Beverly majored in psychology and health science and has a strong interest in improving the mental, spiritual, and physical lives of others.
When a Friend Tells Me Her Goals and Asks for Mine, I Really Don't Know What To Say
During a recent walk with a friend we discussed a lot of things. We talked about kids and spouses and not really being satisfied with life for a long time and wondering why the people we love seem to be the very ones who contribute most to our feelings of unhappiness. A lot of people feel that way apparently. There are spouses who never want to go anywhere fun together or try something adventurous. Adult children abuse the retirement of parents by asking them to shuttle kids to school and events or borrow money to pay back loans they never should have taken out in the first place. At some point you have to stop and ask, “Is this really the life I envisioned for myself and what can I do to improve my situation without causing a rift between what I need and what others want from me?”
After about a half hour my friend told me excitedly that she had created a list of goals she wanted to accomplish including lifting weights, learning to dance, going bike riding on the beach, trying a raw food diet and a whole assortment of self improvement ideas that left me feeling like I was a lazy slob who just wanted to sit in front of the TV with an assortment of prepackaged snacks and fall asleep with the chip bowl in my lap without judgment. Actually I don't own a TV and am not a big fan of chips, but lately I had no motivation to do anything outside the ordinary. I felt like I was in maintenance mode.
When she asked me what my goals were I just stared into the silence. Vexed and perplexed I belatedly replied, “You know, I really don't know.” I really didn't. My goal list was more of a to-do list – wash dishes, do laundry, call AT&T about why my bill keeps going up when my internet service keeps going down, find the missing match to over 15 ankle socks I bought in rainbow multi-packs on sale and now have only 12 matched pairs left, one of which got separated and washed in bleach so that it is two shades lighter than the other one. Those were my 'goals', be that as it may.
How and Why Had My Goals Changed Over the Years
I had goals at one time. I wanted to renew my now eight years expired passport and go somewhere exotic but affordable for a few days to renew my mind and spirit. I wanted to find a new Sunday School class that actually met on Sundays because I am no good at going places at night after being tired all day and only wanting to eat, sleep and watch Netflix. I wanted to drop Netflix because it was getting as bad as the TV I gave up three years ago when it became the 'devil-box' trying to convince me that Christianity was the greatest evil to ever strike mankind and how I was a hater or at the very least a fuddy-duddy because I trusted the word of God over the self centered desires of humankind.
When I was in my thirties I had told myself I would publish my first book by the time I was sixty, but now that I am sixty I think writing a book is a silly, selfish thing that would only fuel my ego, not enlighten the ten people who might actually read it. Who am I to know anything? Yet, there was at one time a calling, a longing and urge to do something special with my life and now my life goals consisted of waking up and getting my day started before eight in the morning, spending quality time with family and friends and cleaning the clutter that always seemed to accumulate right after it was cleared with a promise I would not let it get like that again.
Some days, stripping the sheets off the bed and getting them washed and dried and put back on the bed rather than sleeping on a top sheet thrown over a bare mattress for three days before gaining the energy and motivation to put that dastardly fitted sheet back on was about as far as my goal planning would take me. I once got bold and went by the AAA office to see if they still carried folding maps and tour books. They did! I got one on Florida thinking that would be the most likely place I could travel in one day and return to feed the myriad of animals I had collected on what was unofficially a mini-farm.
When my nephew graduated from the School of Mines in Colorado, I got a map for Golden Colorado, but upon seeing how close it was to Denver and how every minute space of map was taken up with roads and buildings, I chickened out and sent him my plane fare money instead as a graduation gift. I was not as bold as I used to be. I blamed it on the animals. I blamed it on a truck with 120,000 miles on it and a slow leaking front tire that had been patched but still leaked. I blamed it on parents who were aging and needed my help to maintain the house and yard and on my own dilapidated home I was surprised was still standing with all the patchwork I had done in place of hiring a professional whom I could not afford and I felt guilty spending $300 or more on a vacation when I could use that toward replacing the rickety washing machine or the rusted out kitchen sink which was twice as old as I was and held together with Duct tape and Spackle.
In an odd way I felt I should not have goals because I should focus on what I needed to be doing not on what I wanted to do. Once I did all the things I had ignored and got my life comfortable and neat and working properly, then I might feel better about self improvement. Honestly, what did I want to do with my life? How had my goals changed over the years?
