I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I Trust How I’m Getting There

where i'm going

You know that feeling when you’re in an interview and the spiffy looking professional on the other side of the table folds her hands, leans forward, and asks you a question you haven’t a bloody clue how to answer?

You do? Great!, because that’s where this story starts.

“Tell me about where you see yourself in ten years.”

A number of answers ran through my head. Answers such as:

a.) “No.”

b.) “I have no idea.”

c.) “I don’t think that far ahead.”

d.) “Successful enough to never have to be in an interview like this again.”

The idea machine in my brain was laying a minefield. So many unsayable answers to pick from! In the end, I improvised some riff about starting my own company, but admitted that (c) was pretty close to the truth– I have no detailed vision of my life that far ahead.

The interviewer was not impressed. “Not impressed” to the tune of “Don’t come to our grad school”. And that’s fine. I would’ve loved to go, but as I can only speak inarticulate truths or inarticulate lies, I had to choose the former. I don’t mind suffering for honesty every once and a while. It’s a nice reminder that I’m alive.

But here’s the important bit: I really don’t think that far ahead about most things, and I don’t believe most people do.

And I have no problem with that.

* * *

Much more important than knowing where you’re going is trusting how you will get there. How do you do that? Build confidence, set the right habits, and focus on now. Make goals, but know that goals are for you, not the other way around.

It’s a subtle distinction. Don’t focus on later. Focus on now, but give later the stink eye.

Trust how you’re getting to your unknown destination. This is applicable, I believe, to everything.

For starters, business. Will I have started my own business in the next decade and be my own boss just like I guessed in the interview?

The answer: who knows! I sure don’t.

But here’s what’s cool. I’m confident of how I’m getting to that decision. I reflect daily on what I’m learning and doing in work. Is this the place for me? I talk shop with big-corp underlings like myself and also entrepreneurs who are already out there in the wild. I’m setting aside money for when my dream requires some cash to push it along. Push has not come to shove, but when it does, I will be as prepared as possible to make big choices right.

Another example: I want to publish a book. Can I do this before I die?

The best I can say is I hope so. Lord knows I’m trying.

And that’s true. I write every day. I put my stuff out there and get feedback. I’m constantly trying to improve. Reading up on publishing. I don’t expect to have anything on shelves in the next twelve months, but you better believe I am arcing in that direction.

One more example: love. Will I have met the love of my life and gotten married in ten years?

Again, no clue.

But you know what?  I trusthow I’m getting there. I trust that I can charm the pants off a girl when I need to (figuratively speaking– let’s keep things PG here), and I trust that I can muster up the social skills necessary to have a good conversation when that time comes. My previous girlfriends may swear otherwise, but joke’s on them– they dated me.

* * *

Aw, this is such crap! You’re just trying to rationalize that you haven’t started a business yet.  Enjoy your books and conversations, loser!  But you know what?  I’m not warning you against trying to achieve your goals.  I’m warning you against the belief that you should or even can know where you’ll be in 10 years, and trying to use that sort of unicorns-and-fairies future as a useful vision.

Honestly, I’m the last person to tell you not to make goals.  I tell people to set goals and shut up and achieve them pretty often… about weekly, just counting a blog I write about accomplishing your life goals. And of all the questions I get about my writing there, one of the most common is: “If you didn’t finish your bucket list before you kicked the bucket, would you be regretful?”. In short: no way.  That’s what I’m trying to say here. The goals we set for ourselves aren’t the purpose of life, they’re ways to help us grow along the way. If I’m on my deathbed without “author” after my name, I’m not going to be lamenting the fact.  I’m going to be thankful that I got to do so many of the other things this planet has to offer.

But in the meanwhile, I’m going to be trying like a maniac to accomplish those things– and trusting that whether I do or do not achieve them, and whether my future is exactly like I could dream or nothing like I could dream, I’m doing the right things right now.

Because that’s all I can do.

Photo by atomicpuppy68

11 thoughts on “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I Trust How I’m Getting There”

  1. I totally agree with your goals. After living a half a century, I’ve changed my goal in life to just learn how to accept and love my fellow humans and be happy. What else is there?

  2. Erik,

    The way I see it life isn’t about getting on the one straight line from A to B where B is being the person on the other side of the desk asking the question about where you see yourself in x years time. Finding out where we’re going can take a lifetime of learning and direction seeking. One of the best ways of finding out I believe is taking a few creative experiments in life. After having exited stage left from office life recently I’m currently working on my blog, writing a book as well as setting up a new business.

  3. This photograph really resonated with me. We are each alone on our journey and must choose our own path. I’m 80 and when asked for even a five year goal the answer is “To still be here.” It quickly puts life in perspective. I can visualize making it to 114 in great health or I can keep the “great health” part and see what happens. I don’t buy into aging as a process of gradually falling apart.

    Trust is huge. Trust that I am safe. Trust that i can continue to contribute to my world every single day. I’m a writer and a coach. I know a lot and these upcoming years will be spent passing it forward.

    I really resonated with “The goals we set for ourselves aren’t the purpose of life, they’re ways to help us grow along the way.” Growing is what it’s all about. Every day can bring a new insight or awareness. We just have to keep looking. That’s the really fun part!

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  4. You know what Erik, I kinda agree with you. I think what it boils down to is – set goals, strive for something because that dream is the fuel in your determination, BUT, don’t get attached to the outcome. Take what life gives you back, be grateful, then strive some more. Sometimes what we get when we strive for something is completely different but 10 times better! It’s like driving down a road in beautiful countryside and not looking anywhere but the windscreen – all you see is road and you miss the opportunity to experience the beauty of your surroundings. Every so often, we all need to pull over for a rest stop and just enjoy the view. :)

  5. very interesting and energizing post. Set a goal and keep working as you feel it should be. But, don’t question the result of it. Life may take you somewhere else.Enjoy what you get out of your life. Bear in mind, don’t forget working hard so you don’t have to regret with outcomes so what every life offer you.

  6. Great thoughts Erik. This is one of those really tricky areas.

    On one hand, setting goals is important for direction and drive.

    On the other hand, people get so goal obsessed they think it’s all about the goal, and not the person you become along the way which can be even more important.

    The shift is thinking of goals as only a stepping stone and a means to an end (learning and growing as a person) rather than the end intself.

  7. One of the reasons I am transferring to Alaska Fairbanks to go to college from San Diego. Pretty darn radical yet amazing. That and my major. ;)

  8. This is a great post. I totally agree. I set most of my goals because of the joy and excitement I have through the process of reaching them. It’s unfortunate, that some people set dry and boring goals because they believe that’s what they’re supposed to do. Like goal setting is some boring task that all the successful people do because they have to. When in reality it’s something they do because they want to.

    If you feel like you have to set goals and you have to know where you’re going to be in 10 years then you’re setting the wrong goals. Goals are supposed to be enjoyable not daunting. You’ll probably never reach your daunting goals and if you do you’ll just set a new one.

    Set goals that are fun and exciting to you and you’ll be a lot happier and you’ll definitely enjoy the process more.

  9. Thanks Erik for sharing this! Reading it today has a meaning for me since I’ve been struggling with unclear goals and ways to achieve them…I try a lot and fall a lot, and the lesson I believe I’m supposed to learn now is what you have been trying to say in your article…Thanks again :)

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