Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Strategies and Goals

"Peace in the Valley"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday afternoon I had a conversation with a friend of mine who has been talking with me about establishing a greater “presence” in the social media. As our conversation proceeded, he asked me,  “What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish over the next few years with your blog or podcasts or whatever else you might offer online?”  It was, of course a perfectly legitimate question; but I was surprised by my almost immediate answer: “Honestly, I have no goals and I’m not really interested in devising any long-term strategies for future directions.”

I found a great deal of freedom in my answer.

It’s not as if I am apathetic, listless or lazy about my life. In fact, I appreciate life now more than I ever have before. And it’s not that I have no purpose or direction - it’s just that I have no goals that I want or need to accomplish.

As I had this conversation yesterday I almost immediately called to mind a church that I served some years back. Before I arrived on the scene they were at the tail end of a 10-year strategic plan for growth and development. The plan consisted of a series of year-by year goals to be accomplished and strategies to achieve them. They had spent a great deal of money and endless hours of their time with a hired consultant who had helped them develop these goals and strategies for increasing revenue, developing membership, establishing new opportunities for engaging the neighborhood. It all looked really good on paper.

When I arrived at the church I was given a copy of the now ending 10 year strategic planning report, and I realized that, for the most part almost none of these goals had ever been achieved as planned.

Over the years the neighborhood had changed, the church had changed, society in general had changed- the world was a completely different place than it was 10 years previously. I thought about all the time, energy and money that was essentially wasted on developing these strategies and the inevitable disappointment when year-by year these goals were never met.  It all made me realize that, for the most part, designing what you want the future to look like and then trying to make things turn out the way you want them to turn out is almost always a dead-end exercise in futility.

Priest and author Richard Rohr talks about the wisdom he has gleaned in his later years of life, a wisdom that has abandoned goals and strategies, a wisdom devoid of the constant need to prove himself right and others as wrong,  a wisdom that allows him to live in the moment with all its joyful ambiguity, and to make a difference without ever trying to or even desiring to control the outcomes:

At this stage in my life I no longer have to prove that I am superior.
Quite simply my purpose in life, my desire and effort every day
is to payback, to give back to the world what has been given to me.

I can so identify with these sentiments.

I have no goals or strategies but I do have a clear purpose and a direction in which I travel.  I try to be guided by kindness and compassion, to accept my own failures and forgive the faults of others, to work for justice and for the good of others, to get up every day embracing whatever may bubble up, all the surprises life has to offer - the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I do indeed want to give back what has been given to me, and maybe even to point a way that others may choose to follow.

It seems to me that you don’t have to be in your later years of life to live the freedom of a life without goals and yet filled with purpose.

The psychologist, Erik Erikson, once described wisdom as the ability to be in the present and to:

…enjoy the moon
instead of fighting over whose finger
points to it most accurately, quickly or definitively.

What are my goals, my strategic plans? 

--to enjoy the moon.


  1. You know Paul, I had a hard time with people telling me I must have a goal to fulfill my life. I suspect that that type of goal is a form of control. I resent control. I have never had a pleasant association with a control freak whether it is an organization or another human.

    As Christians there is a goal though and that is to serve each other. I do not regard that in the same way as most goals are understood as you described.

    I also want to peer more deeply into the mystery of Christ. That is a goal. But it is a goal of a different sort.

    I've never had a goal. Both my sons have had goals, both of them achieved them and are successful in their quest. I only wanted all my life to be left alone and not interfered with by the desires of other people with 'good intentions'.

    1. Thanks once again for your great insight