Happy New Year. It’s time for new pursuits!!!! A goal… or is it a chase?
Wait… Am I chasing a new goal? Or making new… chases? That doesn’t sound like fun.
I’d rather start the year with something that doesn’t require me running faster than I can, and necessarily trying to win a race I have not trained for…Right?
an effort to secure or attain; quest
any occupation, pastime, or the like, in which a person is engaged regularly or customarily
Anyone else think that the phrases “effort to attain” and “regularly customarily engaged” seems slightly counter to each other?
Oftentimes we find ourselves, when clocks mark traditional beginnings, such as
a new year (I resolve to…)
or a birthday (I’m going to treat myself to…)
or a graduation (I’m going to focus on…)
or a new relationship (I’m going to make sure I don’t…)
or even just a morning (after last night, I need to…)
feeling the need to set ourselves new goals to strive for. It’s easy to ‘start fresh’ with new things in our lives that will change the “life” or “ourselves as individuals” for the better (God forbid they might actually be the same thing!)
A new pursuit represents a new achievement for us. Something we need to complete. As the first definition states, it’s a quest. An adventure to be had, a task to be completed, an enemy to be slain or a prize to be won. But interestingly, it also indicates some sense of movement - an amount of effort that is needed to get there. I don’t have to chase a tree - it will be there when I arrive in the forest (Ents notwithstanding). No, for the effort of the quest - there must be hard battles where something is lost, and uncertainty, and moving targets that create an environment where, let’s be honest, there’s a risk of failure.
On the other hand, the dictionary gives us another option. Almost the antithesis of the first. A perpetual action. A pursuit, as it were, does not always need to end in winning the cup, slaying the dragon, getting the girl, saving the world [insert any other classic, hollywood-enhanced trope here]. Instead, a pursuit is the small thing you do every day, and decide to keep doing. It’s tending the garden, because you love encouraging tiny things to grow.. It’s going to the gym, not to hit that goal weight or win that competition, but to maintain the activity you set for yourself. It’s reading those few pages a day, not to get through the lofty titles you want to throw around at those work parties you can’t stand, but because you want to encourage your mind to always be open to learning.
At the end of the day (or the start of the year), pursuit, whichever way you look at it, is part of our nature. We need to strive, but we also need stability. We need consistency as well as accomplishment. What’s important to remind ourselves is that they aren’t mutually exclusive. Not every pursuit has to be a gargantuan quest, but if it is, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a regular pursuit in the ongoing sense. We can build one into the other - in fact, we should. That New Year's goal of hitting that ideal weight can easily become a pursuit of maintaining a healthy fitness level. The objective of mastering a new skill can become a pursuit of practicing and improving indefinitely.
We need to allow our pursuits to be ongoing processes.
Separating goals from pursuits can be a difficult thing to do. Why is this?
There is an interesting social narrative that unless something is hard to achieve and you are sacrificing things, or putting in a lot of effort, or at risk of losing it at any time, it doesn’t count as being meaningful as a goal - the pursuit.
At the same time, there is this encouragement to be present, and find joy in the everyday, and learn to be happy with who you are and what you have - the goal.
So the “chasing quest” pursuit can become the drug and the high- the addictive potential result of sooo much effort, and the goal when reached can become the comedown - the realistic outcome which is unlikely to be so amazing or last so long in itself that it makes the pursuit worthwhile.
The solution - to make the goal “continuous pursuit”, but in the second meaning of the word; where you keep engaging in the moving evolving journey and recognising the ongoing outcomes on a regular basis.
It’s almost a constant honing - the mastering of something through constant practice is a long sought after art, and encouraged in many cultures and spiritual practices.
Because the reality is that “the pursuit of your pursuits” is a key to unlocking your everyday happiness. It’s finding those things that we want to not only attain but also continue to have that keep our lives full of meaning and purpose. It’s these endeavors, these actions, that are our ticket to joy, not the grandeur of achieving the big concrete goals that can be reached, but then end. And these can range from the hopeful dreams of safe supportive relationships (rather than finding the “perfect partner” who now has to never change), defining of meaningful professional responsibilities (instead of Job titles that make you feel important, but then look tired next to your name in 5 years), or wanting to look after and nurture the future (which allows environmental care, teaching others, and parenting children to all tick the box).
Meditation, Kung Fu and Painting have all been around for thousands of years, and hold to the maxim of mastery through ongoing hard work. Investing in and enjoying the actual Pursuit of Pursuits will leave us more satisfied at the end of the day with who we are. Whether that be a gym habit, cooking, cleaning, or getting your 8 hours of sleep every night.
The hope is that by making the act of working towards something important, we will take more time to consider and value the process… so that the pattern of setting goals but not clearing the path, or latching on to the easy fix that never ends up working happens less often. The endless chase leads to exhaustion, frustration and self judgment. Or sometimes, if the goal was your main or only value in the process, after you achieve it, you find yourself moving straight towards needing another “thing to work towards”. Another pursuit is started, and another. Sometimes to the point that the actual thing we are pursuing is not meaningful at all, it is the idea of winning or achieving that we begin to crave and since winning can only be a temporary experience, it can then feed that sense of unfulfillment, despite the fact we know it should make us feel better, and the eventual exhaustion that comes from something that doesn't seem to end.
The final step in a good pursuit… Knowing when to stop running. A pursuit should bring value and joy, and the small steps in the right direction should feel good. If it’s not, then you are running and working for no reason - and that makes no sense. But maybe that’s a topic for another day!
So, when you’re setting your new pursuits this year, remind yourself then, and often afterwards, that a little bit all the time can get you where you need to go.