“See that mountain over there? Well, one of these days I’m gonna climb that mountain.” – Mountain Music, by Alabama
This song came out in 1982, the year I turned 18. It must have been pretty popular because it seeped through the armor of the British metal I was wrapped up in at the time. And while the fiddle at the end of this song is pretty sweet, it wasn’t the song that resonated with me. Just that opening line above.
Dude had a goal. Cool.
At the time when this song was popular, I was venturing away from home forever. I’d joined the US Air Force and never looked back. My only goals back then were not to get caught doing drugs, and to get out after four years with an honorable discharge.
Amazingly, I accomplished both.
Over the years I’ve set new, more responsible and productive goals. And so far, I’ve hit them all.
- Quit drinking? Check.
- Earn 63 credits at three colleges concurrently over ten months to get a degree? Check.
- Get married, buy a house, have kids? Check. Check. Check.
- Start a business? Check.
- Grow a startup to #120 on the Inc. 500? Check.
- Write a novel? Check.
The problem I’m currently facing is that for the first time in my life, I don’t have any goals. Not big ones, anyway. Sure, I would like for my company to be successful, and so I do what I can to make that happen. But I’m not obsessed with it. I’d also like to one day live in Belize, but that’s not going to happen until both kids get through high school. Finally, I’d love to make writing the fluffy, unimportant stuff sustainable one day, so every day I practice.
Last week a friend on Facebook posted, “Give me one thing on your bucket list. Just one.” Most people responded with trips to far away places, or educational milestones. I couldn’t think of a single thing I’d like to accomplish or see. Ok, maybe go on safari in Africa. But that’s it. And this is a freaking bucket list, not necessarily hardened goals in life.
So I punch my fingers up and down on the keyboard while taking baby steps in the direction of my “Big 3” goals right now of business, Belize, and writing. Modest goals that don’t necessarily light my soul on fire. Except maybe for the writing. Because to be honest, sometimes when I’m writing it feels like a waking dream. Of course the reality of it never amounting to much always comes charging in on its black horse stomping the dreamscape to pieces. But I keep doing it anyway. Every day.
Only, writing doesn’t seem like a goal. It seems more like a thing I have to do. Like breathing. A novel, now that was a goal.
Not having a goal is fairly terrifying. It makes you feel spent. Hollow. There are no distant mountains in my life to point at. And the few things that I am working toward, I’m doing the right things in order to accomplish them. But those things are not mountains.
I have no desire to run a marathon. I do not want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I don’t dream of working my way up the corporate ladder so that I can wear a Rolex and drive a Mercedes Benz. I don’t want much of anything, except the time to write. And that’s not a goal. That’s breathing.
CS Lewis once said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Except, he didn’t say how to find them.
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Oct 23, 2015
Perhaps you are confusing goals with desire, the American illusion that what we aspire to must be a Big Wantable Thing. Yet goals can be undesirable, deliberate, a thing to move us ahead on a journey. Not a Rolex trophy, but signpost for a path ahead.
A few years ago I set a goal to run 1,000 miles in one year. I didn’t get there, but I did stay on the Excel running chart I built, that started me off at 2 miles a day in January and told me how many mornings each week I had to get my butt out of bed at 5 a.m., until about May. By late spring, I was able to run 10 miles nonstop, the first time in my life I ever managed that distance. The goal was frankly a pain in the ass, but it forced me to change my behavior.
Goals can be ways to bring focus to our behavior, to set us on Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. Bilbo went after treasure but the journey was most of the fun.