Mindfulness Vs. Goals

a showing of mindfulness

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And me helping you

Is goal setting at odds with a mindfulness outlook focused on living in the present?

I’ve long been trying to focus more on mindfulness. But, in retrospect, I wonder how much having specific goals impacts my ability to enjoy the moment and be present.

My current life situation has given me some additional perspective on this in recent months.

This conversation and introspection came to the top of my mind after a conversation with a pharmacist friend.

Helping Others

My friend is a pharmacist in non traditional role. As such, some of the many pharmacists who did not match for residency this year have reached out to them asking for suggestions on how to accomplish their career goals.

We both enjoy helping others and working through things in thoughtful, holistic manner that hopes to provide happiness in life and career.

An interesting point that we discussed was that, when it comes to non traditional roles in life, many times they are not something we come to by setting goals. Often we kind of stumble into these interesting and unique situations.

We also discussed that, us both being at the midpoint in our careers, neither of us are sure that we would have pursued the same career paths. My friend wasn’t even sure they would have opted for the higher paying job of a pharmacist vs. some of their other interests.

Potential Career Coaching

My friend was considering if they could offer some sort of career coaching assistance to these individuals, as a professional courtesy and a way to give back (as well as promote their area of expertise and career interest).

I brought up a few points, as a pharmacist who also didn’t match for residency. One, I was only pursuing residency because I thought it was what I was supposed to do to ensure best career options for myself. Second, a focused residency may actually limit your options if you have non traditional interests. Third, many people find these niches without having done residency.

For some of those who would be interested in this particular role for example, are they really that interested, or is it just that it seems to be something new and interesting? Are they really interested in this niche, or just something that varies from the norm? And what amount of extra effort should the put into trying to get in to that niche now that life has thrown a curve-ball when it comes to their career plan.

But, I don’t think I would be comfortable coaching people regarding careers. And I don’t think my friend would, really, either. What we both would want to do is help people work through what it is they are really looking for and wanting out of life.

How much happiness comes from goal setting?

The question I posed was, in setting a specific goal of say, finding a position is this career niche, are these pharmacists potentially shutting themselves off from other interesting opportunities that may come their way?

Now, it’s easy for me to think this way as a pharmacist established in my career. But, I’m still looking for that dream job and niche too.

This brought me back to reflect on life at the moment, specifically an experience I had had that day.

Me, Living In The Now

My son is currently in the hospital undergoing his bone marrow transplant. Of course, we have been quite wrapped up in all of his cancer treatment for over 6 months. I have not been working regularly, and we have only been home a handful of times.

Living this way has left me feeling very much like I’m “living in a fishbowl.” We have a small group of people we interact with related to treatment. But, by and large, I don’t really feel connected with the world at the moment.

When I do have a chance (or make the time, as I need to remind myself to do, occasionally) to go out into the wide world alone, I feel very much like an observer.

On the rare occasion that I am out with my son, like the couple of zoo trips we’ve went on, I am so focused on him – is he safe, did he wash hands, is someone too close to him, is he having fun?!, oh snap a photo of him being “normal!” and so on. I am so focused on my family unit that I still don’t really feel like I’m taking part in something.

It’s frankly, quite exhausting and generally we’d rather not attempt outings right now, but that’s beside the point.

A single day of being present in the now.

Yesterday, before the conversation on the phone with my pharmacist friend I decided I needed a day out. I’d been, quite literally, trapped in the hospital bed with my son for 3 days straight running fevers and so on. That meant I hadn’t had any chance to get outside, walk a little or any of the other small goals I had set for myself while we are in the hospital for this extended stay.

Having been cooped up for so long, I felt like just a walk wouldn’t do it. I needed to do some people watching, and maybe even some people interacting… with normal people who aren’t dealing with cancer.

To get my exercise for the day I decided to head down the hill from the hospital and walk to downtown Portland. I didn’t know where I was going. I thought, maybe I’ll find a happy hour and have a glass of wine. My laptop, in hand, in case I found a nice coffee shop to work at and I could do some blog work.

