Goals / by Michelle Cowan

At certain times in life, we devote ourselves to a particular goal. Applying for universities, training for a competition, completing a work project, and dealing with family crises require single-minded determination and commitment. I thrive on that kind of direction. As a task-oriented person, I appreciate anything that requires the outlining of steps and a systematic, wholehearted approach. No distractions. Priorities are clear. The actions that are best rise easily and promptly to the surface.

At other times, however, I feel as though I’m wandering aimlessly. I’m not trying to get into school; I’m not recovering from a trauma of any sort. I’m not called upon to help anyone or join an activist movement. I try to think of goals. I meditate and ask for direction, for desire, for guidance toward an area of focus, but I receive nothing.

I don’t necessarily dislike these times. As long as I feel content, goals mean nothing. I do crave a sense of accomplishment and achievement, and that desire eventually leads me to the adoption of a certain goal. I kind of prefer the quiet happiness of a life well lived. In the last few years, I’ve come face to face with how little “success” really matters.

Despite my semi-“enlightened” viewpoint, I can’t shake the feeling that the world looks down upon such aimlessness. Everyone (including a little part of me) expects me to have a purpose, or at least be striving toward the discovery of that purpose. This gets tough, especially now, as I look back upon many months, months that have turned into years, rather sparsely decorated with goal achievement of any kind.

Then again, I do see some of the goals I reached. To my ego’s dismay, most of those goals have been quite personal and internal, like overcoming fears, learning to love, appreciating the gifts of depression, and many times, just getting through the day. No one sees those. I don’t get paid any money or get many pats on the back for those things. It’s hard to build up that sense of accomplishment with intangibles (no matter how valuable they may be).

Now, I’m 27 years old. I’m considering returning to graduate school, but I don’t know what I want to study. Art history? Curatorial/museum studies? Comparative religion? Anthropology? I’m not sure. Do I want to move? Where? Do I want to change careers? How much effort do I want to put into music? Do I want to pursue it passionately? Do I need to complete the building of my own web site? Do I want to do more freelance editing and writing? How much time should I put into dance? What about my spiritual activities? What do I want to do?

With such a mountain of choices, I can’t think. I can’t pick one. Or rather, I don’t pick one. Instead, I slip in and out of each interest, knowing that if I commit to one, it would flourish. But I feel stymied in the face of decision “Just choose!” I tell myself – yes, in a very demanding tone. Unfortunately, that kind of pressure only makes it more difficult.

How do I escape the pressure from the world and within to strive after a particular goal? If the pressure were released, I have no doubt that my most authentic desires would take hold, and I could pursue something in a directed way.


Focus on now, and focus on the goals I know I have: I want to love as best I can and accept love with grace. I want to bring my true self to the fore in all areas of life and remain honest in a kind way. I want to enjoy each moment to the fullest and share that joy with others. I want to walk through fear.

Those goals feel a little vague to me. Perhaps they need some refining to help me direct my energy. I’ll do that… probably. In the meantime, I see that if I can focus on those credos, I can have a happy life. I can feel accomplished. I can bring light to the world. It’s about affirming to myself that no yardstick that would dare measure me provides any kind of accurate estimate of my worth. It’s enough to simply love and enjoy life.

Still, that desire for accomplishment lingers. Can I trust that focusing on my more eternal goals will lead me toward authentic choices and a satisfying life path? I’m not sure if I even like the idea of a path! With me, the questions never end.

Nonetheless, I advocate choosing. Just choose. I still want to pick something to pursue. I want to love something enough that I’m willing to commit to my choice for more than a day. This skipping around between goals is wearing me down.

Maybe I need to bring my broader life goals back more firmly into consciousness. Maybe instead of asking for direction and looking for an answer in my quiet hours, I can meditate on the goals I already know I have, the truly important goals.

Ah, that sounds satisfying. That sounds like new way I haven’t tried yet. The key always seems to be perspective. Look at the issue in a new way, and the doors can fly open. We shall see. For now, I’m still learning to value the meandering trajectory as much as the beeline.