January 2015: Goals are a Set-Up

by Brad on December 31, 2014

“[Tomorrow] is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.” – Ben & Roz Zander, The Art of Possibility

What are your biggest dreams in life? Are they coming true today? I work with people who take these questions seriously. And I overhear hundreds more who seem content just to complain about them. What I find curious, though, no matter the audience, is how they speak of “goals,” statements that invariably describe what they want to “get out of life.” Examples: that perfect relationship, great job, new house, money, promotion, or even that divorce I want done, or annoying boss I want gone from my life. Rarely do I hear what people want to “put into life.” Examples: become the best I can be, serve others with my talents, live in alignment with my dreams. Why does this distinction matter?

Castro Cabin1It seems we favor having things in life over being someone in life, and my experience says it’s because we perceive having things offers us more certainty than being someone. (We search futilely for certainty, in a fundamentally uncertain world, so as to avoid the fear of being vulnerable.) So we set goals … believing that’s how we “get” things. Stop briefly and look at your biggest dreams. If you’re like most, you’ve made plans and/or goals to get what you want, and you’ve used effort and willpower to make them happen. But ask yourself: Does life today match those plans or goals? Why not? Remember the movie, “Up?” It’s not about effort. I think we’re seeing things all wrong.

Goals are a set-up for disappointment, as well as lost potential. Goals come from (then support) the mistaken belief that we can make things turn out. “Turn out” is something that happens in the external world, a world we can’t control. What we do control is our internal world, the world of our thoughts, beliefs, how we use our energy. Although this is the home of our potential and dreams, we rarely look there. So here’s a new take on creating a life you love.

The only thing you have in life is what you put in. In fact, everything you’ve created or received came from what you put in, not what you wanted back. There’s huge possibility in this shift in perspective. What if you didn’t have to get something out? Instead, what if you decided to devote your energy to “being your gift in the world,” using your talents and experience to serve the world in a way that is meaningful to you? Then just keep doing that, no matter what.

True, living this way, you won’t know what comes next or where you’ll end up. Yet it’s pure illusion to believe you can know these things, regardless of your choices. Life is uncertain – by design. Uncertainty makes creation possible. As a matter of fact, no matter how good you are at this, you’re off course 95% of the time. Airplanes and missiles are off course 95% of the time, too. That’s why they have guidance systems. Why would we spend money on a guidance system for a missile, knowing it was going to blow up? Because the missile hasn’t a clue where it is without one! The same is true for you. Great lives don’t come from “making things happen,” but from continually correcting based on what does happen. And that comes from listening to what life tells you, then making choices that return you to your desired path. Listening, learning and making choices are aspects of “being someone,” not “having something.” Goals mean nothing in this world (unless all you want to do is clean your closet.) True knowing, then, comes from felt experience, not from “knowledge.” You gain that by bringing your gifts into the world, then listening (like a guidance system) so you know how it’s going. Your felt experience guides your next steps. (Goals won’t do this.) A great question to keep as a constant companion on your journey is one asked by coach Alan Seale: “What wants to happen here?”

Exercise: Toward a more meaningful (and easier) life. Quickly write down several things you want in life. You’ve known for years what these are, so don’t think a lot here, just write stuff down. Do this before reading on. Now, take a few quiet moments and “listen” to each item, asking: (1) do I get this from the world or do I put this into the world? (House, job, relationship you get from the world; being your talents/gifts you put into the world.) (2) who do I need to be in order to guide my life toward this? Only what you put in to life is sustainable (and invigorates you), because the fuel lives inside you. What you want out of life needs constant feeding from outside, which exhausts you. So, take one step into what matters to you each day. After each step – stop and listen to what the experience tells you. If it brings you closer to your dream, do more of it tomorrow. If it takes you farther away, then choose a different step tomorrow.

A River Runs Through It [Life lessons offered by nature]

Nature’s Story: About 100,000 years ago, an instant in evolutionary time, some brown bears living on North America’s Arctic coasts started to hunt from the edges of the sea instead of from land and rivers alone. Those who succeeded in catching seals from the shore or winter ice extended their range northward. With changing behavior and habitat came changes in biology. Although some changes in nature are cataclysmic, most happens too slowly for us to see or comprehend. The bears most successful at Arctic marine hunting were those with lighter fur, a great adaptation in an all-white environment. Those with longer noses could better snag seals from their breathing holes in the ice. Shorter ears and sticky foot-pads favored living in extreme cold and on ice. Over generations of “stepping into uncertainty,” the polar bear was born. Today’s polar bear is the ultimate Arctic carnivore, so well adapted to life in this hostile environment that the only “heat” showing up on an infrared photograph is its breath!

Nothing inside a brown bear offered previous evidence of the emergence of a polar bear. There was no “goal.” The ecological niche of “ultimate Arctic marine carnivore” was empty at the time – opportunity. Although nature doesn’t envision a specific possibility, she is always poised to step into an uncertain future with new invention.

