Runs & Tumbles
Why I stopped setting goals and started running & tumbling
I stopped setting medium-to-long term goals in 2020. It was among my best decisions.
Goals are “the end toward which effort is directed.” They require a definition of “the end.” And some measure of effort. They are a prediction of the future. Arbitrary and riddled with assumptions about the state between now and the end. Some level of consistency. Predictability.
Goals place the setter in default until they are reached. They constrain future possibilities. And thwart productive directions that are at odds with reaching the goal. This is not a good thing.
What happens along the way? Many goals become obsolete during pursuit, often due to external factors. Maybe the time was right then but isn’t now. Who reaches a goal? Is it the same person that set the goal? Or a different self—one changed by the journey.
Goals are fleeting. The idea that we’ll be able to finally relax when our goals are reached is seductive. This never happens. One goal is replaced by another. A cycle refreshed. Goals are used as motivation. As if somehow without a goal there would be no motivation to do anything. These goals are not targets, but looming mountains casting shadows on daily equanimity.
Instead of setting goals I’ve started thinking about runs & tumbles, inspired by classic flagellar locomotion in bacteria. Often, there’s a sense of the direction to traverse in our personal or professional lives. What’s over there isn’t always clear—what we’ll find, who we’ll meet, who we’ll be. Most of the time the path to get there, from here, is murky. But it is never straight. It’s a series of runs & tumbles.
Runs are brief periods of effort in a general direction. The start and end are well-defined, but not rigid. The tumble comes after the run. The effort stops. And a chance to evaluate the next move emerges. Influenced by—but not dependent on—the preceding run. Tumbles can arise unpredictably. Sometimes at seemingly exactly the wrong time. Or is that when they’re needed the most?
Too often we’re so busy stringing goals together that the importance of tumbling is overlooked. A time to pause and look around. A chance to recover. To reflect. Adjust, and run again. To be open to possibilities of an ever-changing landscape.
Changing my perspective to think in terms of runs & tumbles has resulted in less stress. More productivity. Goals fostered feelings of inadequacy. Runs & tumbles help me work within the ebb and flow. Hopefully the same is true for you.
Thanks for reading Un-Cultured! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.