So I’ve started this project, this unresolution project, this idea of not having any goals partially because I’m so fascinated by motivation, what gets us to accomplish things, what keeps us from taking action on our dreams, and partially because of my love and fascination with entrepreneurs and self-starters. Revolutionaries really. The folks who see something missing from the market – whether its a new kind of honey or a better way to bring clean water to those who need it – I’m in love with those people who use their creativity to solve problems. But they have more than creativity, they have follow through. Motivation. Planning. Dedication and Faith in themselves. And partially for myself.
I was having a warm snuggly conversation with a younger friend, the kind you can only really get into after an ass-whumping yoga class, about how to tell if what you are setting as a goal or a dream is your calling or coming from a deeper, maybe darker place. I know this question. I ask it of myself a lot. Many of the things I’ve done over the last fifteen years I’ve done with the idea that they were a calling. I worked (hard for little money) in Washington, D.C. on various public interest campaigns and the harder I worked, the times we won, it never amounted to what I thought it would. I never saved the world. And for me, it was about myself. If I could save the world, then I must be a good enough person. If I couldn’t, then I simply wasn’t good. Failing at a campaign meant not only the sting of losing acres of national forest to logging, but also the midnight darkness of confronting myself, another failure, another bit of evidence to show that I just didn’t measure up. “One more disaster I can I to my generous supply” so sings Elphaba. But even the successes didn’t ring right either. They were tinny and insignificant. I’m in the wrong field, I’d tell myself, my friends. I need to work on First Amendment issues, not the Environment. And then it became about the how of what I was doing. I needed a law degree so I could be Important (yes, with a capital I) and people would Listen (also with a capital L). Trust me, this didn’t work. In fact, I only learned after a trip to Haiti following their massive disaster of an earthquake and failed government that I couldn’t save the world. I stood there, staring at hungry children, some of whom were trying to tell me about their bleeding cuts and my french failed me repeatedly as I hungered to get their meaning, that I couldn’t save them. But I could point out where they had to go to find the doctor. I could tell them to not give up waiting in line. In that moment, the desperation of trying to communicate was not about whether I was good enough to save that little girl, because I clearly wasn’t, but whether I could make something just a little easier for her (and yes, she did find the doctor and didn’t give up on the line). I gave up on saving the world. I gave in to the idea that I could be valuable even if I didn’t fix everything.
But was I called to go Haiti? Or was it ego? At this point, I don’t really care what motivated me to go, just that I did go and helped a few people, and came back and told everyone and anyone that would listen how much people there needed help.
Calling? Ego? Is there anything else that motivates us? That’s my drive here. Is there something that can direct me to learn and strive and do things if its not to check off a box?
I did stumble across this article on distinguishing your calling from your ego. It’s quite lovely. http://www.inc.com/shelley-prevost/5-ways-to-distinguish-your-calling-from-your-ego.html. Crikey. I’ll have to relearn linking in wordpress later.
The point here was to talk about motivation. That some of us, me mostly, had backed our way into a corner where they only thing getting me to do much of anything was if it came with a reward. Bill all the hours and get the bonus, and therefore have all the partners like you. Run all the races, and therefore be considered an athlete and maybe be skinny and then people will think you are dedicated and tough. etc. etc. Everything began to be associated with a brass ring. I started motivating myself with rewards – do yoga every day for a month and get a new sweater (it’s lovely by the way).
I needed a way to stop motivating myself only with goals – run 10 miles every Saturday! Lose 10 pounds by July 4th! – and find a way forward to enjoy the activities I wanted to do.
I think this article sums it up well http://jamesclear.com/goals-systems
Focus on the process, the systems, not the outcome and end up with the same, if not better, results he says.
The other real truth is that by constantly focusing on checking off boxes, on attaining goals instead of enjoying life (to be honest that’s what I was doing), I missed out on things in 2013. It took me months to figure out I was unhappy in a job and in a relationship (both of which are on the mend now, by the way). There’s a truth to the idea of someone being a workaholic – someone who literally uses work to avoid life or take the edge off the moment. At this point though, there are entire sitcoms named workaholics and it just doesn’t mean anything anymore. What did it ever mean to be a workaholic? To compulsively work. To work to avoid life.
It’s possible to have a compulsion to work. To become dependent on the rewards of “getting it all done!” It’s classified as a process addiction (as compared to a substance addiction). According to processaddictions.com (they seem like they should know), a process addiction is: a “compulsive behavior, such as compulsive gambling, sexual addiction, eating disorders and spending addictions.” This includes work. Interestingly, “There are real chemical and biological changes which occur in the brain of someone who has a process addiction.” So while the addiction is to doing something, it’s based on a chemical reward. In terms of work, there is a rush of satisfaction in finishing something on a deadline. Woo hoo! I made it! Zing! And becoming reliant on that, to the point where your work is no longer satisfying or fulfilling, can lead you towards a process addiction to the Zing!
With me? Maybe not. There is also the idea that we are what we have done. I am my last court success. Not, I am how I treat my dog when she barks to go out at 3:19 am. I am my last half marathon time, not, I am the person who stops and pets your old, graying yellow lab when I run by (and also gets some kisses too, I admit). I can’t show you, at a party, or a reunion, the doggie kisses, or the hair standing on top of my head slippers falling off while I let the dog out person. I can only show you the wins in court, the half marathon time, the sales of my art.
Getting attached to achievement – markers, goals, deadlines, quantifying everything – turns you into a process addict. An achievement junkie.
And saying no – stopping the cycle of doing more to be more to do more to be more – means doing something weird and strange like saying “no goals in 2014.”
So there you are. Confessions of a recovering achievement junkie.
My one and only goal, for 2014, is to make it through this year without setting any, comparing myself to any, or getting wrapped up in any.
No goals. Just mindfully enjoy the process.