Being Goal-Free is More Than Fishing

March 30, 2005

On February 21st, I posted an email from a woman who wrote me about her “goal-free” story. Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing her via phone. Lynn is 43, a mother of 5, a busy professional, a wife, and she says she has never set a goal in her life, with the exception of getting her black belt in Tae Kwon Do, which she did at age 41.

Her community in rural Oklahoma is quite poor. So, they don’t really have, or want much. Most of the people there are happy to make enough money to go fishing in their spare time. But that is not enough for Lynn. Her “aspiration” is to continually learn and grow. This is what gets her excited. But she has never set out to achieve anything in particular. Instead she is constantly participating in life and looking for new opportunities that present themselves. And when they do, she takes advantage of them and moves forward with full force. She never thought to herself, “This is where I want to be in 10 years.” Rather she lets life unfold naturally, using her internal barometer as a guide.

There have been times when she would take jobs that she “thought” she should be doing. Either because they had higher pay potential or because everyone else was doing it. She tried various sales and telemarketing jobs. But they just weren’t aligned with her values and beliefs. And so even though she tried to make those jobs work, she was miserable and was ultimately unsuccessful. When she listened to her gut instinct, she has always been successful on whatever path she has chosen.

As she said in her email to me, “I guess I’ve lived in the moment, for the moment, and that setting goals seemed so structured and unbending. I obtained my Master’s when I was 21, am currently working on National Board Certification, and am in constant pursuit of knowledge and personal and spiritual growth. I never would have set these as goals for myself, yet I always achieve what I set out for.”

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Detach from Technology

March 29, 2005

Technology can be a wonderful boon to man-kind. But sometimes we abuse it in ways that prevent us from really participating in life. I recently bought a BlackBerry. My original thinking was that this would free me from my computer and allow me to stay connected. Yes, it allows me to stay connected electronically, but it has me be disconnected from what I should really be doing…being present.

I was recently having lunch with someone. My BlackBerry was sitting on the table with the ringer off. But based on the color of a flashing LED, I could tell if I had any new emails. I was waiting to hear from an editor I was working with, so I was constantly glancing at the flashing light to see if it turned red. I received an email every 15 minutes from someone — either a real person or spam. I did not receive the email I was so eager to get until hours later. In the meantime, I was completely detached from the person I was having lunch with. Staying connected is different than being connected.

Some of the best ideas and opportunities pop up when you least expect them. “Becoming a people magnet” is a critical aspect of Goal-Free Living. But if your ears are plugged with your iPod, and your eyes are glued to your BlackBerry, how can you really connect with your environment and other people?

My favorite piece of technology that enables Goal-Free Living is my Tivo. I no longer worry about missing my favorite show (there aren’t many). This frees me up to connect with the real world regardless of the network TV schedule. And, when I do decide to watch television, I know I will be watching something of interest rather than just scanning the channels mindlessly. Plus I can save time by skipping the commercials. Of course, the (not so) hidden downside of Tivo is the possibility of watching more TV. But we would never let that happen. Right?

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Isn’t the Book a Goal?

March 26, 2005

In one of the blog entries, some asked “Mr. Goalfree, I want to ask you, IS your intended book publishing not A GOAL?”

This raises a couple of interesting points. First of all, Goal-Free Living does not mean that you do not have ANY goals. It means you are free from the burden that goals have on so many people. So goals are not necessarily bad. It is how you relate to them that is important.

Regardless, for me, the book is truly not a goal. Had it been a goal I would have had a better plan of attack; I would have thought through how I would get the book published as quickly as possible. Instead, I am allowing it to evolve. And in the process, the content is getting richer and I see other potential avenues beyond books. If the book does not get published, there are other paths: a magazine, workbooks, workshops, self-publishing books, a series of mini-books around each secret, an interactive website, or a number of other vehicles. So the book is only one potential path supporting my aspiration (making an huge impact in the world). My interest lies in getting the word out about Goal-Free Living. People often confuse the means with the end. The book is a means, not the end. Goals are about the end game.

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Goals: Instinct or Instruction?

March 16, 2005

I have had numerous debates as to whether goals are in the genetic make-up of the human DNA, or whether they are learned over time by the subtle (and not so subtle) messages within society. Although I am not, nor do I profess to be, a geneticist, looking at various cultures around the world convinces me that the drive for goals is not (or at least was not) universal. The philosophy in some Southern European countries is “work to live”. Siestas and six weeks of vacation a year are commonplace. This is certainly less stressful than the “live to work” mentality that permeates American culture. And prior to the recent westernization, many Eastern cultures were based on goal-free philosophies. Buddhism, Zen, and Taoist beliefs, prevalent in Eastern cultures, are very much about living for the here and now.

