Jan 10, 2013 0 Share

Letting Go of Goals

Blackboard with "Mistakes in Setting Goals" and post-it notes on it.

If you're anything like me, you get a little apprehensive when you hear people make statements such as, “I've given up on setting goals,” or, “I'm not making any New Year's resolutions this year.” Life without goals can seem like a kind of anarchy, and I crave order and consistency. In fact, when I served as a caregiver for adults with special needs such as autism, I assisted people in accomplishing their goals every day. I signed off countless goal checklists, as required by Medicaid. And later, I stepped into a role that involved creating those same goal templates. In short, I was immersed in the goal-setting efforts of others. Yet even as I typed up the checklists, I felt that these documents didn't make room for the nuanced reality of caring for a specific human being whose needs would vary from day to day. The data sheets seemed to suggest that, if you could simply sign off on every box, you'd have ensured a “successful” day for the individuals you supported. And in my heart, I knew that that wasn't true. 

Individual support plans (ISPs) have come a long way, and they do have their place. It's vital that we empower and support individuals with autism to achieve outcomes that are essential to their health and well-being.  However, as the New Year begins, I've been considering the benefits of letting go of goals. I've come to see that there's a difference between prioritizing and organization (both of which are key to caregiving), and having an entirely goal-directed mentality. In fact, it's ironic that success in the “caregiving” field is often measured by goal achievement. And as a newbie caregiver, I fell into this trap. I wanted to prove myself, so I tended to view my caregiving routines through a “let's-get-things-done” lens. However, as I continued in my role, the people I worked with helped me to see differently. They led by example, teaching me to slow down and notice small delights. They showed me that I could let go of expectations and still accomplish my tasks for the day. They made me laugh and take myself less seriously. They showed me that love for oneself and others is a much more powerful motivator than any goal sheet.  

When I transitioned from non-profit management to self-employment, though, those valuable lessons started slipping away. I set numerous, ambitious goals to get my writing business off the ground. I worked on my goals every day, and I reaped the rewards of that consistency. Yet as 2012 drew to a close, I found myself stuck in a goal-directed mindset. I love working from home, but it can be difficult to flip the “off” switch. As such, I had some trouble relaxing into the holidays. After all, I wouldn't move closer to my goals if I took “too much” time off. Almost in spite of myself, I found that I needed a break from goals. I needed to get back to the lessons I'd learned as a caregiver. 

I believe that our fixation on goals and “getting things done” can be dangerous to ourselves and those in our care. We can run ourselves into the ground trying to achieve our goals and support others in achieving theirs, or we can work together with the knowledge that we are enough, just as we are. We are human. It's all right to rest when we are tired, to ask for help, to change course. 

This year, I want to practice attending to the present moment, caring for myself and others as needs arise. I want to act with compassion, and give credit for small victories. And even as I work toward desired outcomes, I want to remember that what matters most cannot be measured or charted.