Goals and Guts
March 22nd, 2010

On Friday morning I called my mother.  IEP and I were scheduled to fly in that evening for a weekend visit with my parents and sister.  I wanted to make sure she had our flight number and arrival time on hand.  We dispensed with logistics and then, with a mother’s unfailing intuition she keyed in on my temperament.

“Are you okay?  You sound… quiet.”

She was right.  I was quiet.  And I’m rarely quiet.  Ask anyone.  I am a non-coffee-drinking morning person.  It was a Friday.  I was just hours away from a fun weekend with my family.  There was no reason for me to be out of character.

We chatted for a few minutes.  I mentioned that the Daylight Savings change had taken a bigger toll on me than usual.  And, after beating around some rather large shrubberies, I confessed that I suspected that three weeks without meat was catching up with me and causing my energy level to wane.  Mom immediately started talking protein powder (she’s a big fan) and we hashed through a few other ways I could increase my protein intake.

Then, without notice, she switched gears on me.  I should have seen it coming, but I was tired and I didn’t.

“I’ve never really understood why parents force their kids to keep participating in activities that they don’t enjoy.”

I listened, still not realizing where she was going with this.  (Maybe I should start drinking coffee?)  I kept listening.

“You know, the kids who join the soccer team and clearly hate it after a couple of weeks, but their parents make them play the whole season because that’s what they signed up for.”

I started to clue in.

“Don’t you have enough challenges without forcing yourself to slog through something just because an arbitrary deadline was set?”

Aha.  She’s a sneaky one.  She never said, “Why don’t you just quit?”  She knows me well and knows that challenging my level of commitment to my vegetarian experiment is the last way to get me to bail.  She tiptoed through the topic much more delicately with statements like “With three weeks under your belt you’ve gotten the experience you were looking for,” and, “I just think life is hard enough without artificially complicating things further.”  In short, she appealed to my pragmatism.  (Below the belt, Mom…)

I explained that I didn’t think I’d yet gleaned all I wanted to from this experience.  I said that part of the full experience is continuing it even when I don’t want to.  And I mentioned that my second reading assignment might offer further enlightenment.  But the damage was done.  She’d gotten me thinking.

Why is it that we see success more as a function of a predefined goal than of the enlightenment we gain in pursuit of said goal?  We are constantly learning.  And with new knowledge comes new understanding and a new perspective.  If we don’t modify our ideals and goals accordingly, what did it accomplish for us to learn anything in the first place?

This line of thinking is outside of my comfort zone.  I’m goal oriented.  I find incredible satisfaction in accomplishing something I’ve set out to do.  I don’t disagree with the premise that “life’s a journey,” but I’ve always approached life as an accumulation of smaller destinations.  Nevertheless I can acknowledge that spending my life absently achieving one (sometimes arbitrary) goal after another doesn’t necessarily add up to something meaningful.  It takes both courage and wisdom to revisit a goal mid-course and perhaps decide that it lacks the merit you believed it had.  As a culture we value goals, and we really value people who achieve their goals.  To abandon a goal requires not only insight, but guts.

I’m not there yet.  I still believe in what I’m doing.  I’m continuing to learn and this experience is continuing to influence me.  I will see it through.  But I wonder about this seed that’s been planted.  I wonder if I will second guess my future goals, and to what end.  Will I abandon goals better left intact?  Will I doggedly pursue goals better abandoned?

I can’t begin to know.  But I suspect that merely considering the value being gleaned from goals in mid-pursuit will increase their benefit to me regardless of my decision.

12 Responses to “Goals and Guts”

  1. JBS Says:

    Not only do I admire your trying to stick with this project, I’m impressed with your willingness to question it. I just think life is too short and difficult to add to the burdens. But then, I’m older than you and am getting a little lazy. And my goal should be to learn to appreciate that!

  2. Anne Says:

    There’s that saying “life’s a journey not a destination”….and I do believe that. But there’s also something hugely energizing about meeting small goals. I think it’s all about meeting the goals without ignoring the things you learn along the way. Cool ideas today.

  3. Jeanna Says:

    Somthing else to consider is that following through and quitting are not the only two options on the path to a goal. I believe in occassionally re-examining a goal based on insights gained from the journey and updated priorities in your life. This may lead to continuing on as planned, abandoning the goal, redefinition, or even allowing yourself to step off the path for a break.

