A Sense of Direction, Volume I

I'm terrible at setting goals. I over or under estimate my capabilities, or give up along the way.

It's not that I don't like accomplishing things. Even the smallest action (paying AT&T the minute I get my phone bill or getting all the laundry washed, dried, folded and put away) makes me happy. We Cancerians love to feel needed and important, and achieving goals ticks both boxes.

So I recognize how important it is to accomplish goals, but I also know how awful it feels to give up on them. It’s worse than actually failing.

I recently read The Dip by Seth Godin, which told me nothing especially revolutionary, but did resonate a bit. (That’s what Godin does best, I think. He aggregates what is already swirling around in our heads and presents it in a concise, less noisy way.)

The whole idea is that we hit roadblocks (or “dips”) in everything we do. Whether learning to knit, completing a project at work, speaking a new language, or forging a new relationship—-there comes a lull. What Godin says (which is perfectly obvious), is that we need to realize when we’ve hit a dip, and then decide whether it’s worth pressing on and getting through the hard part, or if it's a waste of time, and then turn our attention elsewhere.

The key to getting through, he continues, is not being content with the Dip, but working hard to go forward. Try new tactics, keep an open mind, ask for help…just don’t get comfortable spinning your wheels, because that leads nowhere.

I’ve been dwelling in the dip for a long, long time. I like my job, but it’s just a job, not something I’m passionate about. I’m good at lots of sports and activities, but I don’t excel at any. I feel ok, but I don’t feel like I’m really psyched about anything.

This is tough, because some of the most important people in my life are professional or near-professional athletes, driven by the exact monomaniacal focus I seem to lack. Or they’ve identified the thing they want to do most in the world and have made a career out of it. They are passionate and driven and goal-oriented. While they sail ahead, I search for my flip flop in the gloppy, murky water near shore.

With leeches.

And water moccasins.

Obviously, this is another of my shortsighted, spoiled-brat complaints. I’m creating a problem where there really isn’t one (I do it all the time…just ask Brad).

Except, this is a little different. Yes, everything is ok, but I know it could be better, and I know that something within me is getting in the way of “better.”

I tend to lose momentum. I set a goal-—something totally doable-—but distraction or lack of motivation gets in the way of training or practicing or whatever I have to do to stay on track.

So what causes that lack of motivation? Maybe it coincides with the training getting hard (right around the day of the 18-miler in marathon training, for example), or maybe it has more to do with a mountain of dirty laundry, two dogs who need exercise and attention, a house that needs to be cleaned, and a marriage that needs to be nurtured.

Or maybe those are just excuses.

I’ve practiced Bikram Yoga on and off for 13 years. I’ve had dozens of instructors, but McKell was my favorite.

She offered an authentic calm that quieted the room and kept me focused on my own practice, not distracted by the leaner, stronger bodies around me. That calm belied a driven, goal-oriented woman, though, one who just opened her own Bikram studio in Kauai.

That news struck me because I don't associate "calm" with "driven." When I think of people achieving goals, I think of the chronic Facebook updaters, the people who tell you how many miles they ran that day, how hard they climbed, how accomplished they are. I don't think about the quiet strength I felt from McKell, which obviously works for her--goal achieved, studio opened.

I've said before that I don't want to talk about my goals because I don't want to have to report that I've failed or given up. It feels easier just to think about them on my own and either achieve them or not, without having to lose face if the outcome is "not."

But that's isolating, and when I think about the five years I've lived here, I can identify a pattern of isolation that's done absolutely nothing for me. I left the industry I love, which, for a while, was a good choice. I needed to learn new skills, needed to look at work from a different angle. I stopped climbing because I was tired of being average. I'd been in the Dip for a decade, and I didn't know how to push through. Training harder just injured me, and I tell you, I was tired of spending all my time doing something that made me feel bad, and feel bad about myself.

Half a decade later, I realize this: I've simply been avoiding putting in the hard work. Not just with climbing. With everything. I feel far away from Brad, from my friends, from the sports that fulfill me and the activities that make me feel good.

Rather than, "I want to improve my guitar skills," or, "I want to speak better Spanish," perhaps I should be saying, "I want to rejoin the world."

Blogging, while therapeutic at times, creates an environment of introspection that isn't always good for me. After writing an entry about what I need to improve, how I need to better myself, it's hard for me to face real people, because I feel worthless, and am sure they agree.

And much of what I've written about here, on this blog, is just filler. The "likes" and "ums" of the conversation of my life, the stuff I say when I don't want to get to the point.

The point is this: I've lost my sense of direction. While people around me are focusing on what matters to them and achieving their personal goals, I haven't had a real goal since 1998, when I decided to go to Nepal for a while.

So that's it. In 2010, I resolve to find my sense of direction.

Maybe I'm setting myself up for failure by making such a vague, non-quantifiable resolution, but without first finding out where I want to go, how can I possibly do anything else? Nothing matters much when I don't know how, or even if, it relates to the big picture. Who cares if I climb well, if climbing doesn't fit into the grand plan?

And anyway, I think it is quantifiable, if not exactly describable. I'll know when I figure it out. I'll know because I'll resemble the girl who had her sights set on Nepal, and figured out exactly what she needed to do to get there--arranging grants and housing and airfare and a thesis topic.

To find my way, I have to identify the things that I really care about--the things I can use to help me push through the Dip.

That'll be a happier post, I promise. Stay tuned for Volume II.


Mandi said...

I think that when you are an introspective person who is surrounded by people who gain satisfaction from achieving external "goals", you can be fooled into thinking that achieving these goals will make you happy.

Sports are just sports. We get better, we get worse. We are motivated, and then we aren't.

I don't think it's a bad thing that you aren't feeling motivated. Maybe it's because that ego-driving self-absorbed lifestyle isn't right for you?

I don't know. I've been struggling with a lack of goals as well, since I got MS. They just seem so pointless sometimes. I think I'm ready to start making some though. To start acting rather than reacting. We'll see.

On the other hand, people who are so focused on some stupid sport that they don't see me or know me have become intolerable. If you are a professional athlete, it is certainly coming at the expense of other aspects of your life.

I could go on and on. Blah blah blah. At any rate, I like your blog, I like that you question everything, that you are hyper-reflective. I can relate. Thank you!

Kate said...

That calm, driven person you describe is someone who has really found a match between their personal needs and their life. When I do stress assessments, I see as many people who are stressed out because they have too little going on (or too little of the things they love) as people who have too much going on. Stagnation in your life is just as stressful as constant change.

So you aren't crazy, or whiny!! You just haven't found your niche. But I believe it's better be a little frustrated, to keep trying, and keep rejecting choices that haven't worked and keep searching than to settle and never be fully happy.

Good luck & have fun!