I wrote an article on medium not too long ago titled “The Real Root Cause Behind ‘I’m Bored'”, where I basically (spoiler alert) said that humans crave a goal or purpose to fulfill (this is not a new idea, I admit). Perhaps part of the reason why some people keep working even after they’ve won the lottery is because no one really wants to just sit around watching TV in their underwear all the time. It might seem pretty awesome at first, but I think eventually they would get bored and want something more meaningful.
Then there are people like me who are so obsessed with goals and creating meaning, that I try to do too many things at once and just get frustrated that I can’t clone myself or grow a second pair of arms, or never need sleep.
Well, Psychology Today has a good article titled “Why You May Never Be Truly Satisfied, and Why That’s Okay”, which also touches on this issue. With actual science to support it, rather than my attempt which was mostly just personal experience.
Have you ever set a goal, achieved it, became content, and then went looking for the next thing? It’s fascinating how quickly our lives adjust to reaching a goal: We get our dream job and, soon enough, start wondering when the next promotion will come. We move into a new house and then, a few years later, start dreaming of the next dream house. We quickly adjust our realities, constantly creating “new normals.” And then we want more.
That has been my experience lately. For me though, it’s more a constant question of “can I do this thing?”. Like, can I, as an individual, physically and/or mentally step up and get through it? And once I’ve answered that, I test the next thing. There are some things I don’t particularly care to know if I can do or not, but asking myself “what can I learn from this?” has done me very well since I started focusing on that question.
We all have different goals—different mountains to climb. One person’s climb may be about sobriety; another’s may be about diet; and someone else may be trying to find a passion. And we often think we’ve reached the top of the mountain, only to realize it was really just the base of another, larger one. And so we start out again. Generally, this works: If we had to reach the zenith all at once, we might be too intimidated to begin.
Popular inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant puts it another way, positing that there are curves in the road because if you were shown how long a stretch you actually have left, you’d never drive yourself there. These curves that only show a little bit of the road at a time so you can just focus on that piece. The lesson? Today, focus on the piece that’s in front of you. The better you manage that stretch, the better you’ll be set for the next leg, whatever it is.
I’m feeling this right now. I’ve figured out I have been pretty successful in doing a lot of incremental learning/goal tackling. Currently, I have several ambitious goals, they’re all larger, and I’m battling my brain because I want to do them all at the same time, but not all the little steps (feels too unproductive), so I’ve actually been procrastinating somewhat.
Those goals (in case you’re curious)
-finish learning how to program so I can make an app (this will take months of learning to code bit by bit, and I don’t really want to deal with that right now)
-re-learn website coding so I can built a website idea I have
-finish the curated book I’m working on (probably the most nebulous)
-finish developing the card game ideas I conceived recently (need to playtest)
-finish recording/producing an album I started 6 years ago (only a few things left to be recorded, then lots of editing/mixing which I am not in the mood to do)
The question, then, becomes how we balance being content—and grateful—where we are, while also being okay striving for something still greater. It’s not easy: Oprah Winfrey once said, “I got so focused on the difficulty of the climb that I lost sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb.”
On the plus side, one of my other admittedly larger goals is happening – I’m currently learning ASL (American Sign Language), and unsurprisingly, I’m really benefitting from the formal classroom environment that I’m learning in. It’s incremental, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. I know I could just discipline myself and do these other things incrementally, and maybe that would work better if I didn’t have that many things I want to do (all right now, not one now, the rest later). Maybe it’s time for me to get an accountability coach. When I get in a groove, I’m really good at not procrastinating, but right now I honestly just can’t seem to bring myself to pick one thing to focus on (well, aside from ASL).
The reality is that our journey stretches as long as we live, and if we ever think we’ve made it to the end, we might be limiting ourselves. We just don’t realize it when we set our current goals. This is why so many of us never feel truly happy, or fully satisfied. We want to see today’s goal as a destination because that allows us to feel a sense of certainty, finality, and accomplishment when we reach it—as it should.
However, there is another piece that often gets lost, which is that we’re always in a state of change. It’s not about wanting more, but about being present for where we are, and the people we’ve become at every new stage of our journeys. It’s not specifically about the better job, home, or relationship—the truth is that wherever we are, there will always be something more to reach for.
One thing I can definitely say since I got on this persistent quest for learning, skill building, and personal growth, is that I have been exposed to some things I never expected, met some really cool people, gone to some cool events, and ultimately inspired and enriched my life quite a bit. In my “old life”, I never would have thought someone like me could have some of these experiences, all I had to do was try. I was afraid, I was unconfident, I didn’t think I deserved it in some cases. Now I just want to encourage others (which is why I started a bucket list group with some friends on facebook, so we could attempt to tackle some of these things together), and that has really helped me not feel so unlikely to accomplish some of my goals. I’m in that ASL class because of a friend of mine who I didn’t even know was interested in ASL. She’s my accountability buddy. And I’m loving it. I’ll be writing about it later, but I’m excited by the possibilities it creates, and the ability to interact and connect with people I couldn’t before.
I’ll leave you with one last quote, from Jon Bon Jovi: “Any time that you think you’ve hit the top of the mountain, the truth of the matter is you’ve just reached another mountain. And it’s there to climb all over again.”