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.
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.
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.
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!