    For you current goal … Would allowing yourself to eat meat for a meal or two mean that you failed? Or would it give you new energy to finish the month as a vegetarian? Also is your goal to be a martyr or to learn more about your food and potentially change your eating habits?

  4. D Says:

    Interesting post. There is of course a balance in lacking follow-through and recognizing when the best thing you can do is change gears or quit. In my line of work, it is essential you listen to your own inner voice about what the evidence shows in an investigation while taking into account what trusted investigators, supervisors even adversaries see. In trials, it’s as much about knowing when to sit down or stop than it is about that brilliant question. And some of my best moments have been in cases where I dismissed or stopped the proceedings, recognizing what would happen, a “win,” would be wrong. It was hard, it took faith in myself and standing up to various people but time has shown I was right and even if it hadn’t, I know I was right.
    I realize your vegetarian experiment is a bit different but I think whatever you do, professionally or personally, isn’t a combination of good judgment and instincts what it’s all about? You’ll know whether there is value in throwiung the towel or seeing through, and whichever way you go, you’ll be proud you did it at all.

  5. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I admire you to sticking to your goal! I tend to abandon projects quite easily, so I value your tenacity. I’m sorry you are having some low energy, though. :(

  6. becca Says:

    I definitely admire you as well but would most likely be doing the same. I hate quitting half way. I always fear I’d wonder, “what if?”… I also know how disappointed I’d be in myself. I find no greater pride than accomplishing something I never knew I had it in me to complete. So you go girl! Carry it out as far as you can so you have no regrets and can pat yourself on the back when it’s over. But maybe you should start drinking some coffee? :)

  7. Eva Says:

    Mothers are great at that, reeling us in and taking us by surprise, aren’t they?! Again, Gale, you ask that difficult question that I just can’t answer. When and how do you decide a goal must be modified or abandoned? Maybe this is another one of those things we need to redefine. The accomplishment is not reaching the goal itself, it is embracing the process and growing, learning through that process.

    I’m like you – I thrive on the thrill of accomplishing a goal. I need specific goals to work toward, to direct my efforts. I think it stems from my perfectionist tendencies. But think about this: revising a goal can be a good thing. Maybe you’ve realized you set the bar too low, and need to revise your goal to challenge yourself a bit more. That’s more admirable than leaving the goal as is, a relatively easy target.

    You’ve got my wheels turning… this is one I’m going to mull over all day!

  8. Bridget Says:

    How bout a new goal? Shall I make reservations for you and GAP at Ruth Chris’ for April 1? Sounds like a great goal to me! :)

    Hang in there, I too admire your resolve.

  9. Celeste Says:

    This is tough. I also won’t give up on something I have committed to. And, as becca mentioned, it is usually because I fear I will look back later wondering what if. There is such great satisfaction that comes from hard work and accomplishing something. That feeling can’t be found any place else. You know yourself and you know what you can and can’t handle, what you are willing to sacrifice to reach your goal.

    A part of me wishes I had listened when, one year into my 3 1/2 year MBA program, I felt that I just couldn’t stand it any longer and wanted to quit. D is wise when she says “it is essential you listen to your own inner voice”. My inner voice tends to get muted by all of the other noises in my head.

  10. Sarah Says:

    Okay, now I know I’m awful for putting it out there, but what will you do when your son hates soccer half-way through the season? I’m pretty sure I already know the answer (and I’m pretty sure it’s the same one I’d hypothetically give) but it bears asking, doesn’t it?

    That said, I admire your tenacity, as Kitch says, and your fortitude. My problem is learning what goals to set. I usually reach too high, and then end up disappointed in myself. But I get the feeling you reach just high enough–stretch yourself and have a grumble or two, but ultimately succeed. It’s enviable, Gale. Absolutely.

  11. Gale Says:

    Sarah, it’s a completely fair question. I used the soccer analogy because it was the one my mom used. She, unlike me, is not goal oriented at all. However, I’m of the opinion that kids sports are not as much vehicles for lessons about goals as they are geared towards lessons about teamwork, committments, and fulfilling obligations. Given that, yes, I’d make him play out the season. Then we’d use it as a learning experience before jumping into the next activity.

  12. JBS Says:

    Just want to point out that organized sports weren’t invented by the kids. Their natural play is random, and studies in physiology show that random movements are better for their physical development than activities where one muscle-movement is repeated over and over again. (E.G. Little League baseball pitchers)