Our generation is obsessed with goals that the word “goals” made eight entries on urban dictionary. A cool outfit is goals. Couple pics are goals. fancy jobs are goals. Abs are goals, and probably the only ones that matter.
Goals set a direction for our actions and visualizing our lives after we achieve that goal is exhilarating. I was once a sucker for writing down a list of goals like “become the best at design” or “read 100 books this year” on my dotted Moleskine notebook, probably because of the empowerment that comes from drawing lists and diagrams.
Soon I realized that it’s really difficult for me to remember the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year; a lot of times those goals never occur to me again, and sometimes I achieved them without even realizing. That’s why when people ask me what my long-term career or personal goals are, I find a hard time giving a satisfying answer, and my usual response is “I wanna create this future I want to see and help others to do the same.” It’s vague and probably unhelpful, even a bit self-promotional.
What is then the future you want to see? What is the tangible next step? How does your career choice help you get there? Why are you making this newsletter?
I don’t have a perfect answer to any of these questions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I really enjoy what I do every day, and I believe more people can feel the same way.
I got an excerpt from James Clear’s newsletter yesterday, and he wrote about how goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress. He asked an interesting question:
If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed? For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results?
I think you would.
He then asked:
Are goals completely useless? Of course not. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.
His writing brings a lot of clarity, and I think it addresses elegantly an important issue that I’ve always wanted to write about — the importance of falling in love with the system.
Many friends around me have told me they are unhappy and anxious because they don’t really know what they want; I interpret that as not having a very clear and defined goal, or having spent tremendous effort reaching a goal only to find that it actually isn’t what they actually want. They are waiting for external signals to take actions when actions are the easiest and most enjoying when coming internally.
I’m grateful to have found something that I like to do, and along the way, I’ve tried to align with what I like to do with what the world needs. It’s more fulfilling that way; doing things only I enjoy is self-indulgent. At some point I realize in order to do what I like productively, I have to automate a big chunk of the day like exercising, reading, and meditating, and I did have to consciously form those habits through designing a system that works for me.
In Creative Stoicism, I wrote a bit about my approach to doing creative work; a lot of it is to simply show up daily and create the damn thing. It’s that simple, but because all creatives need to fight with the inner demons called resistance, it’s also extremely hard. Having a system that you like will incorporate the pain as part of the process, and before you know you’d start finding a lot of comfort in it.
We all aspire to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, but perhaps falling in love with the chase is, in fact, the most valuable reward, and we all get to define and refine our chase to make it more enjoyable.
I strongly recommend reading this full post from James Clear, after reading it I bought his book “Atomic Habits”. I’m three chapters in, and I think this is probably the only productivity book that one would need.