The Road and Its End

I took four days off from writing. It was nice to get away, and it's just as nice to be back. In that time I made some goals, broadened my perspective and focus (I'm not so zeroed in on my novel now that I can't see the forest for the trees), and regenerated my power cells.

So I'm going to focus more on blogging.

Build my friends and circles.

Give Twitter the time of day.

Write at least one short story.

Dig one of my old novellas out of the closet, er, flash drive, and see what I can do with it.

Work on my highly secretive non-fiction (it's philosophical and far from done).

And read through the completed third draft of “Rising” and figure out where to go next.


Goals are very important to me. I'm an avid goal setter. I've always got at least one list of goals lying around, usually something pertaining to writing or exercise. There are times when I throw the goals out the window and live spontaneously, and sometimes my goals are as simple as “write, exercise, meditate”, but I've always got some sort of direction to go in.

My father was a goal setter, and he was the one who got me hooked on them. I remember listening to his Zig Ziglar tapes as a ten-year-old. My dad didn't give me much else in my life, but he taught me how to plan, how to reach higher, how to do better. That's the one lesson he drove into me. He taught me that I can always do better than I've done in the past.

My father is living proof that simply setting goals and wanting to do better isn't enough to actually be better. For all the goals he set when I was a child, he rarely accomplished any of them. I've discovered that I have similar problems with reaching the goals I set, though for different reasons.

So why do people like me fizzle out before the finish line? And does it even matter that we do?

Philosophically, the answer may lie in Zen and Taoist thought. Taoist sages “preached” a spontaneous lifestyle. Taoism can seem at times to be anti-goal setting (though this isn't necessarily true).

Zen is very similar. In Zen, unlike other Buddhist sects, the idea that one can “work to achieve” nirvana is pure bologna. Zen teaches that nirvana cannot be sought after, that to do so would be like catching the moon in the still waters of a pond. Impossible.

Goals have value, but not in what they help us achieve. Their value lies in the road we travel as we follow each goal.

The value of an exercise goal isn't looking good and being healthy, but the active process. It's the running, the weight lifting, the swimming. It's not the gold medals or six-pack abs.

So does it even matter that goals are achieved, if setting them guides us and keeps us in the moment? Life is about “doing things”, not “having done things”. Can overlooking the path of a goal for its conclusion work? Can it sustain us? Is it effective?

When I see successful, goal-oriented people, I don't see people who reached for the stars, but people who were caught up in what they were doing.

In Eastern philosophy, the end of any goal is a natural side effect of living that goal.

But not everyone finds success. This is where I see the true wisdom of what Taoism and Zen teach me. Life is full of random chance. Even talented people never have the opportunity to do the one thing in life they want to do. There's a time and place for all things.

I set goals, but I'm not a perfectionist about the goals themselves. I'm rarely concerned with completing them. The fun is in the doing. I realize that some of my goals will never be completed, and some will not be completed for many years. This is beyond my control because many of my goals depend on other people as much as they depend on me.

For instance, I want to make a living writing stories, but this depends on people buying my stories. I can do everything right, write the best story, meet the best people, and still fail. That's life. But that doesn't mean I won't live to write. I choose to write instead of doctoring, soldiering, or building.

I know one thing about my father. He was very concerned with the end result. He was an excellent artist, but he never drew to draw, he drew to make money. His heart was in the money, not in the beautiful works of art he created with nothing more than a graphite pencil and a mushy eraser.

I'm much more concerned with the road than the end. I see every end as a dead-end, and am in no great hurry to leave the road I enjoy, for then I'd have to find another path.

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10 Responses to The Road and Its End

  1. An excellent post, I agree with you on the journey. I set little goals, sometimes minute to minute, with my illness, it can be as simple as turning on the computer, to actually logging in. I make list of what I want to achieve for the day,sometimes with tomorrow in mind sometimes not. I have worked this way for a while now. It works for me to keep me sane on the road I must traverse.

  2. I don't really set goals. my manager wanted me to today but it don't really suit me. i do help others set and achieve their goals and i guess they need to be practical and also achieveable. good post sir.

  3. Jan, does that keep you in the moment?

    Chaz, Thank you!

  4. We were trained (in the family and at work) to make goals and objectives~ short and long term ones and yes, with the end result always on mind. However, along the journey, I realized that I should also be open to the many surprises life has.

    I agree with what you wrote, 'Goals have value, but not in what they help us achieve. Their value lies in the road we travel as we follow each goal'

    I realized that there are many ways of reaching my goals in life ~ and not really as I planned it to be.It could be downright enjoyable and not as strict and rigid like sticking to just one rule.

    Thanks for this wonderful reflection JR. You always make me look at things in a different angle.

  5. Thank you very much, Melissa. I'm glad what I say can help you.

    Goals and reaching them, success really, is more an art and less of a science. There's not one way :)

  6. nice. life is in the journey, not the destination. true

  7. Goals are good things, go for it! But know which ones are more important than the others.

  8. Totally, Jerly!

    Josh, I think our most important goals are the ones we want the most. Therefore, I never put housework in front of writing :D

  9. Loved the article! I am a goal setter in many ways, but for me to run my business the way I have to it is important that I do. Yet on my list is also: Take a break and enjoy the journey!

  10. Thanks for the comment, Regina.

    Taking time off is an important, and oft-overlooked goal! My hat's off to anyone who can master the skill ;)


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