Life Beats Down Your Ambitions One Goal Post at a Time
When I graduated high school I wanted to go to college. It was affordable then even on a part time salary. I wanted to be a veterinarian, but a year into pre-vet school I knew it was not for me. I cared more about the outsides or the behavior of animals, not cutting them open and cutting parts off. I had no idea how I would achieve a paying career as Jane Goodall psychoanalyzing animals and the guys in the psychology department scared me silly. Our Psych 101 class was taught by three different professors each more strange than the next, so I took the easy route and changed majors to history thinking maybe I could get a job at a museum or a library. Eventually I settled on English with the intent of being a writer, but even that idea was short-lived and it seemed pointless to pursue it. I did not start writing again until my fifties when a friend told me that I could never achieve my dreams/goals of being a writer unless I actually wrote something!!! You would think that would be obvious, but I was so afraid of being ridiculed and put-down that I kept most of my ideas to myself.
It seems anytime I formed and pursued new goals it was based on a challenge. For years the church had tried to get me to be a deacon and I kept saying no. I did not have the heart of a servant, but when a trusted pastor asked me to be an elder and to help revive the Christian Education program at the church I reluctantly said yes and began goal setting like I was born to do it, which surprised me to no end. It went well –too well. When people started seeing what I was achieving they stopped ignoring me and stepped in wanting to control what I was doing and mold it to fit what they thought it should be. Under new leadership the program fell apart and I felt like a piece of my life had been ripped away and trampled. It took a while to recover.
Eventually I went back to school and did study Psychology. I went to grad school, but the further I got into to it the more it felt like I was evading life rather than pursuing a goal, which I think might be why I don't set goals for myself now. I had so many dreams and plans that never came to fruition or did but got squashed or overtaken by someone wanting to take the credit themselves and make my ideas their own. If I fought against them, they used their power and position to take away what I had worked so hard to achieve and made me think there was something wrong with me and I should seek psychological help. The only good thing to come of it was watching them eventually be treated the same way they treated me by those even more powerful and egotistic and while one should not take pleasure in other's misfortunes, it was good to know that they got a taste of what they did to me and did not find it to their liking anymore than I did.
Everyone Needs Goals, So What Were Mine
I still had goals though. I lost weight and started running again, became involved in projects that had meaning, but in the end-game, none of that made me happy or fulfilled and I kept wanting more until at some point pursuing higher goals seemed like the dog chasing it's tail. Once you have caught it what do you do with it? Bite it off to spite yourself. Let it go and chase it again hoping for a different outcome or hang on to it and walk around in circles never getting anywhere ever again?
To help me better understand the quandary I found myself in, I decided to do what any normal human being would do. I looked up the definition of goals on Google. Here is what it said – Goals Help Us Believe In Ourselves. Setting goals for yourself is a way to fuel your ambition. Goal setting isn't just about creating a plan for your life and holding yourself accountable, its also about giving us the inspiration necessary to aim for things we never thought possible.
Well, huh! Goals help us believe in ourselves? So if I have no goals, I have no purpose or meaning? Well don't I feel special. Because I have no goals, does that mean I do not believe in myself or have no ambition? I would agree with the latter part. I have no ambition. I am okay just living day-to-day doing whatever needs to be done. I go to work. I earn money. I pay bills. I spend time with friends. I enjoy things. I eat food. I exercise and call it play and sometimes it is fun. I do things to give back to others who are not as blessed as I have been. I'm good with that, or am I?
I guess the big thing is that I kind of quit aiming for things I never thought possible or at least the things I do aim for aren't really all that exciting. I never thought it was possible for me to take on a care-giver role but I have, but that is not ambitious and it is not really satisfying, though I do feel good in knowing that I achieved something that benefited someone other than me.
I suppose that creating a plan for my life, now that my life is more than half over seems somewhat pointless and that might be the real problem. I have become stationary in life. I do just enough to get by most days and seem to waste most of my time on things that ultimately don't seem to matter, yet I am also too tired to really make grandiose plans and follow through on them.
Creating Realistic Goals
My to-do list has replaced life-goals – so what are my goals at this age? I guess most of them are selfish more than ambitious. I want to lose the blobby fat around my upper thighs and mid-section and work on smoother skin. I already eat healthy, but I want to eat healthier. I want to do more artwork, maybe take a pottery or sculpting class. I want to renew my passport and travel though that brings us back to square one and responsibilities at home and just like that the goal setting bubble has burst.
I know what I need to do. I need to become more organized, to clear out the clutter and use the resources I have to make my life better so that I can in turn make other lives better, but I get tired just thinking about it, so let's go back to Google and see how to make goals happen.
Here's one that says goal-setting is actions toward happiness. That sounds promising. I could use more happiness in my life. Let's see — Decide. Think of something you want to do or work towards.
I want to work toward setting goals!
Write it down carefully — Hmmm,. I want to know what my goals are so I can achieve them. I guess that is counter-productive. Okay, I want to stop getting upset and frustrated over things that get in the way of my not being able to achieve my goals. That's reasonable, right?
