Life Without Goals

I didn’t feel so well the other day. With ten minutes before class, I placed all of my books in my backpack, turned off the light switch in my dorm room, and slid my fingers across the door handle. A slight breeze from the AC unit made me shiver, a sign of sin to come. After a second of deliberation, I dropped my hand by my side.

Then, I skipped class.

Exhibit A: Two agendas and a to-do list. I like planning.

Exhibit A: Two agendas and a to-do list. I like to plan.

Here’s what I expected after skipping my first college class: people to call me out and castigate me like Hester Prynne, the material¬† I missed to mock me and laugh at my lack of knowledge, and the universe as a whole to smack me down like a pathetic fruit fly. Instead, the only people who were aware of my absence were the ones who I called ahead of time and asked if it was morally permissible to skip class (they all said yes). I did not miss any new material, rather, my professors brought in a guest speaker to talk about a subject I already knew a decent amount about. And the Gods did not smite me for my sin; rather, they smiled as I made a happiness tissue box, filled with the little things in life that bring me joy.

All bow down to the beauty of my happiness tissue box.

Exhibit B: My happiness tissue box. All bow down to its beauty.

In contemporary society, we motivate ourselves with goals. We work hard to get into the best college, we push ourselves for promotions and grad school positions, and we always aim to attain tangible outcomes. The focus lies on external events and rewards, even when we possess intrinsic inclinations to do well. When I talk to people, I tend to ask: what do you want to with your life? However, I should start asking this: what do you love doing now, and why?

It’s not that thinking about the future is a bad thing. It’s just that goals – constructs we create to give ourselves a sense of direction – can hurt us more than they help us. As this brilliant article details, if we force ourselves to only work toward a defined set of outcomes, we lose sight of the values and the desires that fuel our actions in the moment. Just two nights ago, I spent an hour and a half poring over clinical Psychology Ph.D. programs, when I could have spent that time reading or hanging out with friends. I lost sight of the value that motivates me, my concern for others, and I focused on the future to give myself a sense of security.

I have learned so much in my freshman year of college. Through my studies in English and Psychology, I have gained deeper insight into life and the people who inhabit it. But the biggest lesson for me so far has been accepting uncertainty and embracing the unknown. In high school, I directed all of my efforts and all of my energy into getting into college, when the value that motivated my drive was a desire to understand the world through words and an empathy for others. Now, it doesn’t matter whether I want to work as a clinical psychologist, a guidance counselor, or a teacher. I know I want to help people, and that’s enough.

As finals approach, I know what I will tell myself as I study for my exams: I love English because it lets me live more than one life. I love Psychology because people fascinate me and understanding leads to empathy. The grades will not determine my life.

I will.

Zoom out to my desk: posted pictures of Britin and my best friend for strength. Wish me luck.

Exhibit C: my desk. I posted pictures of Britin and my best friend for strength. Wish me luck.

What do you guys think about life without goals? Do you find yourself pushing toward tangible outcomes, and if so, why? I’d love to hear more even though this new mindset is the only thing keeping me from going crazy about my future from other people of all ages and walks of life. Also, if you’d like to read my brief thoughts on Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or “The Gospel According to Mark” by Jorge Luis Borges, you can do so here and here. I hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

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29 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

29 responses to “Life Without Goals

  1. Haha, I love the description of how you skipped that class and how nothing “bad” happened. I never skipped class in high school (it was not that kind of school where you could…) but then quickly learned that uni is much more freer and relaxed about things like skipping/sleeping during class (haha)

    Love your happiness tissue box! Such a neat idea!

    “if we force ourselves to only work toward a defined set of outcomes, we lose sight of the values and the desires that fuel our actions in the moment. ” THIS. (Because YOLO ;)

    I don’t think we should completely stop worrying about the future, but it’s important to enjoy and the LIVE the present too. If only I could follow my own advice… (I try to though)

    • Ah yes, university is so much more relaxed than high school! But with that freedom comes responsibility, as we all know – if everyone just started skipping class whenever they felt like it, that would mean bad things for education in general. Also, I agree that we need a balance of living in the moment and thinking about the future. We can’t fixate on one, and like many things in life, a balance is necessary. It is hard to take your own advice sometimes but awareness is the first step to success here, so it’s great that you’re cognizant of your habits. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. I used to function on a goal to goal basis. Meaning, one thing accomplished, move on to the next. It didn’t make me very happy. I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Always trying to outdo myself. I changed gears a few years ago and now I enjoy life much more.
    I try to make the best (see the best) in what’s already here. That was the result of stopping, taking a deep breath and realizing I already had everything I genuinely wanted.

    • It’s so wonderful that you’ve made the transition from being goal-oriented to living in the moment and appreciating that you already have everything you genuinely want. You’re an inspiration to those in the process of reforming their perspectives, for sure.

      • I don’t want anyone to necessarily change course- just to think about what’s really important to them.
        At one point I thought that if I didn’t have X my life was pointless, and that was quite ridiculous.

