no goals for 2023
my unintentionally contrarian take on the new year
hey everyone, happy new year!
as we slide into the new year…
… bet you thought I was going to say “I wanted to take the time to reflect on the year bla bla bla…” didn’t you? I did actually write that but scrapped it quickly because:
everybody is busy plotting their 1-year plan right now and probably don’t want to be reading someone else’s;
I don’t actually have goals for 2023, which means no planning, which means nothing to say
so what are we going to talk about here? and why am I writing in lowercase letters?
why is everything in lowercase?
first, the lowercase thing — it’s an experiment. I learned recently that a writer by the online name ofwrites everything in the lowercase because it helps her transcend formality and makes her words feel like they are written just for you, like a friend messaging you. that put a smile on my face and I wanted to try it. don’t let me know what you think… as a writer I cringe at the thought but I’m going to stick with it for at least a few posts.
no goals, just do the thing
now, on to the “what are we going to talk about here” question.
I have a short story to tell you. recently, during a german language class, my teacher asked me what my goals are for 2023. I’m sure his goal was to get me to practice replying in german, not to get me to think about my life, but you know, “don’t think of an elephant walking on a tightrope” inevitably gets you thinking about the impossible circus act.
I thought for five seconds and replied, “ich habe keine Goals für das Neuesjahr, weil man nie in die Zukunft sehen kann,” which translates from my English-thinking brain: "I don’t have any goals for the new year, because you can never tell the future.”
it’s an obtuse answer, even for me, so I’ll try to unpack what I mean.
the first thing is that I have come to terms that we can never really plan for something, because we can never know what’s going to happen in the next few days or even the next few hours or minutes. because of this, I now think it’s wise to not bother oneself with planning to achieve goals because that’s more or less wasted time.
this sounds extreme, I know, and I don’t mean it in the sense that I should live each day without having my mind at least partially on the future, preempting physical, emotional, psychological, or financial catastrophes. that would be living like an animal.
what I do mean is, rather than expend any energy and time on planning, I will just go Do The Thing. I’ve been more or less traveling like this even with a kid in tow and it works fine. it also seems to serve me well enough at work — I still got my job.
what about long-term pursuits, like getting better at one’s craft or making art?
for that, I realised I’ve started defaulting to Doing The Thing daily.
I’ve recently started an everydays project in the mould of the very prolific artist beeple (I wrote about this in an earlier post). I know I want to get better at exercising my creativity and expressing myself in art, and that this will take a long time, so I defaulted to starting a project that I plan to keep doing everyday for a fixed amount of time. in this case, I’ve decided to commit to 70 everydays and I haven’t missed a single one in 19 days, even when we were out camping for several days in Seville, Spain in a parking lot in our campervan (I woke an hour earlier and coded in our rooftop bed while Charlane and the baby continued to sleep). this cadence works very well for me. over time I should get pretty good at creative coding.
the other thing I meant when I said I don’t have any goals for 2023 is this: I quite liked my life in 2022, especially in the second half when I was more or less circumstantially goal-less. goal-less might not be as good a way to put it as goal-free. I was goal-free in the second half of 2022 and I was happy and I think this is a good way to proceed with 2023.
setting goals is like flipping open the gutter blockers in the bowling alley — you restrict yourself down the path, and you think you are directing yourself to hit a strike, but in reality, you can’t ignore the damn gutters and it affects your game negatively. I would rather bowl freely and if some balls go down the gutter, I’ll learn how not to bowl that way again.
finally, not having set any goals for the year is in-line with an inner change I would like to make this year (is this a goal?!), which is to learn to be a relaxed person. not a more relaxed person — a relaxed person, fullstop.
for those who don’t know, I am currently living in the south of Spain. my wife, 15 month-old daughter, and dog came here at the start of December and will likely stay until the end of February. while here, we’ve met many holiday makers, some of whom are here permanently.
I’ve enjoyed most of the conversations I’ve had with them and when I wondered why, I concluded that it’s because they are very relaxed. they are here for months, if not permanently, and the beach is 20 steps away, and the sun shines, and people are walking their dogs off-leash and they bark and have fun and almost nobody frowns. they’re not in a perpetual state of happiness — there’s no such thing — but they are, from what I can observe, somehow relaxed. people here speak, and then they listen. then they take their time to respond. and then they’re off to where they were casually off to.
now, this came into stark contrast with my recent experiences talking with friends and family from back home in Singapore. if conversations here flowed like water down a stream, conversations with those back home crashed like a waterfall. when I video-call an old friend, I become my old self and respond faster than I should and interject mid-conversation to say something because they were also doing that. I can feel the relaxed-me leaving my body into the astral dimension like Dr Strange.
I think it will take a very long time, if it’s indeed possible at all, for me to shake off my tendency to take the most efficient path, to say the thing that would make us done with so we can each be on our way, to think of packing my AirPods even on short walks in case I ever get bored and not miss an opportunity to squeeze in some podcast episode. but man, talking to people who are relaxed is so, so, SO much more enjoyable than talking to people who are not. so I think it’s worth trying to become one.
anyway, even though I don’t have goals for 2023, you might. if you feel like sharing them with me so I or other readers can hold you sort-of accountable, feel free to reply to this email or leave a comment. I am curious!