Monday, January 17, 2022

Letting Go of the Myth of Progress

 

Me in the Kitchen

I was meeting recently with some friends on Zoom. Because of the latest Omicron wave of the pandemic, so much of our social life has gone back to virtual meetings for the time being, and the topic we were discussing was what our goals and dreams for the future were, once this Omicron wave subsides. I thought it was a fitting topic for the beginning of January, when so many of us set goals for the upcoming year.

I used to be one of those people. Although I didn't make New Year's resolutions per se, at the beginning of each year I typically took some time to review the past year's life events and accomplishments, and then wrote up a series of goals for the upcoming year. 

In true Type-A fashion, these were not vague wish statements such as: "I hope to exercise a little more this year." No indeed. I wrote out goals that were specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely, or SMART goals. Examples of this type of goal is: "I will walk for a minimum of 20 minutes a day, 6 days per week." Or, I will sustain an average of 9,000 steps per day each week."*

My goal list usually consisted of 5-7 main categories, each broken down into subcategories, with goal statements under those. For example, the categories might be: Work, Health, Creativity, Social Life, Family, and Travel. Under Health, I might have subcategories such as Fitness, Food, and Work-Life Balance, and then under each one of those, I would develop SMART goals, often with associated timelines. I have written about this goal-setting process and some of the stumbling blocks here

A Sunny Day at Mount Washington
 

So, anyways, when I was thinking about our discussion question in advance before meeting on Zoom, I was stumped. I had set no goals for 2022. I felt no desire to set goals for 2022. Was it because the past two years taught me that there is no point in setting goals, because as soon as we make a plan for travel or to get together with friends and family, another wave of COVID comes along with new public health restrictions that kibosh everything?

No, I am still a great believer in goals and plans. I would not have had the interesting life I've had if I'd been goalless throughout my life.

I used to visualize my life as a trek up a mountain. Each time I reached a summit, I would see another peak appear in front of me, and then I'd shift my aim to reach that next peak. My life was a life of endless striving, always going for the next big thing. My personal myth of progress.

Notice the past tense. Now that I've retired, have I given up? Am I just sitting here waiting for death? Certainly, in my younger years, that was how I dichotomized it -- move forward making progress, or sit still and fail/die. 

Abby with Stick
As I've settled into retirement, I've come to see a number of things quite differently. For example, I've stepped away from the academic life, which in the first few years of retirement included doing research, giving talks, publishing, reviewing manuscripts, and supervising students. It's time. I don't miss it. And I don't feel like less of a person because I'm no longer striving toward that next scholarly peak or adding another line to my CV. I climbed that mountain and now it's behind me.

I have been sitting with something Rob said to me. "Why are you always wanting to rush off somewhere else? We live in a beautiful part of the world in a perfectly nice house. Can't you just be content to stay here and enjoy what we have?"

His comments lay bare my myth of progress. If I always have my sights set on the next destination (summit, accomplishment, goal completion), do I even have time to notice where I am right now? That is Zen wisdom, to live in the moment, because the moment is all we really have. 

So I said to my Zoom friends, "I didn't set goals for the year. I think I'm letting go of striving and the myth of progress."

But does a leopard change its spots? Maybe the real truth of it is that work obligations used to suck up most of my waking hours. Now that I'm retired and able to spend time walking trails every day with Abby, cooking healthy meals, sleeping enough, spending time with friends and family, hanging out with Rob, writing, skiing, painting, doing yoga, and so on (and hopefully travelling again soon), I actually have the life I always wanted. I don't have to set goals to get here. I'm here.

Christmas 2021 Photos 

One brother and all three of my kids were here with their families for Christmas this year, and we had a wonderful time together. The good life.


With Daughters

Christmas Dinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandson

Son and his Fiancee


 ***

* Why 9,000 rather than 10,000 steps a day? Because I had read a research article somewhere that evaluated whether the popular press had settled on 10,000 steps because it was a nice round number or because there was research evidence that 10,000 steps was, in fact, the best daily walking target for most people. The conclusion of the article was that, for most people, any increase in daily steps yielded health benefits, and specifically for women over 60, an average of 9,000 steps per day yielded the optimum health gain for the time spent (with daily steps beyond 9,000 still beneficial, but at a diminishing rate).

23 comments:

  1. There is much wisdom in this post, Judith. Rob is right. You live in an amazingly beautiful place. You have worked hard for this life. Time to enjoy it!

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    1. Thanks Donna. I have to pinch myself sometimes that we ended up here on Vancouver Island. It was a great choice as a place to retire, and thank you for nudging me in this direction when we first met in person five years ago.

      Jude

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    2. My pleasure! I'm super glad that you are here!

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  2. Excellent post. Have you changed your blog host?

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    1. Thanks Bea. No, I have not. Did you have trouble logging in?

      Jude

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  3. Love this! As a fellow type A striver, I think there is such wisdom in learning to appreciate what we have, and not only focus on what's next! Here's to contentment!

