Friday, May 20, 2011

57/100: Goals Vs Serendipity

I never understood something about the self-help literature: It always assumes that you know where you are going. But, mostly, we don't: Or at least, I don't. I keep setting goals, indeed, because I am told they are a good thing. But I most often abandon them rather than reaching them. I shall argue that does not turn me into a failure, necessarily. It makes me feel like Christopher Columbus, who wanted to go to India using a different route: He took a risk, made a mistake, and what a rewarding mistake that turned out to be.

I have always been told goal setting is a good thing. From the school days, when my teachers at school would ask me what I wanted to be and not knowing the answer was a bad thing. So, you then make up the goals, even when they were wholly unsuitable. These goals tend to become more about people around you than about you. May be there are those perfect people who can start with the end in mind, but they are as unreal as Stepford Wives to me. Most of my life was about stumbling upon things, diverting my journey in pursuit of something interesting, and ending up on wrong shores with right feelings.

I would argue goal setting is a problem, rather than being of any help. Once you assume that you should have a goal, you set about getting one. But at any time, you are constrained by your own experience, or that of your parents', or that of your girlfriend's. If you are able to set a goal and pursue that single-mindedly, that means giving up on imagination and being a slave of the past. If everyone set goals and followed them, the world will remain steady-state, or even go backwards in time. It is good that we make mistakes, and some people are pathologically incapable of setting goals.

Besides, goals, and making life more about the end than about living it, steals the fun of the journey. Days become a slog for something that someone somewhere, mostly politicians and newspaper editors, set for you. So you give up your time of wondering about and take up the challenges of life, not acknowledging that the biggest challenges are about living the life enjoyably. This is why you will possibly give up reading a beautiful book and immerse yourself in office politics, marry the footballer rather than the childhood friend who was interested in you, and squeeze yourself in the morning train rather than lingering a moment on the beauties of a spring morning. This is why you will travel and live thousands of miles apart from those who really loved you. In a way, there is one immutable goal in life, to die and die meaningfully, and this often gets compromised by the goals that we make up along the way.

Finally, the primacy of goals is the reason we have started thinking moral behaviour, whatever that means, is an inconvenience. What's better, to get rich first and be acknowledged as someone important, or to ponder about nitty-gritties and remain poor and inconsequential? You must count to make a difference, I was told - that was an argument against idealism, in fact. So you give up your dilemmas, be single-minded in pursuit of what makes you count, and catch up on moral issues later if you could. Or, if you care to.

So, I am tired of goals, and of being told focus on goals is a good thing. That Attention Deficiency is a disease. The whole self-help industry, and some of its gurus, like Stephen Covey, stands on goal-setting: Begin with the end in mind, remember. I wonder - did he? Or is it serendipity for him as well?

4 comments:

neha g said...

Supriyo,

You speak for every person who is caught today, in the race for a better life and knows that there is a better alternative. Yet, it is only human to want to grow and reach a step higher everytime. But what really "makes it count" is the realization that "living" is just as important as "growing" and when a balance is achieved, life becomes harmonious. Hence goals are required for a start, which bring control and focus. But one has to embrace serendipity with equal importance to experience the joy of surprise and creativity.

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

:) I have made 'getting old' a goal - you can possibly see that anyway. That's natural - I am just letting time take me on a journey. I shall say, the sense of the journey, movement, progress, is more important than the fixation with the end. Because we don't want anything to end: It is always about MORE. Besides, journeys are not always about going somewhere: Often it is just that, a journey. I have done that many times in my life, and will surely do it again, where the sense of the road makes me feel alive.

You say a sense of goal is important at the start. I doubt. All journeys seem to begin with an end, like this dream of going HOME: As in a house, as in a city, as in a website, where you wish to anchor. The sense of goal I get from there is that everything is irreversibly circular, you set out to return, and not the goal, but the going is what matters.

Finally, I am reminded of my favourite poem, which anyways shows up in this blog:

"We shall not cease from exploration/ And at the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time."

Harsha said...

Supriyo,

Your post sent me back to the famous last line of Ulysses -- 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'

Regards,
Harsha

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Harsha

Thanks for dropping by.

Not to yield, indeed.

And, I shall also add something from Henry Moore, which I mentioned before, but this keeps coming back: "The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do."

Supriyo

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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