when you go through life-changing epiphanies, I believe there is nothing truly wasted in life, time spent is time spent well. We learn, adapt and move on. Trudging through all the pain, the frustrations, the disappointments and the “failures,” it’s all about how we perceive them in order to learn something from them about ourselves and about life-at-large.
Despite all the signs, people are still turning a deaf ear to their intuitions. Being seemingly pot-committed to our careers and the images we have of ourselves that we sell so well to our friends and family, it’s hard to stray from our current paths.
It takes tremendous courage to end a relationship, quit a job, let go of friendships that don’t serve us, or set sail and move country – while it takes no effort at all to stay where you are.
Oftentimes, we drown out our intuitions by going drinking, constantly surrounding ourselves with friends, watching netflix, buying things, having sex, or yes, even traveling, going to the gym or playing sports. When was the last time you took a breather from your busy schedule of distractions to meditate and reflect on the kind of life you were living?
I noticed I reflect deeper when I write; maybe because I’ve always had an aptitude for reading and a connection with written words. Try it out. Perhaps you’re different, you might prefer to reflect while talking to yourself aloud, or even in silence with eyes closed under the stars? Whichever method you find works best, there’s no harm in trying it for a few minutes, you only have to ask yourself the right questions. You have 10,000 minutes a week, after all.
It takes a fighting spirit to stand up and rock the boat – to question our own motives, dreams and goals – and even more so to question ourselves. Sometimes it takes a long time to muster up that courage but it’s never too late to try.
“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs
Despite appearances, being jobless and having a net negative monthly income statement, I have never felt more happy and alive, nor more sure of myself. Where my past career in the hospitality industry fed me doubts at every turn and more illusions of “the good life” I held close at hand to show off to myself and others, my current path of uncertainty feels more grounded, more intuitive – less logical, but more heart-felt.
Finally, I’m doing something I’m really interested in: traveling, photography and writing. I can die happy now. My goal, after all, isn’t success, but to be on the path that feels right – my own path.
Are you walking your own path, or are you treading behind the billions before you who’ve gone the same way?
Drop me an email or let me know in the comments below if you could relate to this essay or if I got it completely off and your life is a pocket full of sunshine following the “template goals” of modern society – or just say Hi! Thanks!
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” – Franz Kafka