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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Goals and Prioritising + and Living Meaningfully

What are your goals for this next 12 months? (Is that a question you ever ask yourself?)

It’s a question I ask myself a lot—in various forms/time-lines. In fact, I am willing to entertain the possibility that I just may be too Type-A/task-driven ;).   I make goals for what I want to do on that particular day (or in that particular 50-minute period) and I usually also have a ~7 day, ~3 month, ~12 month, and ~3 year list of to-dos/goals either pinned to my bulletin board or just floating around somewhere in my mind. I feel immensely more calm when I have some sort of plan—preferably written out in a spreadsheet with colour-coding and hyperlinks J. I really like having a sense of where I might head, even if past experience has shown me that that almost always changes.

Now, I’m about to go to India for approximately one year of fieldwork (focused on interreligious relations and based at an ashram.) And, now knowing this ^ about my goal-orientedness, you can appreciate my feelings of chaos when the ashram estate manager informed me “you can come and stay for 2-3 months, but after that let’s see.” I felt like I was treading water and a big wave splashed me in the face; I gasped and choked a little bit.

At present, I plan to be in India for ~11 months. How was I to cope with this “stay for 2-3 months and then we’ll see”? If I wasn’t going to remain at that place, I wanted to at least write down on a piece of colour-coded paper where I thought I’d be for the remaining months.

And so, my type-A brain is doing the next-best thing. I am planning not WHERE I want to be for the next 12 months, but WHO I want to be. Another way of conceptualising this has been: what do I want to get out of the next 12 months? Yet another way has been: what do I want to focus my energy on and contribute to during the next 12 months?

Who do you want to be (or, perhaps, to become) in the next 12 months? (Is that a question you ever ask yourself?)

I continue to ask these sorts of questions while preparing to head to India because, over my multiple trips to India in the past ~4 years, India has become a place where I have allowed myself to explore these questions in a very real way. Of course, I pose them in other places too, but I seem to pose them especially whilst out of my "regular" routine--and a lot of this has happened to be in India.

Evening aarti on the Ganges river in Varanasi

I think these are important questions to think through. (And so I’ve made a list and colour coded them.) Just kidding. Or am I?

Here are some of the things I want to spend my time doing. (And yes, I note they are still in the form of a to-do list. You can’t completely strip me of my organisational tendencies..)

- learn Hindi
- try to play an Indian classical instrument. Maybe the sarod.
- be happy
- be involved in the community I find myself in
- gather enough data to write a good PhD thesis
- don't become consumed by getting enough data to write a good PhD thesis
- sketch and draw
- meditate lots
- learn to record good audio (my own songs? Bhakti bhajans?)
- become better at video shooting and editing; make short videos about life in the ashram and life in india
- live simply and sustainably (maybe get involved with some community-kitchen projects, or agriculture)
- appreciate small things; say ‘thank you’ more often
- become less judgmental and more compassionate
- learn local ways of doing things (sewing? agriculture? cooking?) that I do not currently know
- learn what people outside of academia think about God/religion/interreligious relations
- practice communicating my thoughts on ^ for people inside and outside of academia
- spend time outdoors; go hiking
- write poetry
- find creative ways to enter [non-academic] discussions about what it means to live meaningfully
- learn more about who/what God is

Sunshine in Croatia

Of course I do realise that some of these are a bit more ambiguous than others are…

Broadly speaking, I find that, all too readily, I become stressed out about planning details and striving for goals that—in the grand scheme of things—don’t really matter all that much. For example, writing my PhD thesis: this is a good and admirable goal, and I intend to focus on content that I think is important for a number of reasons…but as soon as this particular goal takes over my ability to be a loving friend/family member, a kind neighbour, or a compassionate stranger, I think I have to seriously question whether I have my priorities straight.

This is difficult because, for the most part, we live in societies that are career/results-driven. At least in my experience, careers (and steps towards improving our careers) are the one thing that people are almost bound to congratulate others on.

I had a sort-of “aha!” moment in this regard when I was accepted for my PhD. Around the same time, a friend of mine (who is extremely intelligent and could certainly have gone on to do a PhD had she wanted to) decided to take a short-term contract position. At this same time, she also chose to put off any imminent plan of doing a PhD so that she and her husband could start their family without worrying about PhD stresses. People congratulated me on my PhD. And people congratulated her on her contract work. But a number of people asked her why she wasn’t doing a PhD, and I think very few (if any) congratulated her on her decision to devote her time and energy to her future-kids, to her marriage, and to all the other ways she was now able to volunteer within her community.  Why is this?

Why is it that we automatically congratulate and praise things associated with “measurable intelligence” and (presumably) pay-checks, but we rarely think to congratulate or praise people who have chosen to live in a way that leaves a small carbon footprint, or who grow their own vegetables, or who volunteer at the soup kitchen, or who do any number of other things that are inarguable examples of love for their community around them and/or for the world in which we live.

Rocks and rivers in Vancouver, Canada

Priorities change with opportunities, and this is inexorably wrapped up in priviledge. I recognise that, and I recognise that I'm not addressing that here. But, with the opportunities (and yes, the priviledges and Priviledge) that I have, I think I must seriously question whether I am using my time, energies, and passion well. Am I choosing to live in ways that grow me into a more loving and compassionate person? Am I choosing things that make me happy---and doing so in a way that does not abuse or hurt others--rather than choosing things that make me (in the eyes of some) "successful"? What might our world look like if we all strived to become more focused on love, compassion, and service to others rather than on success, prestige, and wealth? (I've written out some thoughts on a related topic here)

All this to say, I want to keep my priorities in check. And I want to be someone whose schedule and goals reflects their theoretical priorities. And I want to be someone who tries to praise and encourage others who engage in intentional acts of loving kindness. How about you, who/what do you want to be? As always, feel free to comment below or PM me. 

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