how to ruin anything
i set a lot of goals for myself. a lot. i like breaking these down into sets of tasks then listing them, with great specificity, on pieces of paper where i can check them off. this leaves me at great risk for feeling massive amounts of success and failure, accomplishment and lack thereof. some times i like to turn even leisurely activities into tasks to be completed. let me re-state that. sometimes my drivenness causes me to turn activities that should be engaged in for fun into accomplishments to be accumulated. this goes against everything i deeply believe in: being present to the moment, resisting comparisons and judgement, and believing that who i am is more important than what i do. i want to bring my behavior into line with these more deeply held ideals and yet i am too often a prisoner to my own cognitive and behavioral bad habits and unconscious hurtful tendencies.
every summer i set a goal for myself regarding how many outdoor concerts i will attend. this began several years ago when i realized i wasn’t making time to engage in things that fed my soul. in these early years i needed opportunities to be lost in a crowd, in natural urban settings, enjoying music and getting opportunities to dance and rest concurrently. my hope was that in creating a measurable goal for myself i would hold myself accountable to doing something that was difficult for me. i have been realizing, however, that this has turned into a weighty pursuit for me, causing me to race and run and stress about how to accomplish it. my goal has become a ridiculous finish line of sorts that has me engaging something that should be beautiful in a way that is anything but.
in realizing how often i’ve ruined my own fun (and growth) with this kind of behavior, i have come to create a new list of how to ruin anything. if you, like me, have a tendency to turn every good idea, well meaning endeavor, or altruistic impulse into an imperative with power to determine your worth, read on.
doreen’s incomplete, but fully potent, list of how to ruin anything:
1 make it a competition (even if only with yourself).
competition can be good. it can spur us toward greater effort and even inspire us to push ourselves into spaces we might not otherwise explore. it can also, however, kill. experiences are to be had, not captured and clung to like trophies to display. winning for winning’s sake is shallow when substituted for experiencing something fully. the journey toward a goal is rife with meaning and pregnant with opportunity. if we push too hard, too fast, and too single-mindedly toward winning/achieving/accumulating a certain outcome, we miss all the gifts that the journey offers. setting a number, a benchmark, or a rank that will mean you’ve “won/accomplished/achieved” sets you up to place yourself in one of two categories: success or failure.
we are healthier when we are flexible, adaptable, resilient, and open. too focused a stare on the finish line (e.g. “i’ll succeed when i’ve lost X pounds,” “i can’t rest until i close X number of sales,” “i will be sitting pretty when i’ve amassed X amount in my savings,” “i can take a break when i have every single closet in my house cleaned,” “i will have arrived when i have 1000 facebook friends/twitter followers,” etc) keeps us from getting to learn from the entire journey. crossing the finish line is one thing. fully engaging the struggle to get there is a different thing all together. it affords the sweat and struggle and muscle pulls and defeated thoughts and so much more to teach us, to shape us, and to keep us aware that there is so much to be learned in trying. possibly even more than there is in simply “winning.”
2 make it (super) public.
there is no better way to feed a competitive streak (even if only with our selves) than to make our goals known publicly. post the goal, tell our friends, begin wearing t-shirts (affixing bumper stickers, wearing buttons, you get the drift...) that let on to the pursuit, then constantly include the goal and our progress toward it in facebook and instagram feeds. bring it up in every conversation. this will cement our focus on accomplishing an outcome rather than on learning from the journey. if we have any tendency toward missing to forest for the trees, making our efforts overly public will assure us of missing even the trees for the leaves.
it’s important to note that i am not talking about passing up opportunities for emotional support, accountability, and help. those are all fantastic and sometimes public in really wonderful ways. rather, i’m talking about the tendency we all face to engage our goals as if they have the power to define us then making sure others know just how well we’re doing. which brings me to...
3 give your pursuit(s) a lot of power to determine your worth/value/coolness or hipness.
most of us deal with deep feelings of insecurity and inferiority. we create personas based on what we can and have accomplished and hope that they will be enough to win us approval and connection. the reality is, however, that we are who we are, not what we accomplish. brene brown says it best when she says that “you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” sometimes the most vulnerable thing is to admit to who we truly are rather than to try to accomplish our way into who we are not. it takes a lot of courage to be a journey-er and experience-er rather than a finisher in the world’s eyes (or possibly even in your own).
4 evaluate your progress (or lack there of) every single chance you get.
knowing where we are is important. basing our sense of worth on where we are, however, is dangerous. a fixed mindset says that we are valuable when we have achieved this or that goal. it says that we can arrive and that our worth is based upon succeeding or failing to do so. it also implies that we can go from winner to loser based upon our performance. a growth mindset, on the other hand, says that effort and openness build upon our inherent worth and bring us to places of greater resiliency and maturity.
trying (and keeping trying) is more important than accomplishing. effort is more important than acquisition. rewarding behaviors that place the emphasis on these truths keeps us aware that, in the long run, the journey is the most potent prize.
5 keep at it even after you know you should jump ship.
sometimes our goals sustain us. they keep us trying and growing and getting healthier. sometimes, however, we run amuck and they become unhealthy focal points, making us feel like winners or losers even though the pursuits are purely arbitrary. when they bring us to places of rigid success/failure mindsets or when they cause us to forego the important lessons of the journey in order to win the prize it is time to lay them down. they have lost their power for good.
which brings me to this, it is july 25 and i am two thirds of the way to my summer concert goal. this goal has been something i’ve been really proud of and blessed by. it’s pushed me to do important things and has taught me much. i need, however, to put it aside. music and dancing and being lost in a crowd are just too important to me to ruin them and i have learned i can ruin just about anything. so tonight, if and when i find some music to enjoy, i will not count and i will not post and i will not let myself feel i’ve accomplished anything other than being in the moment. (insert huge sigh of humbled relief.) anyone wantneed to join me in lightening their load by laying something down before it's entirely ruined? we can learn so much together.