We’re often told about the importance of setting and meeting goals, and how planning for the future is the key to success. But all that forward-learning can cause a bit of anxiety and blind us to opportunities right in front of our face. In his book The Antidote, Oliver Burkeman shares a more productive mindset by profiling an “aha” moment by Steve Shapiro, a management consultant who advocates that we go goal-less:
[Shapiro] tried to dig himself out of such crises by means of even more goals (at one point, he recalled, he had a five-year plan to become ‘a leader in the innovation space’). But none of these plans changed his life. What made the difference, in the end, was a conversation with a friend who told him he spent too much energy thinking about his future. He should think of himself more ‘like a frog’, she said.
Shapiro was wondering whether to feel insulted when she explained: ‘You should sun yourself on a lily-pad until you get bored; then, when the time is right, you should jump to a new lily-pad and hang out there for a while. Continue this over and over , moving in whatever direction feels right.’ The imagery of sunbathing on lily-pads should not be taken to imply laziness. Shapiro’s friend’s point was entirely compatible with his hard -charging, achievement-hungry personality; it simply promised to channel it more healthily. In fact, it promised to help him achieve more, by permitting him to enjoy his work in the present, rather than postponing his happiness to a point five years in the future – whereupon, in any case, he would surely just replace his current five-year plan with another. The idea triggered a shift of perspective for Shapiro that would eventually lead to his reinvention as an advocate for abolishing goals.
Read more from Burkeman in his book The Antidote, and see him speak at this year’s 99U Conference.