Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls
After finishing my third cup of tea, half of a book and two movies, I can finally get to writing. It’s the “privilege” of a 10 hour transatlantic flight - you have more than enough time to procrastinate and still get to something you were postponing to do.
Recently a friend asked me: “So, what are your long-term goals and dreams?” (a question that you don’t expect at 5 AM after some drinks were consumed) and that question left me a little baffled. I realised that for as long as I can remember I always loved planning the future in it’s broadest sense: future trips, dance festivals, projects.. thinking where I want to be, what I want to do “when I grow up”. Whatever job I had, I always had a plan in front of me, an idea what I’m going to do with the money I earn from it, most of the time I even knew when I will be quitting that job too. And now, probably for the first time in my life - I didn’t have a plan.
In the last year of high school we had a lecture with this young man who had his own business (probably an early version of a start up, which didn’t mean much at the time). The essence of his talk probably could be best described with Nike moto of “just do it”, basically: know what you want, believe it, go for it and you can achieve/have anything you want. I remember feeling very inspired (hey, this was before ted talks and inspirational speeches became an everyday soundtrack) and everything he said felt very empowering. The other thing he emphasised was making 10, 5 and 3 year plans of the future goals and how to achieve them (just do it). Even though it vaguely reminded me of the Soviet agricultural policy of making the 5-year plans, I was very excited to start planning my life and achieving eeeeverything.
Many goals, plans and dreams later I’m realising that I have achieved many things that I planned or - dare I say - dreamed of. It felt good, it probably even felt great for a moment but the next day (or even the next minute) I was creating new goals, thinking what could be the “next step”, bigger, crazier dream. Turns out, it’s not the goal that brings the fulfilment, it’s the planning, working towards it. Not the destination, but the journey they say. That’s why there’s probably not a summit that you reach and you’re set.. no, you keep seeing all the other mountains you could climb. And you’re still ON THE DAMN MOUNTAIN you just climbed thinking that.
Here I have to say that I’m not trying to mock this kind of thinking and if you love planning - I really get it and I think it can be a very useful tool for having some trajectory in life. I’m more trying to explore the invisible forces and visible messages we receive about the illusion that we can put our life in compartments, draw a plan, arrive at our dream destination as we predicted it, build a house there and live happily ever after (I hope you’re still following my analogies).
A character in Julien Barnes' book “The Only Story” (very recommended) tries to find the hidden motives why people get into crosswords:
“My analysis identified the following elements: 1) the desire to reduce the chaos of the universe to a small, comprehensible grid of black-and-white squares; 2) the underlying belief that everything in life could, in the end, be solved; 3) the confirmation that existence was essentially a lucid activity; and 4) the hope that this activity would keep at bay the existential pain of our brief sublunary transit from birth to death;”
This reminded me of the relentless plan making we seem to obsess about with the hope to organise the unorganisable and to plan the unplanned. To feel a sense of power over our short time alive.
The problem with being too concentrated on making future plans is that we don’t see what’s right in front of us. We keep running because it feels like everyone’s in a race of achieving things and no one wants to be the last one to do so. We start treating things like everything and everyone is a part of our TO DO list. Coffee with a friend - check, reading a book on how to be productive - check, informative podcast on your drive home because god forbid you stay one hour without learning new things - check.
More importantly, can we pause on trying to find life-long dreams, our true callings and following our dreams? (If you are one of the few people that knows the meaning of your existences and is pursuing that - good for you, this post is not about you). The rest of us, what if for a change we follow our interests? Our curiosities? Even the most silly activities we enjoy? Short-term goals? Small dreams? And.. things we are doing NOW not in 5 or 10 years?
That night I didn’t have a clear answer or.. to be honest, a "good enough" answer. An answer that I felt could be inspiring and showcase my best life management qualities.. I mentioned some plans for the upcoming year, things I want to get better at, things I want to learn, but nothing concrete, nothing like "in 10 years I have my own dance mansion, 3 kids and a Tesla”. In a way it was nice to realise that I’m actually very grateful with where I am right now and that my well-being is something to be worked on each day but not a place that I plan to reach in X amount of time.
I’m coming to terms that right now I will not be able to answer “where do you see yourself in 5 years” type of questions (I leave it for ambitious job interviews and first dates). I am excited for what the future will bring and I have ideas what I want to do in it, but more than that right now I’m excited for the meal in front of me (figuratively and literally - hello airplane lunch). Finally, when I look at past, the most beautiful experiences, people that came into my life were unplanned (I don’t think I could’ve planned it even with the greatest imagination). More than chasing big dreams sometimes all we need is a bit of courage and seeing what's in front of us.