Led Off the Path …the problem of struggling with goals…
You all know about my friend Handsome, the human I live with. Most of the time, I look at him with wide-eyed idolatry – he is so smart and powerful that he can make a car turn on, he can open locked doors with just a key, and he’s able to get all the food he wants without even chasing squirrels! And oh, how he knows just where to scratch my tummy… I mean he’s just brilliant!
But at the same time, sometimes he’s pretty clueless. There’s so much he doesn’t get. And that’s where I get to feel useful, and even smart, by helping him out.
For example, he was brooding around the house a few days ago, about the fact that 2014 will be over soon. Not that he’s loved the year so much he hates to see it go (he’s had those), or that he’s hated it so much he wishes it were gone already (he’s had those too), or that it’s just rushed by so fast (that happens EVERY year!). This one was more specific. “When last year ended,” he grouses, “all these things, all these achievements of mine, were set to happen. I was so excited about what 2014 would bring. And here it’s almost gone, and none of them is here! I haven’t accomplished a single thing I expected to!”
It’s never fun for me when he’s in moods like this. He goes stomping around (which can mean he doesn’t see me and accidentally steps on my tail), sometimes yelling at himself, and often forgetting important things – like feeding the dog!
So I really wanted to make things better for him. Which made me think – what does it mean when you haven’t done all you’d planned on?
Now that can happen because you were lazy and didn’t do the work you were supposed to. Or it can be because you weren’t organized enough and all your work went to the wrong things. Or it could be because you just didn’t care. Those are all easy to change.
But in Handsome’s case, it wasn’t any of those. He worked hard all year, and most of the time he was very organized, with a focus to achieve these goals.
Nope, the reason he didn’t accomplish what he’d planned was that 2014 was a year in which hundreds, yes I said hundreds, of things got in his way.
You know those days, when you wake up and say “I’m going to work ahead in that class and write that paper today, even though it’s not due for two weeks”… and then the phone rings and it’s your best friend crying because their biggest crush told them they weren’t interested… and then your dad comes in and says you have to clean out the garage before their party tonight… and then your little brother falls and breaks his thumb, and you have to go to the emergency room with him…
…And suddenly, the day’s gone. And you’ve lived the opposite of bad or lazy – you’ve been a good friend, a good daughter, and a good sister (or son and brother) – but that paper hasn’t even been started. And on top of that, while you were cleaning the garage, three friends called you to ask for help on the math homework, and while you were at the hospital, the cat got out and your parents weren’t able to go looking for him because of their party guests, so you’ll have to do it.
So when this kind of craziness isn’t just the story of your day, but of a YEAR, what does that mean? And how can a person move forward from that with a good attitude?
Well, this is the kind of question that dogs are waaaaay better than people at answering. You see, we mutts have none of your intricate sense of time. We live moment-to-moment, not thinking about the future or the past any more than we have to. (Now yes, you’ll hear stories about dogs who know what time to go meet their human child at school, but that’s because we have a great connection to nature, and can tell when it’s a particular time of day. But even those dogs haven’t been spending hours worrying, “Hmm, will I have time to chase that squirrel and still be able to make it across town to be at the school by 3:15?” We just don’t have that kind of brain.)
So the idea of a year means something completely different to us than to you. For us, we know that it means something that the weather’s kind of like it was, and the sun sets at a particular part of the horizon, and certain smells come out of the yards around us. But we never think about accomplishments, earnings, grades… any of that.
So when I see Handsome all concerned, I just look at him as hard as I can, till he figures it out.
And what I’m trying to get him to figure out is…
- Years don’t really exist. Yes, the Earth gets back to the relationship to the sun it was a certain time ago, but years are a human-brain concept. So are months, weeks, days, hours, and milliseconds. They don’t have any actual meaning in reality. So the idea that he hasn’t accomplished by December thirty-first what he thought he would the last time it was December thirty-first is… absolutely pointless to me!
- Big accomplishments take as long as they take. No more and no less. And once they’re done, no one really thinks about what got in the way of their making. How long did it take Shakespeare to write Hamlet? Did Rembrandt paint The Night Watch without being interrupted, or did things get in his way? Did any of The Beatles catch a cold while working on Revolver, and so had to postpone recording? Which of the Harry Potter books did J.K. Rowling have the most trouble in her life while writing? I have no idea of any of these. And if I did, it wouldn’t matter!
- And biggest of all, while you humans focus on certain accomplishments, you might be ignoring the other ones you actually achieve. To use my example above, is that paper for school really a greater act than the other things you did that day? What if it turns out your friend was so upset about that crush that they were going to do something self-destructive that would have ruined their life, but your talking cooled them down? What if, in cleaning that garage, you came across a leaking can of gasoline that could have been responsible for your home burning to ash? And don’t you know your little brother will remember your care and kindness for years after those school assignments have been forgotten? And beyond that, on a more selfish level, if your goals have been set back by fighting an illness, and you get better, but you find out about someone else somewhere who actually died of that illness, doesn’t that mean that you accomplished something huge? Something they weren’t lucky enough to achieve?
So what I want is for Handsome to look at this year in a different way. Sure, he didn’t get those things he was hoping for done in the time he’d planned. But instead, he accomplished hundreds of other things. And accomplishing hundreds of things is a pretty big accomplishment – even if they weren’t what he wanted!
What about you? Are you bummed out that you’re facing a Hanukkah without a job? Christmas without a boyfriend? Milad un Nabi without money in the bank? New Year’s without having lost as much weight as you’d hoped?
Then just for a moment, think of how a dog would look at that situation. It would all be in-the-moment. They’d translate those thoughts to “I don’t have a job and want to get one,” “I don’t have a boyfriend and want to get one,” “I don’t have money and want to get some,” and “I don’t have the body I want, and want to get it.”
Different, isn’t it? See how this way of thinking allows for something good to still happen, rather than just feeling disappointed about failure?
Maybe that’s why we’re so much happier in general than you guys, even though you have so much we lack!
So am I saying not to be ambitious and goal-oriented? Absolutely not! Use those great human brains of yours and go after what you want. Achieve incredible goals we pups can’t even dream! Aim for deadlines, make New Years Resolutions, demand the most of yourself! Those are what keep you focused, and make those achievements happen.
And when you DO meet a goal, be proud. Know you worked hard to get that, and reward yourself.
But when you don’t, just remember… no one ever told you that life could be fully planned. Plans are just one part of life. And things come at us, every one of us, every day, that change those intentions. That’s what makes life frustrating. And exciting.
And how we deal with those obstacles that come at us? Those acts are what define us. Truly tell who we are, and who others are. Much more than those goals and intentions ever can.
Like… the way I deal with disappointment (woofing and walking away) versus the way Handsome does (saying bad words, kicking the wall, and thinking about it for days)… That says a lot about both of us. And I’m pretty content with the verdict that puts on me!
But don’t give up on him. I’m doing my best to change him. In fact, I’m gonna get him to think just the way I do, by this time next year…
Oh no! I’ve just started thinking like him! This isn’t working!
But wait… he just stopped ranting, and knelt down and started stroking my ears. Mmmmmmm… that feels good…
Maybe he’s learning to live in the moment a bit too.
In fact, maybe, who knows… 2015 could turn out to be a year in which we all learn to see things through others’ eyes a bit more.
Now that’s a resolution even I can sign onto.
Love, and Happy New Year!