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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  • Reply Kara 30 January, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Wow, great post!!!! I can relate in a similar way. Totally agree!

  • Reply Sharon Rawlette 30 January, 2014 at 8:33 am

    I totally agree!

  • Reply James Hoddinott 30 January, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Great Post

  • Reply JD 30 January, 2014 at 10:00 am

    That be me. I feel so much better. I feel like if I don’t have my calendar full of appointments or tasks, I’m wasting my life or something like that.

    I just want to relax, play with my cats, and read books. Is that so bad?

  • Reply Catherine North 30 January, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I completely relate to this!

    My former boss asked me what my 5-year plan was, and I think I just stared at him stupidly, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. 🙂

    It’s so great to know that other people feel the same way.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 30 January, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Hahahahaha! Sometimes I think I could make a professional career out of being the rabbit caught in the headlights 🙂

      • Reply Smoph 3 February, 2014 at 11:23 pm

        I hate that question. Who knows what the next 5 years holds?

  • Reply E.K. Carmel 31 January, 2014 at 4:41 am

    This is so true.

    Every time I try to set some future goal, it’s like my subconscious actively works against it. It’s weird. Don’t get me wrong, I have goals, but they’re general and usually hinge on whether they *feel* right to me. I don’t examine the big picture too closely, but focus more on the steps in front of me.

    Thank you. Excellent post!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 31 January, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Yes, yes, yes! I think many writers are emotional intuitives and things have to FEEL right to us before we can work toward them. And a lot of the time we can’t explain our feelings in words (even though we’re writers!).

  • Reply Lisa Brown 31 January, 2014 at 6:32 am

    This was awesome and so very, very true.

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 31 January, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Amen, Lauren. Although I have many things scheduled in my life, I just can’t get into scheduling everything. To me it’s micro-managing and that means nothing is spontaneous. That sounds like a loss of control to me.

  • Reply Robyn LaRue 31 January, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I have a 5 year plan (at the request of my boss and mentor), but focusing on each day seems better for me in terms of actually reaching pub goals. I hate being hemmed in or constrained.

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 2 February, 2014 at 12:25 am

    As you get older there is a contradictory tendency to feel you must pack stuff in before time runs out, and an easing up of long term goals as you realise there is less of the long-term to worry about. There’s an old-fashioned comic poem by Joyce Grenfell titled Time, (about fourth down on this page http://www.geocities.jp/todok_tosen/todok/shadow/englishpoem.html) which gets this perfectly.

  • Reply Jan Doncom 3 February, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Great post, thank you. I know that I have an unhealthy need for outside validation which often leads me to doing what I think will please or impress others, rather than what I want to do.

    Who owns our life, in the end?

  • Reply Smoph 3 February, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Great post. I agree Lauren. I find my writing and ideas have been teeming since starting a new life adventure.

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