"Lost" is a place too.
On the nature of goals and learning to embrace the journey.
To tell you the truth, I've been having this nagging feeling that I've been "lost".
It's been this way for the last few years or so.
It's not that things have stayed constant throughout this time, as if I'm wandering around in the same mist-covered field over and over again. Walking around in a hazy maze.
Not at all.
In fact, life has changed tremendously over this course of time.
For example, I finally found the resolve to quit a job that I disliked early this year. I've written about it several times in this blog, but mainly it was a job I simply couldn't find any meaning with.
It even got me really down at times.
Yet, finally I'm free.
I also started this blog, which I did out of inherent passion in mental health and enjoyment in writing. Along with that, I decided to pursue a license in counselling and therapy, where I've just now started clocking in my practicum hours.
To add on, I've also kickstarted a non-profit organisation around two months ago with a couple of other like-minded people. We offer free sessions for Singaporeans to share their struggles with empathetic listeners and work through problems together.
It certainly seems like the scenery has changed. It does feel like I'm getting closer to where I'm "supposed" to be.
Yet still, I can't help shake off the feeling that I'm lost.
We place far too much focus on the "destination".
Well, we can partly blame the way we've all been brought up for this. It's what we Singaporeans have been taught throughout our lives isn't it?
Step one, go to school, get good grades. Step two, get into a local university. If not, try a private one or go overseas. Step three, get a good job and climb that career ladder. If you get stuck, go back to Step two. Step four, find a partner and start a family.
Step five, er, what's step five again?
I'm over-simplifying it of course, but life seems to have become a series of hurdles we have to jump through. Much of our focus is placed on what our next destination is.
Goals are very much a big part of this too. We've all become "goal-chasing" individuals caught in the same race. Yet, how many of us have really sat down and quietly checked in with ourselves on the nature of our goals?
In fact, here's a few questions you can ask yourself:
What are your life goals right now?
How concrete or quantifiable are they? E.g. a friend of mine has a goal of reaching a five digit monthly salary.
When do you hope to achieve these goals?
What are you doing to achieve your goals?
Those are the easy questions, here's the hard one:
Why is this goal so important to you?
In my last job I was working in for nearly three years, I unwittingly became absorbed in chasing after a goal that I "thought" was important to me.
I'll put it out here for all of you to judge (please don't haha) - but my goal was to make enough money to gain financial independence in Singapore.
One where I wouldn't need to work anymore and could live an easy and comfortable life.
I know. It's lofty. It's also escapism at its max. I'm honestly quite ashamed to put it out there.
Yet, something in my head told me that was an important goal I needed to get to.
Why? Simple. I wasn't happy working.
I convinced myself I couldn't be happy until I got to that goal. Other people have got there haven't they? And it's a goal that so many other Singaporeans are aiming for.
That despite hating my job, maybe sticking with it was how I was going to get there.
Yet, donning the all-seeing lens of hindsight bias, it's easy now to see the obvious fix - that instead of suffering through work to not work, why not just find work I enjoyed instead?
Borrowing a popular phrase from Korean culture, here's a one word summary reflecting my feelings towards my past mentality:
In the dimension of being lost, perhaps I can suggest that there are two types of people:
Those who have a clear destination in mind but feel lost because they don't know how to get there. Perhaps they don't feel like they are nearly as close as they think they should be, e.g. finding a romantic partner.
Those who don't have a clear destination in mind, and are simply feeling lost.
Disclaimer: Any self-respecting psychologist would never say there are two types of people, e.g. introvert vs extrovert. Human behaviour is way too complex and everything is on a spectrum.
Yet, for the sake of simplicity, I now find myself falling into the latter category.
After gaining clarity and ridding myself of that silly societally-driven goal above, it feels like my life has been reset - and for the better.
Sure, it's nice to know I'm doing good things with my life - speaking to people, helping them out with their troubles, volunteering when I can, and setting up the non-profit organisation etc.
But, what's next?
Where am I headed to?
What's the destination?
Now, an easy way to tackle this would be to revisit the goal-setting questions above. In fact, I can lay it all out below:
Find another job in January next year.
Get my license and start practicing on the side.
Slowly transition into full-time therapy within 2 years.
Get the non-profit organisation to a place it can be self-sustaining.
There we go, that wasn't so hard.
Does it makes things any better? Maybe. At least there's a little more clarity now.
Yet, here's the problems with all goals. Even though my goals now seem to be on the right path, and ones that I'm fully able to articulate when asked "why?", the problem is that they are all still set in the future.
Yes, it's good to know I'm working towards something and moving forward, but is that the only point of my life?
Why is it that I often come to an eerie realisation in the quiet parts of my day where I still feel "lost"?
A bit like I'm just going through the motions. At least, until I finally reach my goals?
"Lost" is a place too.
I really believe a shift in mindset can make all the difference. Let me try to convince you on this one.
While gaining clarity on our future goals and destinations are all important, it becomes a problem when all of our life's focus are placed on them.
We have our sights so trained on the future that we forget about the "now".
Yet, the "now" is where we live. Why yes, all of us, right now.
To get this point across, I can very well put up some nice picture of a mountain and some clouds with a superimposed quote on how "life is a journey, not a destination", but I'll spare you that.
I'm sure you get the idea.
While knowing where we are going is important, don't forget about where you are now.
For that matter, where am I right now?
It's a nice, rainy Sunday evening with the outside sky overcast with grey clouds. As I'm writing this, I've got some slow music playing (shoegaze) while my two dogs are snoozing on the sofa. One's even soundly snoring. I'm also sipping a nice heavy scented black tea that's a "souvenir" from one of our recent staycations.
I'm taking the time to do one of things I really enjoy - putting words on a page and my thoughts on paper. In fact, it doesn't really matter if no one reads this, I just really enjoy writing. It's cathartic.
Life can really be quite enjoyable, especially when we turn our attention away from the future and onto this "now" thingy.
In fact, if you really think about it, aren't all destinations just mirages that only live in your mind?
What is life but a series of Now's?
So why not try out living in the present? At least, whenever that feeling of being "lost" comes up, go do something you simply love.
Get "lost" in it. Embrace it.
Recognise that as much as your destination is important, your journey through the "now" is of much higher significance.
It is where we all live, not in the past, not in the future, but in the now.
If only we can learn to focus it on it more.
Wouldn't that make life so much clearer?
Thanks for reading this rather random piece of writing on kaya toast for the soul. I hope you find joy in the present, and if you need more ideas on how to do so, hop on over to my positive psychology page. Take care!