I think there is something to be said for just “chilling out”; that is, relax and let life happen. My late wife was fond of telling me, “Relax and smell the roses,” but I was always much too busy trying to meet a goal of one sort or another. Goals are inevitably terminal by design. Once accomplished (or unrealized) we move on to set others. Goals proliferate, but occasionally the unexpected happens rendering all our goals insignificant in the face of some life-changing event.
Every goal-oriented person has at least four general periods in which time-sensitive goals are set, whether s/he knows it or not. Quotidian goals are activities that open or mark a given day. For example, most of us set goals for ourselves to meet in our daily routine: such things as a healthy breakfast, socially acceptable hygiene, personal appearance, and on-time arrival at obligations, or job interview. Goals such as these are almost the basic minimum for successful living in community. It would not be easy to eliminate them.
Many of us set short-range goals for ourselves to accomplish in the near-time frame. For example, one becomes dissatisfied with one’s job and starts looking for another, or we decide we want new living accommodations and look for another space. Neither of these is achievable overnight but as short-term goals they might occupy us for weeks, if not months. Short-term goals are part of life’s inevitable change but they also upset our set routines.
Many of us also set long-range goals for ourselves that take years and a lot of work to accomplish, such as working toward college graduation or completing graduate school, or perhaps one wants to make a trip abroad, something that cannot be done in the near-term but by laying money aside and planning we might just be able to swing a vacation on that Greek island of our dreams at some point in the future. Long-term goals usually involve setting many short-term plans that must be met first.
Strategic goals, on the other hand, are something quite different. They come near the end of life and constitute something we have been planning all our lives. Likely the achieving of these goals will only become evident in retrospect. For example, the goal of having a comfortable retirement involves the realization of a great number of other objectives throughout life that require planning as well: what will my final annual retirement annuity be, what will be the amount of my savings upon retirement, will my investments be secure and prosper? A strategic goal is something that one will fret over all through one’s working years.
At some point, given time, we will also ponder our personal mortality. Another strategic goal, expressed here in the most general way, is the hope that we will be found to have satisfied the standards of the considerable powers of the universe with the time we were given. Some of us orient our lives around preparing for that moment of the “dying of the light”—others not so much. It is reported that even Jesus pondered his own mortality before his death (Mark 14:32-42), and the experience was greatly distressing and troubling to him (Mark 14:33-34).1 According to Mark, he acquiesced, by accepting the inevitability of the moment. It is a rational act to accept the inevitably of one’s death. Nevertheless, that does not mean we cannot still “rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”2
My point in this odd essay is that if we are ambitious, goals are an inevitable part of life, and so is the end of life. Having too many goals, and the commitments they entail, can clutter our living with immeasurable minutiae, excessive pressure, and a great deal of time expenditure. Such a heavy investment of time may cause us to miss the wonder of Being altogether. So, find a way to relax, smell the roses, and chill out!
Here are three stanzas of a poem that is not writ in any book (perhaps wisely so). They express my own frustrations some years ago when I was feeling the pressure of too many irons in the fires of my own goal making. It seems obvious that I had too much on my plate.
Blessed be Free-Spaces
who bestow sanity and peace,
And Holy Passages-Between,
Who grants surcease
From demanding Musts
that loudly fill Silence
With shrill dis-ease,
Cursed be Duty and Decorum,
Twin Nemesis of Ease,
Those who plunder the House of Idleness
With loathsome and irritating Demands,
Omnivorous, crude, belching Time-Eaters,
Who forage in the Holidays
On Leisure and Repose.
Curse thee, we curse thee, we curse thee.
Oh, Blissful Solitude,
Irenic eye of Charybdis!
Bless us with Hiatus;
Seal us with infinite Vacuity.
From Thrall we seek release.
She of the Ireful-Eye,
Chief Guard of Servitude.
Missouri State University
1Mark composed the story, inventing its dialogue, but there is a kernel of history at its core as a second witness attests (Heb 5:7).
2Dylan Thomas, “Do not go Gentle into that Good Night.”