Working towards Goals
Sometimes in life, it is fine to muddle through, to relax and to cruise, but there are certain points when one needs to take control. Part of taking control means knowing where you are headed. There is a lot of material written on the psychology of goal setting and this is not the place to go into the pros and cons. The methodology is usually fairly simple for setting goals and as long as you can muster up enough drive, and commit to working towards them, you will most likely be able to achieve them.
However, working towards goals is just one mechanism and may only work for individuals who are naturally determined. To really make a positive and lasting change it is crucial to orient your future. I have in other places on this blog talked about believing in the future, but this post will be about building on a past story to create a narrative which will help structure your life.
Ambitions of a Younger Man
Just over ten years ago I was fortunate enough to travel around Central America in the company of a group of splendid people. We had originally gone as part of a teaching English course in the small town of Esteli in Nicaragua. Following the course, my friend Pete and I travelled up to Cancun in Mexico. It was during these travels that I had a set of gradual realisations about what direction I would like my life to take.
We happened to be in Guatemala whilst there were some political elections going on and I noticed that every politician grinning from the roadside billboards was lighter skinned, almost Caucasian. At the same time, most of the homeless and street children were of indigenous race. The rest of the people who made up Guatemalan society seemed to be ethnically in between. Something about this societal situation just did not sit well with the younger me.
I was also moved by the plight of street children and I reflected on my relative privilege. The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to dedicate my life towards working against social injustice. I became caught up in myself, it all seemed so possible, felt so right. I would go back to university, I would finish my degree and come back to Latin America to set up a charity offering meals and accommodation to homeless children.
Creating a Narrative
On my return to the UK, I told and retold this story, to anybody who would listen. I usually accompanied it by the fact that all of these realisations came together at once during a trek up a volcano. This slight elaboration gave it the extra interest and it became my future driving story. I made decisions about which societies and social clubs to join based on this story and the ideas hanging off it; I was now dedicating my life to social change and the improvement of those in the world less fortunate than myself. I had a cause and was collecting contacts which reinforced those aspects of my personality.
As we choose to interact with friends and associates we set up a social mould for ourselves. People share their stories on the basis of what interests those around them. By scouring one’s past for defining events and telling these stories to new people (and retelling old friends) it is possible to gradually construct a new defining narrative about yourself. By internalising the positive aspects of stories from your past you can strengthen your own perspective and empower aspects of your personality as you see fit. Little by little, other people will get used to the changing you. At the same time, you will learn to capitalize on people noticing these changes.
Goals are useful but using past ambition is a more compelling way to figure out your way forwards. Creating a narrative from your own stories and subtly bolstering this through interactions with other people is a solid and stable way to orient your future.