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    1. Hi Nura. I have learned so much from you at our weekly yoga sessions. I love the meditative part of our practice and the teachings you share with us.

      Jude

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  4. 20,000 steps today. (My own fault - I got Donna and I lost on a hike today.) Does this mean I can take the rest of the week off? ;-)


    All kidding aside - Excellent post, Jude. Thank you for this.

    Deb

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    1. Hi Deb. 20,000 steps - wow! I’d say that it’s time to hibernate for a day or two. I don’t have a wearable fitness device anymore, and my phone does a lousy job of counting steps, so I never know how many steps I get per day, although I’m quite sure I don’t get anything close to 20,000, ever.

      Jude

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  5. I taught 31 years and while I loved my career, retirement has been a time for me to try new things that I never seemed to have time for before. My wife was also a career educator. Five years into retirement, and the bubble still hasn't burst. Keep enjoying life. How great that you got to spend Christmas with your family. Do they all live close to you?

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    1. Hi Pete. I loved my career as a university professor too, so much so that it was a very hard decision for me to retire. But it turns out to have been a great decision, and timely. My three kids live relatively close by, but Rob’s two are 500 and 750 miles away, respectively. This year, due to flood damaged highways and a heavy snowfall, we made the decision to stay close to home for Christmas.

      Jude

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  6. I think that Rob said a very wise thing to you... something that many of us who were used to go-go-go of our careers need to hear. You live in such a beautiful area and there are so many opportunities to enjoy it. We all should channel our inner Abby.

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    1. Hi Janis. Channel our inner Abby — that’s hilarious. We sure do enjoy our trail walks, Abby and I. Staying close to home as a result of the pandemic perhaps has helped me truly appreciate my retirement home territory, and therefore come to a better understanding of Rob’s perspective.

      Jude

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  7. Hi Jude, Excellent post. Great to see photos of you and your family at Christmas and Abby with Stick. Keep enjoying life and the freedom that comes with retirement. We're fortunate to live in Canada with so much beautiful nature around us.

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    1. Natalie, it felt so great to get together for Christmas after last Christmas’s “do not gather” restrictions. Abby is so funny with the sticks. She’ll carry them home a kilometer or more, and we’re getting quite a collection of them in our yard. She likes the really long ones.

      Jude

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  8. I’m glad you’re “there” where you wanted to be. Lovely Christmas pictures.

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    1. Hi Anabel. One never really knows for sure whether retirement plans are going to work out. It felt like a bit of a risk moving to a place we’d never lived and where we didn’t know many people. For me, I think it helped that I was able to “keep my hand in” with scholarly endeavours until I was fully ready to let it go.

      Jude

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  9. Wise words, Jude. If you reflect on how you spend your days and you realize all of it is enjoyable, I’d say you are, indeed, “there.” Which is a good place to be! :)

    But, I totally get where you’re coming from. While my situation is entirely different (I never made resolutions in such detail as you describe!), I often feel like an over-achiever who always sets her goals too high, which then leads to disappointments and the “need” to do better. This means, I never get to relax and often feel annoyed, stressed, and guilty by not achieving what I hoped to.

    Like Rob said to you: it’s like we always try to do more and do better and run away from where we are in the moment - physically or mentally!

    All this is, of course, ironic, since I’m supposedly living the dream. In the here and now. It’s about a personal balance. I think with age, I might get smarter about all this and realize that I’m “there” as well. Hopefully sooner than later. :-)

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    1. Hi Liesbet. For me, I think it relates to stage of life. When I was a young mom and working in my career, I gave both of those things 100 percent effort, and was fully engaged. Now I’m in the retirement phase and I have turned my attention to new commitments and pursuits that I always recognized I wanted in my life but had relatively little time to fully realize.

      Your situation is quite different, and as you say ironic. Although many people incorporate a period of questing and “rootlessness” into their lives, often in their early twenties or after retirement, few do what you have done by embracing a nomadic lifestyle. And the ironic part is that by nature, you are a striver and high achiever, but a nomadic lifestyle in its very essence often interferes with the intense focus and hard work required of an achievement-oriented approach to life. So perhaps you sometimes feel both frustrated at achieving your goals, and at the same time not fully able to enjoy the benefits of travelling around.

      But life is complicated for all of us. We can’t have everything we want, simultaneously, all the time. I have found it quite astonishing this past year that I have finally reached a readiness to turn my back on academic pursuits and leave them behind. I know many academics who continue working into their seventies and even eighties because it is the only life they can imagine for themselves.

      Jude

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    2. Thank you for this uplifting and understanding reply, Jude. And, congratulations on making the decision to completely leave academic life behind. I know that is not so easy to do. So much time will be freed up for more creative pursuits, hiking, and traveling! :-)

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  10. Wise words! Hope you are all doing well.

    Best
    TOMAS

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    1. Hi Tomas. Rob and I are doing well. Thanks for commenting on my blog.

      Jude

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