Should You Have Goals?

OK, dann machen wir weiter, mit Hausaufgabe vier….

Good morning! It is a beautiful, cloudy morning here in Seattle. And by Seattle I of course mean the Ballard Locks, and by the Ballard Locks I of course mean where I’m sitting on my little 27-foot sailboat, boiling (actually not quite boiling) water for matcha so I can start my day. For today’s post I’d like to talk about goals, and how goals have shaped my life and what my life is like with goals vs. what my life is like without goals. I’d also like to talk about whether or not one should HAVE goals in their life, whether or not they’re truly necessary. I’d also like to talk about 9.9 horsepower Johnson outboards and possibly milfoil.

It took me a long time to realize goals were important for me, I mean REALLY important. Basically what it took was trying out a life without goals in it to see the kind of emptiness it brings before I finally realized I have to “be like everyone else” and just have goals. Over the last 10 or so years I’ve had goals — that much is true — but I haven’t had a long-term vision, I haven’t really stuck to anything, and at times I’ve tried to see what it’s like to have no goals at all, to just kind of float through life. After all, one of my favorite Tao Te Ching verses contains the line:

Other people have a purpose;

I alone don’t know.

I drift like a wave on the ocean,

I blow as aimless as the wind.

(Stephen Mitchell Translation, verse 20)

I’ve been reading the Tao Te Ching for about five years now, and I’ve always interpreted this verse as sort of meaning that if you have goals you’re really just distracting yourself. And so I just kind of let my goals…slip away. I justified this using the previous verse, and I also justified it saying that my goals weren’t really worthy, that since my goals didn’t really “make sense” or do anything for others they weren’t worthy goals. Which I actually sort of believe is a valid point. Sort of. The reason that, when scrutinized, it’s not a valid point at all is because GOALS DON’T HAVE TO MAKE SENSE. If for some reason your goal is to play a particular Chopin piece perfectly even though you don’t know why, that’s a wonderful goal. You’ll figure out the why later. Or maybe YOU won’t figure out the why, but other people will find a why. Other people will appropriate your goal and make it meaningful for themselves. Or maybe you want to have a wildebeest farm. Or maybe you want to be a world-class crocheter. Or maybe you want to set a new world record for how long someone can stare at a wall. These are all great goals. Noble, admirable, even if they don’t make sense at all. You’ll make sense of them later, or other people will, and they’re noble because they come from the heart.

Which was why it was completely admirable to have the goal of bouldering V7 outdoors by the end of last summer.

Which of course I didn’t do.

I didn’t even boulder V4.

But I might today.

When I was younger I had so many goals, and they shaped every aspect of my life. I wanted to be a pro basketball player, I wanted to be a pro baseball player, I wanted to be a pro soccer player. Then I wanted to be a pro wakeboarder, or at least wakeboard all the time, and then I wanted to be a skateboarding team manager, and then finally I wanted to speak Spanish perfectly. At some point I wanted to be a good Spanish teacher, at another point I wanted to travel to every country in the world, and then at another point I wanted to get paid to travel and write about it (this last one might still be true). At later points I wanted to be a famous novelist or a famous writer of some sort (this last one is definitely still true). But then of course this idea entered my life at some point that my desires were somehow unworthy, or that they were vain, or that even if I had desires and goals I should give up on them, because goals just put you on the hedonic treadmill and once you reach one goal you’re just going to need another goal, and that way you’ll never be happy.

Which actually might be kinda true.

But as humans we also need goals.

My friend Jen says that desires are divine, and I’m still grappling with what this means. I know that not ALL desires can be divine, or at least if they are I’m struggling with how they’re divine. For example, right now I would maim for some yerba mate, and how is that desire divine? Also, the Buddha always said that desire was synonymous with suffering, and that until we rid ourselves of desires we would always suffer. So shouldn’t we strive to not have desires? Shouldn’t we strive to not have goals?

It’s all very confusing.

I think one thing needs to be realized: I’m not the Buddha, and you’re (probably) not the Buddha (but maybe you also are).

It would then follow that one must pursue goals but not be attached to the outcome. One may pursue desires but not be devastated when they don’t obtain what they desire, or to at least be prepared for the suffering and even WELCOME it.

I think that’s a little more on the mark. After all, if you welcome the suffering, is it still really suffering?

On that note, I’m going to try to reincorporate goals into my life and also let them shape my life. I’m going to try to find the divinity in desire, and I’m also going to try to prepare myself for the inevitable suffering that comes with these things. Because yes, you can drift like a wave on the ocean, blissfully sailing through life, if you’re enlightened.

But I am not enlightened.

– Wetz