Are you chasing your goal, or just running?

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

If you have a cat or a dog, and you observe them closely, you have probably noticed that they are in a near-constant state of calm alertness – and then, with their energy fully-focused, something grabs their absolute attention.

In other words, it is almost as if our domestic pets are on some kind of pilot-light, waiting to be fully turned on.

And then it happens, they are either fully on – or fully off.

Humans are rarely like that.

Most people I know or observe, flit between zoning and high anxiety, between avoidance and obsession, between sluggish escape and near frenzied mania.

Along with this, most people I know have trouble sleeping.

In other words, most people I know, and observe in public, are not “on” or “off” – they are not working or resting; they are in a near-constant state of unsettled, unproductive, and certainly not restful, precarious wavering.

To put it mildly, this is a recipe for stress. And stress is killing us – far more than any weapon, disease or vehicle.

Way back in the early 1990s, the book Flow: FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( explored the essence of this idea.

The premise was perhaps as obvious as it was revolutionary – when we find ourselves fully absorbed in any meaningful activity–be it intellectual, physical, artistic or spiritual, we quickly reach a point where we can “forget” ourselves, only to reemerge from such an experience feeling even more fully ourselves.

Work can be creative, restorative, even fulfilling. But it can also be all-consuming and wearying beyond description.

Even vacations and time off can become mind-numbing.

Our problem is that, especially thanks to our loved (and hated) technology, we have forgotten how to make a distinction between the two. We have forgotten that there even IS a distinction between the two.

It is not that we work so hard, but that we find so little meaning or identity in it so much of the time. And it is all too easy to find ourselves isolated.

One set of questions to ask is, where does our deep gladness, the world’s great need and our community of friends to help shoulder the burden intersect?

What is something we would love to do – paid or not – and what is something the world desperately needs – and who can we join together with to make it happen?

If we can find the living, active answers to these questions, we are on the way out of discouragement, burn out and depression and on our way to lasting fulfillment.

In a world packed with “life-hacks”, obligations and where it seems that everyone has – or should have – a “side-hustle” perhaps there is nothing more important than doing something just because you like to do it.

Remember hobbies? Remember a time when people did things purely for the fun of doing it?

Here’s an article to remind you of the pure delight of not being necessarily productive –

The irony though, is that the more we “lose” ourselves in our hobbies, the more likely we are to be more productive in our work, find more satisfaction in our relationships and even live healthier lives.

The opposite is also true; those with a shorter horizon, who obsess relentlessly on their own concerns, ailments and fears become ever more alienated from others and tend to spiral into depression if not self-destructiveness.

Ever notice what inspires kids to do things we might consider "work"? Almost anything - just the opportunity to experience life is a nearly unquenchable motivation.     	   Photo: Morf Morford
Ever notice what inspires kids to do things we might consider “work”? Almost anything – just the opportunity to experience life is a nearly unquenchable motivation. Photo: Morf Morford

No matter how “good” the economy might look right now, for a far truer “economic indicator”, how would you grade the life and work schedules of those you know?

How satisfying is the work most of us do in a typical day? I must admit that the vast majority of people I encounter in a typical day strike me as weary; not just tired, but bearing a sense of weariness from long hours at work, perhaps more than one job and demands at home that run the gamut from health issues to child care.

According to a recent study by Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning and Progress, U.S. adults (over 18) report having an average of $29,800 in personal debt, exclusive of mortgages. They also found that 15% of Americans believe they’ll be in debt for the rest of their lives.

A few other results of their research;

On average, over one-third (34%) of people’s monthly income goes toward paying off debt

45% of Americans say debt makes them feel anxiety on at least a monthly basis

35% report feeling guilt at least monthly as a result of the debt they’re carrying

One in five (20%) report that debt makes them feel physically ill at least once a month –

Oddly enough, despite the prolonged U.S. economic recovery over the last 10 years, American optimism has remained essentially flat since 2009. Among adults age 35 and older, their study also found:

Just over half (54%) agree the American Dream is attainable for most Americans. That’s down slightly from 58% in 2009.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) believe a person can accomplish anything if they put their mind to it, but confidence was higher in 2009 when 82% said the same.

Two-thirds (65%) believe they will get to where they want to be in life, which is flat to the 65% who said the same in 2009.

A little more than one-third (36%) believe the U.S. is generally headed in the right direction, which is an uptick from the 27% who said the same in 2009. But 44% feel the U.S. is not headed in the right direction, which is slightly more than the 40% who said the same 10 years ago.

It is not just those who work at near minimum wage jobs who struggle with finding meaning, purpose and motivation.

Even celebrities or those with what might be called “dream jobs” suffer from the gap between expectations and daily reality.

For an insightful – and perhaps harrowing – analysis of the mental toll of the modern workplace (and pace), I suggest this article:

It turns out that monetary or even career “success” are not that high of a priority for most of us.

In fact, Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning and Progress study revealed that the attributes that best fit people’s definition of success continue to favor relationships, health and lifestyle over material, career and wealth. The most popular attributes in 2019 were:

(Tie) “Spending quality time with family”

(Tie) “Being Healthy”

“Having a good relationship with your spouse or partner”

“Being financially prepared for the future”

“Having a good work/life balance”

“Being a good parent”

Life/work balance has lost favor as a workplace topic of conversation.

Economists talk of ROI and profit and loss statements, but the ultimate “bottom line” is never a number. It is who, and what, we really care about.  (1*)