Anxiety, Goals, Guilt, Meaning, Purpose, Regret, Work

The Purpose-Driven Day?

Yesterday was one of those bland days when I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to blog about. I scoured the news, read magazines, surfed famous quotes — everything I could think of for inspiration. No inspiration came. When I was younger, I would have called it a “bad day”.

That was back when I was very purpose-driven. So purpose-driven that I had a strong tendency to judge the quality of my whole life by whether I’d accomplished my goals. A “good day” for me was little more than a day when I got done what I’d set out to do. A “bad day” was little more than the opposite. It took me several years to get out of that mindset. Ironically, I had to work at freeing myself from it.

I’m not advocating we each of us give up all our goal-oriented behaviors. I believe the art of setting and managing goals is crucial to getting much of what we want out of life. I’m merely advocating that we learn how to switch on those behaviors when they are appropriate, and then switch them off when they are not.

When our feelings about our whole day are entirely determined by whether we’ve accomplished our goals, then it’s time to reassess what we are doing to ourselves, doing to our quality of life. As I write this, the sky is clear, the sun is bright, the air is warming — how can I wisely judge such a lovely day solely by whether I’ve accomplished my plans? How can I wisely feel regret or anxiety if my plans are not realized?

Jobs these days — too many of them are inflexible. You must do the work according to schedule, whether you are up to it or not. The work goal, the purpose dominates everything. And the more efficient we become in our work, the more ruthless we become in weeding out any flexible response, not just to the work, but to ourselves and our own needs. All of that creates extraordinary stress. But we have become so familiar with it — so conditioned to it — that it could take anyone of us years to figure out another way of living.

I think goal-driven behavior is like a tool. It has its appropriate uses. But the tool should serve us, and not us the tool.

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