Prior to Westernization, Japan was a society driven by Buddhist beliefs. But the introduction of America’s achievement-oriented culture has created rampant goalaholism. Stress in schools is so strong that Japanese schools have spawned a phenomenon known as hikikomori, where students withdraw and lock themselves in their rooms for months, or even years. For five years straight, Japan’s suicide rate has topped 30,000, which gives it one of the highest suicide rates amongst advanced societies. Pressure to perform well in studies plays a major role in suicidal behavior among students. More than 90% of the students who attempted suicide had experienced a failure in work or school. And for adults in the business world, stress has gotten out of control. In a society that intensely dislikes confrontation, but is so driven to achieve, the only outlet has become getting drunk on the weekends. This is the only socially acceptable means of dealing with stress, and letting their true feelings show. It has reached the point where teetotalers are viewed as not being loyal team players, and may suffer from a career standpoint. An achievement orientation, introduced into a goal-free culture, appears to create rampant goalaholism…and problems.

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Goal vs River People

March 13, 2005

Here is a brief article that describes two different types of people: river people and goal people.

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Goal-Free Student in UAE

March 11, 2005

I recently received an email from Salah, a computer engineering student at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

A few months ago he wrote an essay entitled “Individual Success: Made of Goals or Sudden Awareness?” for his advanced English Communication course in 2nd year college. He provides his own spin on Goal-Free Living.

You can read it at

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Quote of the Day

March 10, 2005

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” — E. B. White

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Time is Not a Factor

March 8, 2005

I was recently having a conversation with two friends of mine, Sean and Joe. They both work for the same company. They both work crazy hours. But Sean has managed to live a full and complete life. He has a boat, has his pilot’s license, goes scuba diving, knows lots of people, has a girlfriend, and has an extremely active social life. Joe on the other hand spends most of his spare time watching television. Joe admitted that maybe he needed to apply some discipline and watch less TV. But he said that when he has tried to do that, he has not been successful. The problem is, discipline is not always the answer. Sometimes you need to find a passion that will pull you off of the sofa. Another friend of mine from the same company had a similar problem as Joe. She was busy with no social life. So she decided to take up horse riding. She quickly found that her life became fuller with more pleasurable activities, new social events, and a better outlook on life. She does need to make time for horse riding. Somehow there is always plenty of time for that, and for hanging out with the new friends she has made from her hobby.

In life, it is always difficult to stop a bad habit. I used to be a coke addict. Well, actually a Diet Coke addict. And every time I tried to stop drinking liters of cola a day, I would focus on it so much and want to drink more. Instead, I decided to let myself drink as much cola as I want, as long as I drink at least two liters of water a day. I now find I rarely drink much soda.

So although we may have convinced ourselves that we are busy, there are often huge opportunities to doing things we love to do even with a hectic schedule. It’s just a matter of taking the first step of finding something of interest, and then committing to doing it.

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Becoming a Success…The Goal-Free Way

March 2, 2005

I am putting the finishing touches on a chapter in Goal-Free Living entitled, “Use a Compass, Not a Map.”  And yesterday I had the great pleasure of interviewing Preethi Nair whose story is a perfect example of this lesson.

Like many people, she was very goal oriented early in life. “Within my family, everything was measured in terms of how successful I was; academic qualifications, my job profession, my salary. However, I always had a strong desire to be a writer. Not a goal as such, but an intention. But I buried those dreams. After graduation, I went into management consulting for 4 years. I know that 4 years is not a very long time, but every single minute of those 4 years I was deeply unhappy. I knew clearly it was not what I wanted to do. And also knew equally clearly what I wanted to do. I wanted to earn my living from writing.” So one day she decided quit her job to pursue her passion.

The problem was, she was in the process of buying a condo, so she was living with her parents. “I couldn’t suddenly say to them that I had no job to go to and that I was going to be a writer. So I decided to continue the illusion of work, putting on my suit and pretend that I was going to my job. I created a double life.”

After rejection letters from nearly every publisher, she wondered if she could really make this work. Undeterred, she decided to try different paths. She created her own PR agency. She established her own publishing house to publish her books. She got a booth at the London Book Fair. She visited 250 book stores to sell her book. She stumbled her way through the entire process, making mistakes at every corner. But she followed her dreams without plans, and eventually landed a three book deal with Harper Collins. And the BBC just recently acquired the rights to turn one of her books into a 90 minute television adaptation.

Preethi concluded, “I could never ever have planned any of this. I never could have said, this is what I am going to do and this is how I am going to do it. I was bumbling in the dark. I had a sense of direction, but had no plans. Some people may hear my story and think, ok, she had a goal. But for me, I am clear it was not a goal in the traditional sense. It was truly an intention; a sense of direction.”

Her full story appears in the book.

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