Brad’s Story: Many years ago, I managed Digital Equipment Corporation’s software publishing business. I’d been an engineer and engineering manager for 15 years, and I didn’t take well to this day-to-day operations role. By most accounts, namely my own, I was the worst plant manager Digital ever had. I remember asking my manager for help. It was tough to admit I needed it, but he responded and I was grateful. His greatest gift wasn’t the help, but the words he said as I left. “Instead of being hard on yourself, you might remember you’re the only one who has ever managed that business who actually knows what’s inside those boxes.” It took a few days, but it finally dawned on me (a shift in perspective). The value of software is not in the books/media we were using back then, but in the information; all my experience up to that time had viewed “information as value.” Opportunity greeted me when I least expected and most needed it. I began to reinvent the business as an information business, not a “putting things in boxes” business. My thinking was freed, invited as I’d been to explore outside the box, literally and figuratively. My work had become both bigger and easier at the same time, too, just by learning to listen to my environment instead of fighting with it.


Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

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  • Photo images from my travels available here on fun products – note cards, coffee mugs – great gift ideas.

An invitation to possibility: This (or any) newsletter could be the basis of a six-month program of personal coaching. So if you read something that evokes a sense of the potential inside you … and have the courage and determination to step apart from the crowd (i.e., challenge conventional thinking so you can live with authenticity and freedom), then contact me for a conversation that can energize your dream. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work and the world – that allows you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month – Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. A daring book about a daring subject – stepping with confidence into the unknown, by accepting your own vulnerability as an opening to possibility. Each one of us experiences vulnerability; the issue is how we respond to the experience. Most of us fear being vulnerable, to the point of discomfort even talking about it. It seems a more poignant topic for women, perhaps only because men deny it. As Brown says, though, it is at the heart of what holds us back from our life potential. If a single topic can be this big in terms of our search for freedom and our dreams, it would seem a worthy (albeit difficult) one to explore. This is a powerful book, well-written, approachable, and even humorous at times. If your life falls even one step below amazing (and whose doesn’t?) this is so worth reading. … And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.

Download January 2015 pdf

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chip Groder January 6, 2015 at 9:24 am

Well said, Brad. As usual. Greetings from northern Alabama.

For what it’s worth, the apostle Paul agrees with you. Philippians 4:10-18 echoes the principles you present perfectly. And the benefits: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Now to apply it to MY life…

— Chip


Lori Pedersen Harrison January 6, 2015 at 10:34 am

Hi Brad…..On being someone.

Loved “January”!!!!
Thank u!

In the silence a few days back… I remembered u had done another of your thought provokers.. So here I’ve been this morning taking it in. Two hours early morning worth…

Always feel that you are writing just to me…which is another of the gifts you have…. Making “us” out here, feel heard…. Gracias.
What DOES happen in life… What wants to happen here Allen Seale
What do unwant in life:

These desires, come from my soul guidance what i give to the world..

Peaace and shear comfort in my mind. Continued healthy body. Inner security. Inspiration, growth and ease.
Insights into creativity.. Clarity A strong, undeniable connection to my self and soul. Living time … Worthwhile

These ‘have to haves’, want to haves, come from the world: Completing my divorce, which lets me get on with  life, my own life.
Building my house, my own, sweet, dear inviting, living,  house. Creating a stunning sustainable garden…
Becoming an, intuitive, life transforming  life coach…

It’s like I’m an artist… I can choose my colors, my size and everything in between, ‘creating’ in the true sense, building, making, opening me to anything. The way in, the only way to anything….is in the silence… Between the words and thoughts…

Giving myself;  putting in the time for this silence of nothingness… Is the paradox to realizing, beckoning forward, the truth of my inner yearnings.

For the first time in months, heck, in my life… I understand how the wondrous possibilities of ‘opening’, and inspiration  can break through the ice of busyness. Only by stopping…. the push, the pull, the haveto, the why nots,  the I want it now…
🙂  lopsided smile…. Huh! Like that…. 

In the silence hear the life song.

***** Emergence,  opportunity: 
‘Although nature doesn’t envision a specific possibility, she is always poised to step into an uncertain future with new invention’
This, this, this profound reinvention after our recent hurricane; undaunted by the beating, the devastation…. just beginning again… seemingly stronger and more alive than ever before… was the nudge toward new life, creation… Ma nature full on…. Undaunted, unhurried, unworried…

Your ‘freed’ thinking…. As plant manager, thinking inside and outside the box…. (Figuratively).   “Aha” at its very best.
Listening instead of fighting..

” natural feedback – can guide you far more reliably than any plan or goal…” Sooo, I’m Just listening…

With sincere wonder and gratitude…. You have guided me through some tough crevaces…Theses extraordinarily painful past 6 months….. Giving way to answers, openings, growth and facing all the uninvited shadow part .. sidekicks,
The edges, thankfully, are not quite so crunchy these days…

Hugest of hugs…


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