A few months ago I resolved to take a certain path in life, mostly relating to career, and more importantly, actually setting a life goal. I’ve rejected goal-setting for as long as I can remember.
Junior year in college I started hanging out with some new friends, who happened to be very ambitious people who had their lives neatly mapped out to include all kinds of tall orders, pies-in-the-sky and grand visions. I hadn’t thought much beyond next quarter’s class schedule, let alone life after college. I would listen in rapt fascination at their conviction, wondering if any of what they wanted was possible, and secretly dismissing their plans as grandiose, their future lives as boxed-in before they could begin. One time one of them said, “people without goals are losers. I simply can’t understand them.” Not long after that assertion the relationships ended and I parted ways with the group. There’s only so long a loser can hide out, before her lack of goals is revealed, her worth as a friend diminished. But to me they were the losers, setting everything up into tight patterns in advance, every detail accounted for. What about spontaneity? What about living for the moment? What about crisis, and life is messy, and shit doesn’t always go your way? These people knew nothing. I was the realist. Goal setting was out, because life smashes your plans and hope spirals down and away, and I was a cynic already at age twenty.
I recently told an important adviser of mine about my ideas and plans for this next major stage I’m setting up, and he was incredibly supportive, remarking that this is the best part of the process, “because there’s so much hope”. Yeah, yeah, definitely, head-nod, thanks man. But his words stuck. He’s one of those people who says things that sound deceptively simple (my dad is another, with his plain Midwestern wisdom), that days and weeks later continue to reveal important truths. They stick in your mind like a burr, seemingly useless and a little irritating, suddenly blossoming into important new understandings. Sometimes these new understandings become new ways.
He was right. There is so much hope. I’m living smack in the middle of it, and it’s working.
You see, I was someone who faced a series of major crises as a preteen and had to quickly build elaborate adaptive structures, mostly self-protective in nature, in order to keep myself together. And then there was a long period of bad fucking luck that passed through my country, changing plans, limiting opportunities and options. I tightened and secured my construction to stay afloat. Over time, these structures have remained in place (though clearly no longer needed) and become minimum security prisons. A while ago I wrote about believing stability was the best I could do in life, and working to dismantle that particular inertia-inducing system. I learned young that trust was for fools and practiced a version of hope that was more like keeping my eyes on the ground to avoid tripping, then congratulating myself on staying upright. And then there were the times that nothing was happening and the days strung together inside this endless tunnel because there were no goals, plans or hope, so I blew myself up just to get out. A field of rubble was a new scene, at least. Reconstruction felt like progress and growth. Which it was…but surely taking a wrecking-ball to the whole thing every several years isn’t sustainable.
Hope just didn’t have a place in my experience. It was too open, too vulnerable, too exposed and easily dashed. And the hell I was ever going to set myself up for that brand of heartache again. It was better not to hope, dream or have goals, because that way disappointment had no entry point. I was practicing a particularly stark realism, wrapped in wet blankets of sarcasm and cynicism. It could get really gross at times, but these offered cold comfort so I used them. You didn’t look too far ahead. You went through the motions, got into a routine, told yourself it was better than nothing and found fun and moments of happiness where you could. It wasn’t a terrible way, just rather uninspired and colorless. Always the ennui loomed, however. And behind it, depression. I wondered how long I would go on like this, and what, exactly, needed to happen for me to have vision. Moving to Arizona felt like a key. And it was.
Now I’m at hope. I got here a few months ago after a minor car accident, a dramatic scene where others, covered in blood, were taken away in an ambulance, and I drove home without a scratch. It was a major wake-up call, and it shook the foundations of these very ancient self-protective structures loose. Why was I allowed to get home unscathed? A few seconds difference and my car would have rolled into the ditch, instead of simply blowing a tire. Who was I to walk away from the accident unchanged? A thick confusion came over me, obscuring the dimly-lit way I had been marching since my teen years. I lost my convictions. I lost my way. I let go.
I was in the chaos of change, and I did nothing to try to get back on the low bar, to continue my listless, mundane quest for stability. I lacked the drive. Uh oh. Now I didn’t even care about stability anymore? Shit. Where was this going?
It was going directly to hope. To a new way of thinking about life. To an understanding that hope offers protection, and burns differently from cynicism in a way that’s totally, marvelously removed from negativity. Right now, I can’t hold hope and stark realism in my spirit at once. It’s one or the other and I’m choosing hope. I’m going to use it to build new structures, the kind that are more like ladders than cages. I’m going to practice it every day, and use it to get me to my very first life goal.
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