Tell Someone your goals — I think I just did if anyone is actually reading this. Hey, this is easier than I thought
Break your goal down — Uh oh... I have no clue how to get less frustrated. If things actually worked properly that would help. If people did what they were supposed to do so that I did not have to do it for them, that would help. So let's see — Write Micorsoft and AT&T and tell them they need to come up with programs and systems that do not crash or take ten minutes to download or update so that I can achieve my goals without becoming frustrated – Step One. We are on a roll here. Step Two – In the event that step one fails, learn to deal with frustration and not take it as a personal assault on my dignity. Deep breaths, logical thinking, life is not about you, you're just a cog in the wheel, keep rolling. Stay calm.
Already I am ready to give up on that goal but Google says I should then plan my first step – do not throw the computer into the wall and call it an idiot box that cannot do what it was designed to do. Got that.
Keep going– Really, that's your advice? Keep going. You are starting to frustrate me now.
Finally I am told to celebrate. Like I succeeded you mean? Ah, I see the problem here. I think I have it now. You see, success and achieving goals is not an end to itself, it is a never-ending circular pattern of landings and take-offs and refueling and charting new courses. It is hard work!!! There are a lot of obstacles and just when you think you have made it to the end of your goal, you find yourself right back at the beginning, charting a new course and maneuvering around obstacles only to encounter more.
When you don't set goals, you don't fail at them. When you do set goals there is a good chance you will spend all your free time pursuing them without ever meeting expectations and feeling more like a failure than a success.
I think that is also why I have to-do lists. I can check them off as I go. Sink cleaned – yes. Dishes washed – yes. Take the mail out the box – yes. Success achieved on a tiny basis.
Goals are not that easy and sometimes it is hard to tell if you have obtained them. Here is a short list of my goals —
- Become a better person
- Be more loving, less judgmental – More supportive, less critical
- Exercise and eat right on a daily basis
- Stop wasting your time planning goals and actually achieve measurable results.
I don't think I am alone in this matter. Sure, there are some people who are successful. Goal setting and achieving goals is an important part of being an adult, but I think most of us – especially older adults spend more time writing to-do lists than setting goals and most of those goals seem unachievable. So many times I start on an idea for a book and a few pages into writing it all sounds stupid. It is hard enough to write this and wonder if I am just wasting time feeding my own ego without concern of others. Am I helping someone who has the same problem as me or am I encouraging someone to give up their dreams and just exist without resistance? It all seems pointless in the end.
What goals do you have? Are they big or small, impossible to achieve, yet important to try to do so anyway? Maybe you want to try-out for one of those singing contests and there are 10,000 other people doing the same thing. You know you can't be number one out of that many people, but if you don't try, you won't know and let's face it, if you get on the show, that in itself is a step closer to the goal.
Some goals take money, talent or skills that we might not have. Others require a huge amount of work and resources that might take us away from more important things like keeping the family fed and clothed or sending the kids to school and helping others achieve their goals while putting ours on hold. I think all of us have unfulfilled goals and goals that seem too far out of reach. It is why so many people go back to school or invest in profit-making schemes that often go bankrupt.
Sometimes it is easier to start with small goals. My small goals are to go to the gym at least twice a week and cut back on sugar even more than I already have. I want to take a day and go somewhere different, maybe ride bikes on the beach with my friend and kill two goals at one time? Maybe I will go to that tea plantation in Charleston or to Busch Gardens like I've planned to do for the last twenty years and never yet gone. Maybe I will renew that passport, even if I don't ever use it. At least I will be one step closer to the goal.
At some point I guess you have to stop dreaming about things and take steps to make them reality without feeling guilty that you should be doing something else. Motivation and energy seem to be the number one culprits in replacing the goals list with the to-do one. If I can break the steps down into smaller ones and accomplish smaller objectives with no drama, then maybe I will get excited about goal setting again and not accept that all goals will fail so why bother trying.
If you are like me and have given up on goals and see them as busy-work to keep you from facing a rather harsh reality that you are going nowhere fast in life, let me encourage you to keep dreaming without feeling guilty about it. Maybe modify those goals so they are more achievable. Maybe you will never stand in front of famous people and get chosen as the number one new music artist in the country, but you can get a gig at a local party or sing a solo in church or get a community choir going and put on concerts at events. As for me, I think my number one goal is to become more disciplined in doing the things that need to be done so that I have more time and less guilt in doing the things I want to do. I'm already doubting that is achievable, but if I don't try then I will only prove myself right and I don't want to give myself the satisfaction of being right on that one so... yeah, maybe I do need to see a psychiatrist, but hey, it does make life interesting — so there.
What are your goals?
© 2019 Beverly English
What are your goals in life? How do you go about achieving them?
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 02, 2020:
This is a nice article. Informative and useful. Thanks.