The He*art of Goal Meshing
November 27, 2016
Lately I feel struck by the number of people who beat themselves up for a perceived lack of accomplishment. The self-punishing narrative, while often in awareness, persists in its abuse. This can sound, all too familiarly, like, “I strayed so far from my diet, I can hardly call it a diet;” “I got so much of my paper done I may as well have been sipping piña coladas on a beach chair in Aruba;” “I’ve got a membership at the gym. That’s it, a membership;” or, “I was going to clean both bathrooms, and all the floors. I got one toilet done, grabbed the potato chips and parked myself on the couch to relax for the afternoon. But then my dog barfed. Then my sister called and needed to vent or she’d go off the deep end. And then my son needed a ride to the soccer game he forgot he had. . .”
Often we cannot even allow ourselves moments of levity when we are grieving the loss of a loved one, or a family member or friend is suffering and needs our attention. “How can I be having a good time when my friend just lost her baby?” We might even give ourselves emotional imperatives—to grieve; to forgive; to not feel those “bad feelings” like anger or jealousy; to not stress eat or drink over those bad feelings; or even to don the rubber suit and not feel anything at all. Don’t you know, feelings can be darned inconvenient?
Many of us wonder, “Why can’t we get done what we so gallantly put on our to-do lists, the all-important and the not so important?”
If you look on the real or virtual shelves of any bookstore/e-bookstore, you can find lots of self-help tomes that task you to manage your time more efficiently, to learn how to prioritize, to differentiate what is really important from what is moderately important, and what is, after all, just fluff–those time-permitting tasks over which no one will die if they don’t get done today, tomorrow or in the next three years. Even fancier, you can find guides for designing a tickler system that will remind, alarm, cajole, or even scold you onward to your next objective.
We embrace goals. We love goals. We seek the peaks and strive to climb them. As in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival goals come first, of course—food, shelter, a means to produce an income, safety and so forth. But beyond that we live in a culture where we want to succeed. However you interpret success for yourself—a healthy family, fame or fortune or both, mastery of your field, a million ‘followers,’ the drive for success permeates the air we breathe, the rhythms with which we move in our cities, the grades with which our children’s school papers get taxed, the job descriptions for which we compete, and so forth. And while striving will harness our energies, organize our strengths, and develop our stamina and vision, it may also bring along an ‘audience’ of inner censors, critics, naysayers, and downright bullies—the ones that live in our own minds, right down the street from our resident goal seekers. Same neighborhood.
The self-denigrating narrative to which we often subscribe operates behind the scenes, outside our conscious awareness. As an example, Connie shared with me that she felt it likely that her entire life would be partly defined by dieting. She had attended OA for years, but now “felt sick” of its rigidity. She said it might work for some people, but in her 60’s she sought a greater freedom of choice in life. So, sheepishly, she thought that she would simply text a good friend her Weight Watcher points for the day, and a “1” if she walked a mile. She wanted to feel accountable. She wanted to feel accountable to someone. She wanted to feel accountable to someone who cared about her. Most of her close family had died. She experienced a sense of aloneness and with it, loneliness. But she asked me if I thought it was “weak,” that she couldn’t do it all on her own—the dieting and exercising—accountable only to herself.
Upon further discussion, both her older sister as well as her father, both deceased, had always touted the benefits of standing on one’s own two feet, strongly, independently, and . . . alone. The need for another person’s help meant weakness, defeat, and failure. So, options for accountability that asked for another person’s participation seemed off the grid for Connie. Yet she felt in touch with a deep loneliness attached to the aloneness that occurs when one’s family has all died. That can feel disorienting, as if one has lost one’s place on the map of the world, the living landmarks, by which one recognizes oneself, all gone.
Perhaps our self-punishing strategies play a major role in egging us on, nagging us to continue our pursuits. It won’t easily let us off the hook. And, at the same time, it presupposes an underlying narrative that we, alone, as stalwart individuals, are solely responsible for the pursuit and accomplishment of our goals. The “story” that individual success results from individual pursuit and triumph over hardship, suggests that we live and work in a bubble of our own, disconnected from the forces and pursuits of others. This narrative also disconnects us from the notion that we may experience multiple and various co-existing intentions and purposes. And lastly, it disconnects us from our bodies, because as flesh and bone and brain we require rest, sleep, comfort, changes of gear and so forth.
Early in life, in the United States, we get innocently recruited, by our families, schools, and culture to value success above all else, and to the thought that we must accomplish our successes as rugged individuals. Although in the world of children’s athletics, we learn about being a “team player,” rewards still go to the player who makes the touchdown or the basket or who hits the home run.
If you take a moment to think about it, any “individual” success represents the culmination of multiple interactions and intersections of forces provided by other human beings as well as from factors in the environment. Perhaps an “A” on Johnnie’s exam involved Mrs. Goodenhaur’s brilliant teaching, and Johnnie’s father helping him study flashcards, and a Discovery Channel television show that brought these concepts alive, and a girl Johnnie likes at school whom he thinks of as smart and who, by always getting A’s herself, inspires me; and that the sun shone on the Tuesday of the test after a good night’s sleep and the barometric pressure was high so his sinuses didn’t bother him with congestion, and his mother packed him a great snack to eat right before the test, and his pencil was sharp and it was midmorning when his energy felt highest and most focused, and no one distracted him by throwing a spitball or coughing.
Whether Johnnie is a sixth grader, the CEO of a large corporation, a Pulitzer prize winning author, or has made a scientific discovery, he lives and works embedded in a matrix of others and other forces which may synergize or challenge or dispute, or deploy his results.
When we work alongside others, the best results come from goal meshing, rather than working at cross purposes or duplicating others’ work. Individual goals must get interwoven with the goals of others in the workplace or at home so that two things happen: goals get met; and everyone has a good feeling about it. This means that transparency, communication, and the consideration and utilization of the cogent ideas and inputs of others play a large role in any one person’s successful goal attainment as well as in the overall mission of the workplace or family.
Sometimes our goals dovetail well, or mesh well with the goals of others and we and our goals synergize each other. Sometimes our goals cause friction with other people’s goals or have an antagonistic relationship—if I win, you lose. The more there is a felicitous interface or relationship between my goal and those of others around me—in a workplace or a family or a couple—the more likely it is that I will succeed with my goal, boosted by the energy available within the matrix into which I am interwoven. My success will be more streamlined, graceful and efficient if it gets support from those around me and from environmental factors.
Sometimes, our goals would have been met, had it not been for those demons of interference—our own fatigue or counter-intentions; the drying up of a funding source; some requirements placed on our time and energy by others, and perhaps someone working at deliberate cross purposes.
We are currently living in a post-election time of dissent in our country, with massive polarization among our population. There is literal as well as figurative combat between deeply entrenched values, but snarling any dialogue are the chaotic strands of goals and purposes, that like a towering Babel, do not translate.
At the very least we must develop a consciousness of us, of community, of the United States, of meshing our goals for living a decent life. Like a baby who is already born, we who are here, are already here and present and part of the whole. I cannot have happiness without the co-happiness of others. Just like a man cannot be happy filling his belly while his three children go hungry. We are woven into the matrix. We must repair the places where it is torn. We have the capacity to utilize the friction among our plenitude of goals to energize the larger goals that support us all, in the brief time our own goals register in existence, and toward the future goals of our children.
Camel Saddle: When do you find yourself working on your goals at cross-purposes with those of others? When do you find your goals in harmony with others? Are you a diehard individualist? Or do you recognize that others can put wind in your sails?