But really, I had no goals for my day other than to get outside, get some exercise, and feel, maybe, like I was one of the people out living a normal life.

The thing is, I can’t remember the last time I set out for a day like that, with really no goals in mind or itinerary to attend to.

Do we ever get to just live for a day, as adults?

When I travel, I definitely leave time in the day in case something comes up I want to explore, but, I do not just go somewhere to wander and hang out.

This feels like such a waste when you’re working and have limited time off, spent money to get somewhere and have a million things on your to do list.

I used wander and loiter a lot as an early teen in the summers when I had nothing better to do, and I loved it. I was open to whatever interesting thing might happen my way to do for the day. But as an adult… there’s just always something that you’re supposed to be doing. There’s not much time to veer off the course you’ve set.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a long running list of things I could or should be doing (like blogging for example). But what I told myself on this day was, if I hadn’t have come out for the walk I would have been sitting in the hospital bed doing nothing anyway. It’s okay to not tackle the to do list today, I wouldn’t have done it anyway.

Somehow, I really allowed myself the freedom to just see where the day took me.

Removed from the clock, without a purpose.

I felt very strangely like I was in a movie or an observer, being out and about like that. How strange, an adult with nothing to do. I kept wandering and found myself at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

pioneer square portland

Though we’ve been spending a lot of time here, I have certainly not played tourist and didn’t even know what Pioneer Square was. But it was where lots of people seemed to be and I was hungry so I bought myself lunch and just hung out and watched people for a good while.

It was interesting to sit there, with nothing I needed or even wanted to do, and see how busy everyone else seemed.

Nothing I even wanted to do… let me focus on that point again. It’s probably a sign of my borderline and understandable depression with a child with cancer, being apathetic. But, it’s also kind of freeing. I did want to be out in public with other humans, even if I didn’t talk to them, but I really had no other goals I was aware of. And it felt so strange to sit there in that awareness.

This brings me back to the conversation with my friend.

We are both aware and curious individuals looking for good happy lives, and mindfulness topics and mediation and so on have come up before.

I was telling them how I couldn’t remember that last time I had felt so “present.”

And…

That I think the only reason i was able to feel so present is that I had no goals for the day, and in a way, even for my life right now.

When there are too many unknowns to set goals…

Having a child with a quite possibly terminal diagnosis has changed me in many ways. And there will probably be more changes to comes.

I’m aware that the future will never feel quite the same as my past did. Things will always carry a bit more weight. There’s always going to be a little bit more of a sense of finality in things. And a need to make the most of life and so on.

Looking forward, I’m more aware of the fact that, short term, I really can’t set any goals. There are too many unknowns. I’m just trying to get through each day or week or month.

But, as things hopefully settle down again, somewhat, goal setting doesn’t carry the same meaning that it did before.

For my son, my family and myself, I want us to be happy and healthy.

Really that’s it!

The privilege of throwing out goals?

Perhaps I have the privilege of thinking that way because I’ve been able to build our internal supports, and our nest egg. But, I was usually thinking more about the next 5-10 years than right now before my son got sick.

This is somewhat at odds with the DAILY ideas for any number of things to do, projects and so on that cross my mind.

Where does living in the present and mindfulness come back into play here? Well, I have all these ideas… but I’m okay letting them pass by. I don’t have to pursue them all. And my hope is, that by not setting too many goals for myself or worrying too much about missed opportunities, that I am open and receptive when the right opportunities should present themselves.

And for me, personally, yesterday one did.

Excuse me while I “money nerd” for a moment.

After sitting outside for a while I decided to go check out the Capital One Cafe that I had heard about from Michelle at FRUGALITY AND FREEDOM.

She had mentioned they had regular happy hours where card holders could get free drinks from the coffee shop. And, I found out when there, even if no happy hour (as I came on the wrong day) I still got my drink for half off by paying with my Capital One credit card.

Time for life and PEOPLE and COMMUNITY.

I posted where I was and what I was doing online – because other money nerds such as myself needed to know about this place. Then my friend Financial Mechanic told me she worked right around the corner and had free beer at her place of work.

