Why Creative People Should Stop Setting Goals, and Focus on Self-Discovery Instead

John SteinbeckI have a confession to make.

I give tons of advice to people about what next step to take, how to start (or finish) a novel, and why they should connect with their core values to find their purpose. But in spite of all that, I still guard my own secret…

I don’t all the time know what I’m doing with my life.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? But I’ve fielded many panicky phone calls, and desperate emails, from people who needed to reveal that exact same scary thing to me.

The truth is that there are a lot of people out there who do not know what they are doing with their life. There are more people who don’t have a five-year plan. And some of us have never even signed up for a webinar on goal-setting and how to increase our productivity.

I’m being sarcastic of course, but my point is that we live in a culture that emphasizes high achievement, long work hours, and rigorous production schedules. I’ve had job interviews in which I was asked about my five-year plan and the only answer I could think of was, “My plan is to grow into the person I will be in five years.” This, however, is not the answer the corporate world is looking for. And so instead I came up with an answer that amounted to lot of bullshit that sounded good and meant nothing.

When you focus on what you “should be” achieving in life in order to impress other people you will most likely end up with a lot of bullshit that sounds good, and means nothing.

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing with your life. In fact, the less rigid you are about achieving things to make you appear impressive to others, the more freedom you will have to grow and expand naturally. Because your attachment to a certain image, or hitting certain milestones, won’t hold you so strongly, you’ll have more slack in the line to play around creatively. You’ll feel more comfortable taking the time and space you need to figure out what it is that you actually want.

Most highly creative people tend to switch things up quite a bit during the course of their lives. Some of us move from job to job, some of us do the nomad thing for years because we hate settling down in one place. Some of us don’t really ever want to get married, preferring to engage in unique relationships with different partners. All of these things go against the grain of the normal ladder-of-achievement that says you go to school, you get a job, you get married, you buy a house, you get a promotion, and on and on and on until you die.

If you find the ladder-of-achievement helpful to you at particular points in your life, that’s great. But most highly creative people feel smothered and stifled by the ladder and would rather build their own set of stairs.

When you’re building your own way up into your dreams, you will hit many steps that you never imagined in the planning stages. Don’t worry, everything’s cool. You are exactly where you need to be.

Toss the five-year plan and instead, concentrate on the step of the moment.

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