  3. Reblogged this on buyie129 and commented:
    Being a student is a nightmare

  4. Love the happiness box! Makes me feel bad for having a negative jar (literally full of negative words) :P

    • Ha ha, we all have our vices! Better to release that negativity in a benign way than to have it burst out in a fit of violence. (: Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Great post Thomas, but the mother in me has a question instead of an answer to your prompt. Do you feel better????????????

  6. So didn’t make you feel like a rebel for skipping class? It’s a good feeling :0)

    It’s great that you’re learning so much from college. Don’t forget to go out with friends and have fun too. That’s just as important. Always get a smile when I see a new post from you.

    • Yeah I felt a bit like a rebel, though my reason for skipping class (creating a tissue box full of happy thoughts) wasn’t the most scandalous, so that might have decreased my inclination to view myself as a rebel. (:

      Thank you, I definitely will do fun things and live it up while I can! Likewise, your comments and your posts brighten my days too.

  7. Congrats on learning that it’s okay to take care of yourself every now and then! That’s honestly an important and difficult lesson. I love asking people, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My peer group is folks in their mid-20s and that’s a question that gets a reaction. We get into the habit of thinking that we have to know what we want to do NOW or do what we love NOW and it’s fun to remind people that it’s okay not to.

    • Agreed, it’s important to love yourself and to recognize that it’s okay to have an uncertain future, as long as you’re doing your best now. Glad that you’re aware that you ask that question to get a reaction, and thank you for reading and commenting!

  8. I totally agree with you Thomas! Not only does this fixation with goals hinder enjoying the moment, I think it limits people’s lives to what they can imagine and what they feel are the ‘correct’ things to achieve. There’s so much more to experience in life. With goals, people tend to become focused on ticking things off and, as Pink says, never feel as satisfied as they thought they would as each accomplishment passes. Random, unplanned and unexpected twists in life are much more exciting, but people blinkered by goals tend to miss them.

    • As usual, you articulate everything I’m thinking with clarity and eloquence. Goals, indeed, are not always the best things to possess. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  9. Such a great post! :)

  10. And you remind me of goals, and I almost feel bad because I don’t feel as if I have any now. :) Don’t worry, I don’t blame you or anything. Well, not too much. :D

    But goals have defined so much of my life so far. Yes, I can be a stubborn little bugger when I want to. I had a goal to come out; I failed, and was instead outed. I had a goal to go to England; I succeeded. I had a goal to live openly as gay in England; I certainly managed to do that. I had a goal to get into Cambridge, and that was shot down in flame. I spent a year moping about it, standing still and waiting for the universe to provide me with a new goal. It never did. I should have a goal. Or I’ll walk around in a circle. Or something.

    But I also feel pretty relaxed about it.

    • Colin, I think in some ways it can be good to have goals, as long as you recognize why you have them. For example (and please correct me if I’m wrong) I feel that your goals regarding your sexuality all aimed to ensure that you felt “in control” of your image, how people perceived you, and your homosexuality in general – in the end you gained the result you wanted, right? Maybe ask yourself what motivated you to get into Cambridge, like if you wanted to study a certain topic? From your posts that I’ve read it seems that you have an affinity for writing and a passion for it. Perhaps you can use that to guide you in your future pursuits, or just your day by day.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  11. When I first started reading your blog I knew we were similar in a lot of ways but now I am thoroughly convinced that we would be best friends in real life haha :) you are so right-it’s easy to focus on the future too much and forget why it is you’ve chosen certain classes, jobs, etc. I’m a literature fanatic, a Psychology major, and I’m specializing in Human Services for similar reasons that you listed. To me, it all comes down to helping people out by learning about what motivates them and what they need (and of course how I can help them). Recently I ran across this quote and have been thinking about it a great deal: “For almost 18 years you’re taught to sit down, shut up, and raise your hand. Then you have to decide what your going to to do with your life.” (Lavon Curtis) All throughout HS I believed that if I did all that was asked of me I would succeed, get into the right college, and become the kind of person people like to meet on the street. (goals, goals, GOALS) Only recently have I figured out that by focusing so much on the monotonous duties assigned to us American youth I’ve neglected growing into the person that *I* would like to run into on the street. “If you don’t like the way the table’s set-turn the table over” (House of Cards)
    So, I am.
    You’re awesome and I’m stoked to see all that you’re doing- for yourself(!) and others.

    • Oh my gosh, we have so many similarities I’m sure we’d be best friends in real life! It’s so great to meet a fellow Psych major who loves reading and writing and helping people. You’re right that in high school and for the first 18 years of our lives in general we’re taught to rely on goals – do well in Elementary and middle school to build a foundation for high school, do well in high school to get into a good college so you can have a good future with financial security, etc. But when it comes down to it those goals and the monotonous duties assigned to us do not prepare us to ask ourselves the big questions: what do we love doing in the present, and why? It’s fantastic that I feel like you’ve found out what you want to do with your life, and it’s wonderful that you possess the self-awareness to use what motivates you to your advantage. Thank you so much for the enthusiastic and thankful comment!

  12. I have two Bachelor’s… One is in English and the other is in Psychology. Hearing your writing reminds me of myself as a first year grad student. You know that you will work with people. I have done that too now for 17-years. (It’s ok to skip a class too.) ;)

  13. Lol. I love the happiness tissue box!

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