Undam and Undamn Yourself

The mighty Mississippi cannot be tamed. Despite efforts to straighten the river out and prevent floods, it still overflows its banks. Bodies of water meander for a reason and human tragedy occurs when we attempt to provide rigid definition for something that flows according to its nature.

You are the mighty Mississippi personified. You cannot be tamed no matter how many hours you sit in an office, run on a treadmill, or stir up broccoli florets. Human health and wellness meanders for a reason and human tragedy occurs when we attempt to provide rigid definition for something that otherwise would ebb and flow as situations present themselves.

Throw out your bucket lists! Rip up your goals! They are conspiring to kill you in the present and steal away your dreams.

In sports, a goal usually stops the clock, providing time to reset the positions back to a starting point. This forces the action back to the middle, a place of neutrality. Life is continuation, movement, and flow. Experience, environment, and situation dictate where the action takes place. We cannot stop time. We cannot pick up the ball and go back to the middle. We meet life where it is and go from there.

This is why I contend that goals are silly. I used to have goals and speak to clients about “wellness goals.” I used to say, “I want to do this by such-and-such” and start ticking off the list. Building my business last year was hardly fun, because I kept setting goals. The stagnant economy shut off the client spigot for a while, even though my list of goals to get off the ground had lines through the whole page. Despite achieving my “goals,” I felt like I had done something wrong.

I had. I went by the rules some anonymous person set up and they weren’t right for me.

By five months, your baby should be sleeping one hour in the morning, two in the afternoon, and a total of 12-14 per day. Last night, our baby woke up once over the course of 8.5 hours of sleep! She’s almost six months old and the last two months have involved nighttime waking every one to two hours, few daytime naps (if any!), and exhausted parents. Is my daughter broken? Is she behind the curve? The book says something must be wrong even though she is the smiliest baby most people meet. Going by the book, I saw these hours as goals, found myself growing increasingly miserable, and wondered if we had to take her to the fixit shop. Then I remembered that life is fluid. Kalia, too, is the mighty Mississippi, an uncontainable force no matter what the book says she should be doing.

I had chosen to follow these rules and they weren’t right for our family.

My epiphany: Goals impede progress for we’re always shooting for an arbitrary definition of success. I must lose twenty pounds. Losing fifteen makes us feel like a failure. I need to be at this level of income by age 30. If we don’t hit it (or lose our jobs), we’re miserable. My child reads at a fourth grade level in fifth grade. Oh no! I have a dumb child!

Goal setting creates a negative atmosphere, for the outcome becomes more important than the journey. And the journey might take us farther away from the goal, for it might be the wrong one for us. In Hard Courts, John Feinstein writes of the aftermath of 1990’s Wimbledon Championships: 

“Martina Navratilova went home to Aspen and collapsed…. She felt empty. A life’s goal [her ninth title] had been achieved and now she had to convince herself that there were other goals worth chasing.”

She achieved her designated goal and was distraught. So many more fall short of their goals, breeding a legion of discontented humans.

Let’s get rid of goals and instead dedicate ourselves to living joyously, making our world better by dancing with challenges and desires as they arise. As the Mississippi floods a small town, illness bursts through the rigidity of goal setting, by preying on our psyche as we obsess internally over the limits we create for ourselves.

A scale need not tell us if we feel healthy or lethargic in our skin. A salary does not indicate our value to others. A report card shall not define a growing mind for a lifetime. We know ourselves and have clouded up our intuition with external limits. We’ve dammed up the river within, our tears becoming the water over the banks.

In sports, goals limit and the clock runs out. In life, the clock runs infinitely whether we meet or fall short of a goal. Let’s keep goals where they belong - on the field of play. As for living, move, flow, relax. You’ll get to where you should be, rather than where you think you should be.

As the river, so is life.

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