Although I have found goals and planning useful, I have lived on a darting and winding path. I certainly couldn’t have predicted what my path through life would be.
Do you ever get the idea that you are meant to have life figured out, that you are clear on your goals and how to achieve them and are making steady and predictable progress on the path towards them?
Well, like Frankie said: It ain’t necessarily so. Not for me at least.
I’ve lived an extremely privileged life. Throughout my whole life there has usually been at least one person who encouraged me and supported me to pursue what I was interested in. Sometimes there have been several. It is only in the last few years (I’m now 51) I have realised how rare this is.
Another thing that has only recently occurred to me is that life has worked best for me when I have ‘followed my nose’ — been able to investigate what interests me. Some of these things have stayed constant (our psychology and relationships), while others have stayed with me for a few years (what would a Christian, physical spirituality look like?), and others for only a few weeks. (At the moment I am wondering which historical period in Europe most closely parallels our own. I’m wondering whether it was the time of the three popes, which may have lead to an opening for a growth of reason and natural philosophy. I’m interested to hear from anyone who has views on this.)
To an external observer my path through life would seem to be a darting and winding one. My interests are a long way from mainstream, and the parts of them I’ve pursued have usually been a bit obscure too.
“Prediction is very difficult — especially about the future.” (Neils Bohr)
My darting and winding path leads me to be pretty sceptical of the idea that we can plan our lives out and then set about implementing the plan, at least in the long-term (more than five years, say).
As a young and occasionally devout Evangelical Christian, setting off for university, I barely knew that bodywork or acupuncture existed. I had no idea that bodywork would come to fascinate me and that I would try to understand how it could relate to a Christian spirituality. I had no idea that I would train in acupuncture and see its cheap technology as very promising for solving the West’s health-funding crisis. (Psychotherapy I think holds promise for this, too. It is the cost of technology — pills, machines and so on — that is a major contributor to the cost of health care.)
Blogging had probably not been dreamed of (certainly not by me).
I had not the slightest clue what my future would hold. And in some ways I couldn’t know this.
This has been my path. Others are very different. Some seem to find their gift early and pursue it with joy for the rest of their lives. (My guess is that these people usually grew up in places where their gift was socially valued — e.g., those who are good at selling, or who love a popular instrument. It is probably easier to be a pianist than a piano-accordionist.)
I am not saying that everyone’s path will be like mine. I am saying that my path hasn’t fitted the usual advice.
Am I saying that goals are without value? Not at all. I have found goal-setting and planning to be very valuable.
For me goal setting and planning are great because they force me to prioritise. I have many more interests than I could pursue at any one time (and probably more than would fit into one — or more — lifetimes). I could easily end up living a life of dissatisfaction where I didn’t finish things because I moved on to something else too quickly. Prioritising has contributed greatly to my life satisfaction.
Goal setting and planning also help me get a sense of what the situation actually is. I can easily get lost building castles in the air and making grand plans. To make a plan that is do-able is a very useful discipline for me. It helps me look at available resources and whether there is a path that is viable to achieve my goals.
However, I have needed to learn that goals are made to be changed. If something isn’t going as planned and/or I am not feeling the satisfaction I expected, then the plan can change.
How would you describe your path in life — random, methodical, winding or something else? Have you found goals and plans are valuable to you? I would like to hear your experience in the comments. (And if you have ideas on what historical periods parallel this one, then I’d like to hear about that too.)
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