“Arriving at one goal is the starting point of another” (John Dewey)
What really matters?
I mean if you stop for just a second and consider it. What really matters to you? Family, friends, your job, your hobbies, your passions, others, the sports you do or the world around us.
It’s in no way an easy question. It could be one we spend a lifetime pondering.
For all of our other thoughts, our lives our linear, they start, they flow and then they end. That is the nature of our lives. All that seems to be important in that equation is what we do in between. Putting it in such a stark terms makes you realise for a second how hopeless people can get in viewing this world. How they could potentially see that nothing is really worth it.
What is the point? Well someone made a good point to me the other day, that is that it’s all about legacy. She told me it was something that I taught her, I wish I could remember teaching her that. It sounds important.
So let’s talk about legacy. What is it? The nearest dictionary definition I think I can get to is, anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor. It’s something we protect, something that we grow, improve, make better and then hand over. It’s about making something better than how it was when we found it. It could be a variety of things, it could be a person, it could be a process, it could be an object or it could even be us, ourselves.
The quest for self-improvement or maybe self-fulfilment is one that has obsessed the human race for centuries and maybe something that is the drive for most of us to get up every morning and get on with our days.
There must be some incredible power in learning and what that knowledge brings to us. I feel it must fuel an amazing feeling of self-worth. Our capacity to absorb information and retain it is pretty amazing. Statistics would tell us that we only remember about 10% of what we read. Whether this just be a figure plucked out of the air, I suppose remains to be seen. The conversation about retention of information is a highly contentious topic. My personal thought would be we remember what is most important to us.
To limit our discussion of self-fulfilment purely to knowledge though seems a little shallow. How do we decide what we want to do? What our goals are? What factors influence us in these choices? If I look at one simple goal I set for myself, one that I thought was out of reach of mere mortals as a child, running a marathon. What drove me to want to achieve this. What told me I wasn’t able to do it for years and what gave me the final push to get there. And then, once that goal is complete, is it very much a part of the human condition that we move onto the next goal?, much like we do with our worries, switching from one to another as achieve them.
What drove me? I suppose to answer that you have to understand what a marathon actual is? If you lived on your own in shack in the woods and had never met anyone who had run a marathon, read any books about the marathon or watched any media showing marathons then this could never be one of your goals or aspirations. So the first ingredient in this mix has to be we must have been exposed in some way to the goal in our lifetimes.
But that in itself is only part of that equation. We see a thousand things a day now and we have the ability to talk to lots of different people. We open ourselves up to hearing about a variety of different experiences so what exactly makes us hone in on this one particular achievement or goal?
We must on some level develop a connection with it. It must speak to us of what we consider heroic, of what is good, it must in some ways align with our personal value set. Achieving the goal must compliment the person we wish we were or it must challenge parts of our lives that we wish to change.
The marathon for me is a particularly lonely experience. That may come to some as a surprise. You may watch marathons on the TV or stand on the side of the road watching them and think how it’s almost a group event with so many people doing them, the crowds clapping, the colours and the sounds. However, to be on the road for 42.2km is an intensely lonely experience. Talking personally, I very much disappear inside myself, I enter a room in my head and lock myself in and begin to talk to myself. Not in a hairs on the palm of my hand, crazy way, but in a battle of wills kind of way. We all have self-doubt however confident we think we are. In fact I should imagine most of the people we believe are the most confident people in our lives are those that are surrounded by the most self-doubt. Locking yourself in that room is a challenge, although you realise very soon that you’re not quite alone. Your self-doubt is there with you. Wittering away, filling those peaceful serene moments with an ever chattering increasing noise. It’s very much your job to quieten it.
What makes me think the marathon was/is a feat I’d like to complete? Well I suppose it’s pretty much universally held as a great achievement. From the story from Greek mythology of the run from Marathon to Athens, to the present day athletes we see on the TV competing what is billed as the ultimate running challenge. We all want to be recognised for doing great things, we all want something to hang our hats on and maybe we all need one great achievement. Maybe some of us need more. Maybe some of us are never satisfied.
Picking the goal and visualising the achievement is only part of achieving the goal though but in many ways that may well be the hardest part. Or maybe it’s not.
Once the challenge has been picked we then need to develop a certain staying power, the staying power that says, we’ll stick with this however hard it is as we get closer and closer to the point of achievement. The achievement itself and the rewards it brings will be worth it. I don’t know how many people fall by the wayside once they’ve picked a goal, how many people think it’s all a bit too hard but I should imagine there is a fair proportion that do.
But what keeps the others going? To someone like me it may be speaking about the goal, the goal being put into the public domain and linked with my name. I’ve long considered myself someone who likes to be true to their word (whether I achieve this is questionable) and it’s the type of role model that appeals to me. Once I have linked a goal to a public statement it is very hard for me to wriggle out of it.
What makes us believe the reward (especially if we don’t know how it will feel) will be worth it? This has to be purely a leap of faith, a judgement call. I suppose we could base this on how people talk about the achievement after they have it. But isn’t that extremely subjective? What one achievement means to someone is completely different to what it means to someone else. We must form a vision in our heads and in the main part adhere to that thought throughout the process of getting there. Imagine at all times how it will feel to finally reach it.
What does achievement feel like once we’re there? In my opinion, the achievement can rarely feel like what we imagine it to be. If I take the marathon again as my example. After hours and hours of training, and years of building up, upon completion of it, I had the jubilation, the euphoria and in fact I just sat down and cried for over an hour afterwards. I couldn’t really explain what those tears were about, perhaps relief, perhaps the emotional draining a marathon puts your through or perhaps a by-product of the euphoria. I suppose the point is to me, the moment passes fast and although it’s a story we can potentially dine out on for the rest of our lives, it becomes just that. A memory. A story we tell a hundred times, embellish it, make it sound more heroic, make it either sound like we struggled heroically to get there and achieved it or make out it was nothing, it was easy. I feel for most of us the truth lies somewhere in between.
Maybe though there comes a point when we’ve achieved all that we want. And maybe one of life’s greatest challenges is understanding when we’ve got to that point. Understanding we don’t need to set ourselves continuous goals, that we should settle back and enjoy the fruits of our labour.
I envy the people who can be happy with what they have. Who are satisfied with the world around them or have no inclination to seek bigger challenges to outdo the ones they’ve achieved before, because in my eyes, that in itself is the greatest achievement. To be happy and truly appreciate what we already have, what we have achieved and what he hold.
Perhaps reflection is a long lost art. Something we do not give enough time or consideration too. Perhaps we fill our lives with so much noise that it blocks out what is truly important.