The Case Against Goals – #5

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Goals Aren’t Fluid, But Life Is – Part 2

In order to get from place to place in America, we drive. Although millions of people ride a subway to and from work… or take a train, or get on a bus, or a bike, or walk, driving is the predominant means of transporting ourselves from here to there.

This article is about traffic – or more precisely, the way we behave in traffic. I’m sure you can gather from the title of the article that I’m not talking here about the way we drive. Rather, this is about how, if we look at the principles we follow as we travel the highways and byways as we get ourselves and our families where we want to be, we might gain some insights into the bigger picture of life.

Specifically, if we look at the rationale we employ in determining how we get where we want to go in our comings and goings in everyday life, are there perhaps some pertinent comparisons that can easily be converted into how to succeed in various other endeavors in life? I think there are. I’d like to share some of them with you in the following few articles.

But before I begin directly discussing my list of comparisons, I have an assignment for you.

Please take the next few days observing, in general terms, how traffic behaves. Think about what your mindset happens to be at different times and in different circumstances while you drive. How do you behave, and how are those behaviors indicative of your mindset in other settings in your life?

You may ask, ‘What does this have to do with making the case against goals?’

Well, if I am going to make a strong case against goals, it is incumbent upon me to offer a better alternative to goals and goal setting. As I said in the first article in this series, it is ever-more productive thinking that keeps us driving forward toward, and beyond, one accomplishment after another. And that’s something that goals tend not to do. 

Now let’s add to that: with the setting of goals, and with the pursuit of accomplishing them, it becomes easy to forget about this thing called life. It’s easy to miss the point that the journey is where the growth is, not in the act of merely arriving at the destination.

I’ve got a great quote to share with you that really exemplifies this point.

In 1999, two Slovakian friends, Ladislav Gulik and Pavol Barabas, documentary filmmakers, embarked on a dangerous 600 mile trek. Their objective: to make contact with perhaps the most primitive of all indigenous tribes on earth.

The long journey, mostly on foot, over a period of several weeks, led them through the forbidden inland territory of the western half of the island of New Guinea. All this in order to reach the people the film refers to as the “Mysterious Mamberamo” – also the name of their award winning documentary.

The expedition almost didn’t happen. They had arrived on New Guinea at the northern port city of Teba and went about seeking permission to work their way up the Memberamo River by boat in order to make contact with the primitive people who, I may have forgotten to mention, were reputed to be cannibals.

Requests of the Indonesian government were rejected, and, in fact, the government officials forced the team to agree to leave under threat of arrest. So, they left Teba by boat and sailed to the next port city to the east: Jayapura. Their risky plan (what some would call hair-brained and downright stupid) was to hire a 4-wheel drive vehicle and drive south, as deep into the interior of the island as possible, and then hike from that point south, to the north and the hidden tribe’s location; something no one had ever done before.

In order for their expedition to be approved this time, they lied. What they described to the local authorities of Jayapura was a 3-day journey that took them nowhere near the forbidden central interior of the island. All their papers were stamped – permission granted – and the team set off to the south.

In their nearly two month odyssey, they struggled with the snares of the jungle, snakes and other dangerous jungle critters, malaria, hunger… and with themselves. They eventually did find the tribe(s) they were looking for. Guess what: the two Slovakian friends didn’t die. They made new friends in these primitive, but happy, people. And after a brief visit, and accepting invitations to return (through their guide who was able to act as an interpreter), the team made their way down the same Mamberamo River that two months prior they’d been prohibited from going up.

A moment from their film, Mysterious Mamberamo

And in thinking about it afterward, the two realized that the actual event of locating this tribe of people who had previously never made contact with civilization was a somewhat anticlimactic part of the overall adventure.

Here’s how one of them put it:

“I’d always thought that the most important thing in life is to have a goal, and now I know that the goal is only of secondary importance. It’s the journey towards it that’s important. It’s on the journey that we best get to know ourselves… as well as what our fellow pilgrims are like.”

Life truly is about the journey. Getting there, wherever “there” is, was never what all this work and struggle and joy and sorrow was supposed to be about. It’s about what you and I are doing right now.

Master sales trainer Tom Hopkins used to urge his students to utter these 12 words several times a day until living this directive becomes a habitual way of thinking/being: “I must do the most productive thing possible at every given moment.”

Does that mean working all the time and if you’re not working, then you’re not being productive? No. Of course not.

If, for me, today, the most productive thing possible is to stay in my pajamas and take the day off – or just part of the day off – and alternate between reading and playing chess on my PC, then so be it. Or gardening. Or going for a walk, or a drive, or whatever. Stephen Covey urged readers of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People not to be so busy driving that we forget to stop and get gas.

So do some observing over the next few days. See how traffic “behaves”. What’s your mindset at different times and in different circumstances while you drive? How do you respond? How are those choices indicative of your mindset in other settings in your life? Are you just sitting in traffic merely in order to arrive at a destination? Or are you experiencing the journey?

More on this in future posts.

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