There’s this thing that happens almost every time I imagine a new project. As soon as i actualize an idea in a concrete way, decide to do it, take it on as a goal, the joyous excitement of potential collapses under the weight of expectations. Is anyone else familiar with this pattern?
I’m butting up against this more frequently lately as I experiment with more formal goal setting in my life, something I haven’t really done… ever. My career goals have always been sort of like my household budgets. Pretty vague! I’ve never really saved up for anything, taken planned steps to arrive at a predetermined place, aimed for something. Ambition (materially or professionally) is not something i’ve ever really identified with. My whole strategy so far on this creative journey has just been to make every decision from a place of honesty in myself, to make sure that every small choice feels right, feels true, and trust that eventually all those small decisions will steer me towards where I need to be. It seems to be working out so far.
But in the past few weeks I’ve set up a casual skill trade with a friend of mine, wherein she is sharing with me her skills in the organization, goal setting, and discipline departments, and I am helping her with some informal art therapy and cooking lessons. I feel at once excited about the possibilities that this new relationship might reap. I also feel like I just took both my shoes off and put them back on the opposite feet, backwards and inside out. (hoping that that sensation will fade over time…?)
Relatedly, another friend, a while back now, introduced me to the notion of acting with intention, but letting go of expectations of certain consequences ever arising from those actions. It’s about living in the moment and cultivating both an attitude of faith and of knowing you have very little control over the future. I like it.
So I’ve been struggling with how these specific goals I have set for myself can fit into that relaxed, trusting attitude. Aren’t goals a certain kind of expectation? Rather than supporting my wish for greater creative production and sharing, focusing on goals has sort of squashed that wish. Clearly I’m doing something wrong here.
My little “aha” moment today came upon comparing this other activity I love, gardening, with these traditional terms of work and goals. I tend plants because I love interacting with them everyday, because of the joy of watching them grow, for the little bit of beauty they bring to my life everyday. I water and weed and coo in the garden and with our houseplants because this work is an enjoyable and nourishing act in itself, not because I am dwelling on the size they will grow to one day, or because I anticipate the juicy fruit they will bear in the future. I may have chosen and planted those specific seeds because of the promise of future fruits, with the goal in mind of eating those fruits come summer, but the intention I hold in my heart as I tend my houseplants in the dead of winter in this cold and dreary city is only that they will thrive and survive for another day, and that we will continue to enjoy each others’ company in the meantime.
I think the key for me then is not to avoid setting a goal, but as Ron Popeil has said, to set it and forget it. The work I have to do to achieve my goals is just to tend my little metaphorical self/plants everyday, love, weed and water myself with faith and confidence that it will all work out in the end. In practice, “acting with intention and letting go of consequences” and “trusting every little decision made in good faith to add up to something good in the end” are really the same. It’s maybe about revisualizing all goals as just that daily work of trusting myself, and continuing to take action and make those small decisions. Forget about the harvest. Just grow, today.
(Oh yeah, that is what they all say, isn’t it? It’s not the destination but the journey that counts, it’s not winning or losing but how you play the game, etc etc.)
As a motivational mantra though, “set it and forget it” has a nice ring, you have to admit.
(A note on the pictures in today’s post: The first is a work in progress, a commission that i am equal parts excited and petrified about. The stained glass window painting is part of a larger ongoing project whose enormity is making me feel like maybe I’ve bitten off more than i can chew – I’ll tell you more about that when I’m a little further on! Don’t want to jinx it. And these last two pictures are just a little motivational reminder that under all that snow, there are things alive that will grow and bloom, no matter what it might look like today. Spring will come. Set it and forget it.)