This post is a follow-on to this article about detaching from the expectation that you can achieve every goal on your personal to-do list. There’s a danger in allowing your list of goals to grow, often based on external influences like making a friend’s goals your own: “She’s doing a marathon so I feel like I should too.”
The long list of goals you acquire over time can become an albatross, a dead weight of unrealistic or completely conflicting goals (e.g. find more free time to spend with family AND get next promotion that will require me to travel weekly, and thus spend less time with family).
You’ve got to listen to yourself, vs. others, and drop all but a few of your goals. Otherwise you’ll feel like a frustrated failure despite working your rear end off daily.
The first way to start listening to yourself is to throw all the misguided crap you read in magazines and online media into the Ganges River (which is filled with sewage, industrial waste and the remains of partially cremated bodies, so suffice it to say, you’re throwing them away for good).
If you want to feel at peace at the end of each day, and be proud vs. frustrated about what you’ve accomplished and how you spent your time, you’ve got to block out the external noise. We all take silly Facebook memes with a grain of salt, but bits and pieces of those messed-up messages remain in our heads. Here are a few examples.
1. Over-simplified opinionated memes:
“Oh, it’s all about the kids in the end, isn’t it?”
Bullshit. Sometimes you have to drive hard on your career for you to have resources to “be about the kids.” Is it about the kids if you suddenly don’t have health insurance when your child gets cancer? Stop reading that crap.
2. Magazine celebrity features that are one layer deep:
“Jane, the successful celebrity, gets up at 4:00 a.m., and has a high-stress meeting scheduled every half-hour until 11:00 p.m., and to maintain her figure she eats three raisins, total, per day. She should be your role model as she’s living the perfect life!”
Bullshit. Jane is either a narcissist that people only have the patience to deal with in half-hour increments. Or she’s so highly-stressed that you can’t really have fun with her; she’s more tornado than human. Or she’s an extremist who is high-powered on her good days, and on her bad days is a raving, maniacal alcoholic who makes Mummy Dearest look like Mother Theresa. You know those high-energy people that are great fun to make plans with, but half way through the event, you’re exhausted by their short-attention-span darting about and you end up dreaming of your peaceful couch and a calm, thoughtful one-on-one conversation? This is they.
If you really did ‘want to be Jane’ as the magazine would have you believe, you’d already be like her. You’d have her values and you’d have made different live choices thus far. But you are fundamentally different. Few people can stay interested by a life of many surface-level interactions with new people every day (except for most of L.A.).
Magazines feature interesting people, but don’t believe for a moment that their lives are normal or balanced or ‘the ultimate.’ The choices you’ve made and the values you live are your ‘ultimate life’ and you’re doing it right now, everyday. Let you be the covergirl or coverguy of your own freaking magazine and stop picking up the magazines in the dentist’s waiting room.
3. Pie in the sky maxim:
“Never give up on your dreams.”
Bullshit. It takes much loving and caring to give in a little on your own goals in order to reasonably blend into a family that supports the goals of several people under one roof, drawing from one bucket of resources. It’s a humble thing.
I’ll use Ernest Hemingway’s life as an example as he’s on my mind a lot… He and I actually have imaginary arguments and cat fights because I’m perpetually pissed at him, …and don’t give me that “but he’s nolonger alive” excuse. I’m still pissed.
Why? Because I can’t figure out how found a way to wake up at 8:30 a.m., sip the coffee his wife made for him, wander up to his writing study, sit there until 3:30 p.m., and after writing his 500 words, wander down the street to a bar, and then return home around 10 p.m. All while his wife cared for the kids, maintained the house, and sometimes withdrew money from her family members to help Ernest’s efforts along. I can’t seem to find 45 minutes to sit alone at my PC. What did he have that I don’t?
If I really listen to myself, I could answer my own question with “what do I have that he didn’t, and is that more important to me?” Yes.
Hemingway was a massive success, and didn’t seem to give up on his dreams, not any of them, from writing, to getting the next girl (though married), to leaving the home to take exciting boat trips. He certainly ‘drove toward his goals,’ but he was also married four times. He used up his wives like printer cartridges, running them dry of their goodwill, their understanding, and their willingness to call their uncles for extra money to support Hemingway’s lifestyle.
For someone whose goal was to publish famous and acclaimed novels and stories, he theoretically ‘was winning.’ But maybe he wasn’t really listening to his own inner voice his true goals, because in the end, he killed himself.
Could he have sat down one day and thought “I achieved something, but I ignored a voice in my head that was asking ‘Can this writing goal be achieved while also achieving the bigger goal of growing old with the (one) mother of your children, and of holding her hand while you look back on the years, and see your grandchildren listen to your adult children’s tales of what it was like to grow up with Grandpa Hemingway and Grandma (pick one).”
Maybe Hemingway realized that shit matters. Choices matter. Goals matter. Because they are what you spend your time on. Time is our most limited resource. The way you spend your time creates a permanent, indelible, uneditable videotape of your life, and at the end of it all, that’s all you’ve got to look at.
The message “never give up on your dreams” seems unrealistically uncompromising when life is a dynamic and sinuous timeline wherein you meet the man of your dreams at 23 (whoops) though your life plan had you not meeting him until well into your thirties, and children get born, and they get sick, and acts of God happen like earthquakes and tornados and market crashes, and then people die, and none of it can be planned. So really, is it “never give up on your dreams” … or is it “know that what you dream of is what really matters.”
Keep blocking out the noise
If you lived next to Hemingway, you’d probably feel really guilty every day, with this nagging sensation that you should be writing a book just eating at you. You’d go to bed feeling like a failure, though you worked hard all day at your passions, be they your work, your art, your family, or your social activities.
Media today does the same thing. It’s always just sitting there, looking at you, whispering “Have you done this? Well, someone else has!” It makes us feel like we should be doing something because it’s painted as a universal truth or the next best thing. Well there are 7 Billion people in the world and there are that many ways of living life, and they are all okay (with the exception of thieves, terrorists and Tom Cruise).
So when that noisy little voice in your head says “you just accomplished a work project, but you should still berate yourself for these ten other thins you ignored in order to achieve that” tell that voice to go fly a kite. And ignore the living, breathing nay-sayers in your life as well.
Love yourself by living your values. 🙂