Since I hadn’t given myself an itinerary, I was able to go meet her and enjoyed a few hours of much needed conversation, and one too many free ciders.

I picked up some leftover Sizzle Pie pizza from a dinner that had finished at her work space and carried my pizza box another 2-3 miles back to where I took the tram back up to the hospital for the night.

I’m so thankful that she was willing to extend her time to me and spend a few hours chatting when I’m sure she had plenty of other things to do with a move planned in a few weeks and a very busy blog to run.

I got my 6 miles of walking, 14,000 steps, 17 floors and 103 minutes of active exercise in. Got some fresh air. I felt like a human out with other humans again. Checked out a cool new place I’d have no real reason to go to normally. I got to connect with a fellow blogger a bit more and maybe should call her a friend now, just before she moves away. And got free drinks and free dinner (and some lunches too).

All because I didn’t have any goals for myself that day… other than get out and see what the day holds.

And, that’s probably what I needed most that day – time with a friend. And as I was open to it, I found it.

Circling back to my new pharmacist colleagues who didn’t match for residency… Don’t lament.

There are many paths in life. And many ways to get there. I know that doesn’t mean much right now, as not matching felt like the biggest blow to my ego and life path that had ever happened.

But now that life has decided to spin you a new way, perhaps, do not be too quick to set new goals.

Find a balance between setting goals and allowing yourself to be present in the moment and open to the world of opportunities.

I reflect sometimes and wonder if, earlier on, if I had been more willing to veer off the path I had set myself on what might have happened. Of course there is no real sense in worrying about that now. But I do hope to inspire others to keep their minds open.

And how can I help in that?

Well, as this is a strange meandering conversation about my internal thoughts, my day, and my conversation with my pharmacist friend, here’s what we were talking about.

I don’t think either of us would feel right being career coaches. But we would both like to help others and be a sounding board and feedback for those who are sincerely looking for the best life path that supports very basic goals, like happiness and health.

So, strangely as this whole post has been about not setting goals, I suppose I am going to set one, in a way.

I’d like to help others. But, I have no expectations on myself for what that is going to mean right now.

Why am I different?

My friend was discussing that there are other pharmacists out there discussing finance. But what we agreed was lacking was personality, empathy, and a sense of it’s okay to be wherever you are, and it’s okay to not have huge lofty goals.

It’s okay to have your primary goal be being happy and healthy, or maybe even just happy, as health is not guaranteed for all.

So, I guess, I want to say, “I’m here and I’m flawed, and a bit crazy at times, and I’ll never get rich in the stock market or own 5 rental properties… and you can still live a good happy life and find ways to help money support you in that.”

And if anyone is interested, reach out, I’d love to help and give you some feedback. And if the feedback is valuable, and karma does its business, hopefully I will reap returns from it.

Maybe some people will want to pay me for my assistance and effort. However much and in whatever way they feel is appropriate.

But I gain in building more connections and more community and knowing that I’m helping others to live a good life.

It’s all about connection.

My son being sick, and my recognition that I would lose everything I’ve worked for for his sake has put into perspective again, the value of the people in our lives.

And the best part of my day of no plans or goals was spending time with someone and having real talk.

As my basic needs are met, I consider more and more where the real values in life come from. And recognize that to get, you have to give too.

2 comments

  1. Glad you were able to connect with FI Mechanic. Sounds like you needed some low-key interaction — and that that’s what you got.

    I agree there are many paths in life. In college, I thought I was headed down one path, only to have my world upended by a serious illness that changed my ability to work. Then I was in denial about that and headed down a different path (expecting to work full-time outside the house somehow). Then that didn’t work out, and I scrambled to be a landlord for a while. Then that ran its course, I sold the house and went on disability because I couldn’t work at all. Then a few years after that, I found the work-at-home job I still do today (nine years later). It’s allowed me to build a life and a financial cushion for myself. I’m hopeful that this is the last career path I’m on, but I guess only time will tell.

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