Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Goal Setting Versus Serendipity

Often I feel conflicted as to whether or not goal setting, or Success Fitness at large, can gel with the serendipitous, free-flowing mode of operation that I love so much. I would venture to say that, knowing most of you, we all love that free-spirited way of life.

Setting and achieving goals have often put on weights and anxieties in my life. Some are about my ability to perform. Questions pop into my head.

"What if you don't accomplish this or that?"
"What is you end up a nobody?"
"What is you end up alone because you are so narrowly focused?"
"What if you GET SUCCESS, only to find yourself at the top alone?"
"What if you lose the ability to tap into the serendipitous and spontaneous?"
"What if people only see you for goal setting, and not for the other aspects of your life?"
"What if you miss out on Life?!"

These, and so much more, can often plague my mind.
Does that ever happen to you when it comes to living a life of goal setting?

Totally transparently, thoughts like these have had me stalled for almost a month or so now. My good friend, Chad, would say that I have stalled off and on and looped on these thoughts for almost 2 years now!! And he would be right.

But, I assure you, there is an answer. :)

First, life is not about Either/Or scenarios. As a young man, I always prided myself for believing in what I called "The Third Option." If a scantron (for those brought up in the Florida school system) gave me options A or B, I would inevitably pencil in both, or write in C. If an essay question asked me about a math sum, i would always answer by telling a story about the theoretical aspects as to why the sum was wrong. (But, to be honest, that only happened when I didn't know the answer.)

As I grew up, somewhere in the mix, I had lost this precariousness. Somehow, when it came to the spontaneous, serendipitous, or just flowing with where life was leading me, I created this bipolar view that Goal Setting was the enemy of such a way. Therefore, as I began to see the value of goal setting, planning, and strategy, I naturally put that free-spirited mindset away.

Though I cannot say certainly what The Third Option for this is, I CAN say that I believe that goal setting fits divinely well in the context of where life leads each of us.

Second, how I believe that they fit together is tricky, but here is my current attempt to describe it. Though goal setting and planning is all about setting (and, ideally, achieving) specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound goals, we must not hold too tightly to the results.

Phew! WHAT?! Bear with me.

A very subtle yet potent fruit of goal setting and planning is a sense of purpose; intentionality and meaning, come rushing into our otherwise meandering lives. Many people feel so lost and...purposeless.

Goal setting is about Becoming. It is not about Attaining.

The Attaining will take care of itself, IF we focus on the Becoming. This is old news for some of you, but a reminder is quite necessary. This is because in an environment of setting and achieving goals, it can quickly be assumed that the results (the job, the freedom, the new car, the perfect wife, the perfect vacation, the dream ministry) are a measure of our success.

The Success measurement is found in WHO WE ARE BECOMING in the PROCESS. We seek goals to create demands on ourselves that challenge and grow us. The Success is us stepping up to meet those demands. (Hopefully those demands (goals) are well thought out so that we are becoming a good person.)

We MUST hold the results, not as measures of success or evidence of our value as a person, but as the direction to keep our sight on; the point of focus when the obstacles rise to block us.

This is a dualistic mindset I am presenting, but let me give you an example. In the lore of the samurai warriors of ancient Japan, there was a test of sorts that would determine if a warrior had the proper flow, or presence of mind, in the midst of battle.

The warrior would carry his sword in his fighting hand and a cherry blossom in the other hand. In a battle, the goal was to fight (and win!)...without crushing the fragile flower.

This is seen in 'The Last Samurai' when Tom Cruise is caught in an alley with several ruffians.
He calms himself.
He lets his mind race forward to foresee the fight, breathing deeply.
He adjusts his weight.
He pauses and does not act just yet.
He is at peace with whatever happens.
His at once poised, aggressive, and battle ready; and calm, breathing easy, and peace with the potential of losing, even possibly his life.
He has total presence of mind.


This is the way of a warrior; to be at once receptive of the world around us, hearing and responding appropriately to the free-spirited flow of life around us, and yet pressing forward strongly and accurately toward the goal.

The only way to become this, as I see it, is to have goals and set our eyes on them but not hold them too tightly. This should cause peaceful resignation that goal will be attained and yet be void of any anxiety, pressure or fear.

We could talk here about having a mindset of nothing to lose (as is often useful in Fitness; even if you fail to finish the 10k, you stepped onto the track, etc) but I will leave that for another time.

To Summarize, I totally believe that Goal Setting and Serendipity can, and do, coexist. I believe that this coexistence can be found in knowing that serendipity will happen (life will change around us and obstacles will rise to block and sometimes stop us), and not holding onto the results as much as the goal setting process (becoming who we were intended to become).

Now, the the tough part begins; Being that!

Good luck! I hope you were able to find SOMETHING useful here. I would welcome your feedback.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Grant, awesome thoughts. I think we are going through similar issues, which is serendipitous! I think this touches on conversations we have had about goals, plans, and how rigid they should be in light of the unforeseen developments that God reveals to us.

I am in total agreement that to view goal setting, and "going with the flow" as poles helps to describe the situation because it gives you thought markers, but it is necessary to move towards a view that knows when to alter and bend our goals to God's purpose. I think the trick is to bend our will to His, and even our thoughts to His, as a daily practice. Then, when doors open, and goals are set, we will be able to trust our little voice of intuition. Hopefully, with enough trust, our voice of intuition will be God speaking through us.

I have read two books that I think offer a third way of compromise between the two ideas you described. The first is Proverbs. There are many versus to pull from, but most I believe lean toward the idea of flexibility in light of the superiority of God's purpose. Pr 16:1 "Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word." Pr 16:18, "We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live." Plans are different than goals, but I have been looking to this book for answers regarding your question, and I feel I've found some inner-answers. Second, I've recently read the "Seasons of Your Career," and I think it also addresses goal setting with an eye towards realizing that events as they are unfolding sometimes take us in different directions.

Great discussion Grant. It appears your travels abroad have given you a lot to chew on. Talk to you later!