Goals and Options

Can you believe it’s the first Monday of 2020 already? It feels like my brain is still stuck back in November or so, and hasn’t really caught up. And yet part of me is already thinking ahead to next Christmas and making lists of possible gifts for people. I think that’s why I’m feeling so odd about this first Monday.

I’ve already written my first check with a 2020 date on it without voiding the check by writing the wrong year. I’ve gone shopping for the first time in 2020 and didn’t end up hating people (even though the traffic sucked). I’ve done housecleaning and laundry and felt productive. I’ve finished reading a couple of books (including an xmas present, Martha Well’s Rogue Protocol in hardback). I’ve started reading a really big fat book, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers on Kindle (decided a 300 page book in hardback would probably result in hurting myself if I read it while falling asleep). And I’ve even gone out to a movie in a movie theater (something I kept saying in 2019 that I need to do more of). So emotionally my 2020 is off to a good start.

But unlike all the folks who made new year’s resolutions and definitely going against the grain of all the productivity emails I’ve gotten in the last 14 days or more, I’m not writing any 10-year or 5-year or even this-year goals.

I did some soul searching over the last year and realized that I have a huge case of the “yips” (a golf term) when it comes to goals. I’ve made so many of them that I’ve had to trash for, well, reasons. I’ve created uncounted detailed lists of goals only to have my life do a 180. I’ve failed at so many of them; failed miserably in fact. And have reached the point where the thought of “goals” in any form makes me want to run screaming. I literally (no joke here) get physically sick at the thought of creating a goal of any sort, because of the extremely well-proven fact in my life that each and every goal will be a massive failure. I’m OK with little checkboxes on daily to-do lists, like “write blog post” or “clean cat litter box” but those “be this in 5 years” or “complete X by age Y” checkboxes make me sweat and shiver. So no more lists of goals (or even unwritten lists) for me — I don’t need that feeling of stress, of fear of failure, hanging over me and sucking all the joy out of my life. And I definitely do not need to feel any more disappointed with myself than I already feel.

But I love to make lists (as my already-in-progress 2020 xmas gift list proves). So I came up with a new way to look at the future that doesn’t crush my soul or make me ill with all the potential failure: I’m making multiple lists of options.

Options are funny things, since you can have a whole long list of them with only one of them ending up as the thing you actually do — for example, you might have a list of 10 different options for a vacation, but only go on one vacation. Because they aren’t goals and thus aren’t things with an obligation on them, but rather are only pie-in-the-sky potential, there’s no giant cloud of doom hanging over the vacations you don’t take. You just don’t take them. No harm, no foul. Un-done options are just…air. They aren’t unfinished life goals that will haunt you at scary hours of the night, and there’s no feeling of guilt associated with the ones you don’t do even if you spend time on them (i.e. researching flights to a location you didn’t go to, that sort of thing).

I’m loving my lists of options. Writing options, crafting options, life options. Even the rather dark lists of options talking about health issues, politics, and what life might be like 20 years from now when I’m 79.

In writing fiction, creating a whole book without an outline (aka the goal of the story) is called “pantsing” and comes from the phrase “writing by the seat of one’s pants.” This style of writing is also called “writing into the dark” by some folks. With my pages of options (and the lists are still in progress) I’m adopting that writing concept to my whole life. No goals. No giant life checkboxes to stress me out. I’m ready with lists of options for anything life throws my way, but come next December I’m not going to feel disappointed in myself for not checking off things on some list of goals.

I’m living this year “into the dark” and it’s a much better place for me to be.

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