Going with the flow?

Going with the flow?

Published February 8, 2023
Individuals have dreams to pursue and companies have missions to fulfill. We hear about people talking about their goals all the time, for athletes it could be grinding hard to win the championship, for entrepreneurs it could be eating the glass to build a multibillion business, for artists it could be practicing purposefully to create a master piece of art. Despite common terms like OKR, KPI, or SMART Goals are widely seen in the enterprise world, how many of us actually take the initiative to define goals with concrete plan to follow on our own? It turns out not that many. So, what’s it really like to ride the wave without definite goals to reach?
On the one hand, it’s quite seductive as we’ll be free from obligations to achieve something, including the pain and stress come along with it. We’ll go with the flow, riding the momentum of whatever we're already doing and whatever we stumble across. Bear all the uncertainties in life, there’s probably nothing wrong with it, besides you can barely tell where you’ll land. There’ll be distractions constantly race for your attention and spark the fear of missing out interesting news, friends’ social media posts, most popular tv shows or whatever. We’ll crave more wealth, pleasure and experiences and think “more is better” due to hedonistic adaptations. We may occasionally feel guilty about drowning into overindulgence and want to fight back until we realize that exhausting willpower isn’t usually a good idea. Life may seem content and pleasant on the surface, but there’s the stake of collapsing due to a lack of meaning.
On the other hand, unless you’re the single person on earth or you live in solitary, you’re not free from environmental influence. If you don’t define goals and priorities yourself, someone else will do that for you. Just as teacher rewards students with good grades and manager promotes employee with high performance, your parents are likely to have their expectations on you and treat your disobedience unfavorable. As a result, you’re asked to sacrifice hobbies for skills deemed useful, you’re taught to dismiss curiosity and interests for matters deemed important, you’re allured to trade meaningful time with family and friends for work deemed ethical. Since no one really knows what you want besides yourself, others best bet is to put a hat on you that meets the society standard, regardless whether you like that hat or not. Until you developed a firm center from inside out, the environment and other external factors will be a constant force attempting to shape you.
It was also my own experience. I have a rough image of what kind of person I want to become, besides I don’t have any plan to execute or timeline to measure progress. I vividly imagine that I may gradually become whom I want to be as if it just takes time, but wandering without direction leads to nowhere. Without surprise, I got buried under the burdens of work and forgot about my intention of growth. It was only when I was forced to stop and in retrospect, I suddenly realize that I completely went off the rails, rushing into repetitive tasks without sense of growth, chasing shiny new technology without sense of sharpening the craft, draining energy on fruitless debate without sense of priority, none of what I was doing matters in terms of whom I want to become. And it’s the definition of insanity to hope for a different result by continuing doing the same thing that didn’t work.
Goals and planning are vulnerable to life’s chaos monkey and our values will inevitably shift over the time, so it’s important to be pliable and devise them accordingly. It’s not easy, why not discard it completely to fully embrace the randomness of life? Because life isn’t meant to be easy. There’s no life manual when we born, to write the script for yourself, you need to be curious about it first, along with conscious effort to never stop exploring yourself, and that can’t be as easy as going with the flow unfortunately…