UPDATED: After a few years of neglecting this website I have decided to start posting again! So the article below is now redundant.
This may come as a bit of a surprise to any of you who have been following my blog for the past year … but today I’m writing my final article.
After this, Encouragement from a Stranger will be abandoned (it will still remain online, but I will no longer be maintaining it – so I’ve shut down the RSS feed, the email list, the contact page, and the comments).
Why the “sudden” decision?
Most of the articles here are, in some way, about improving yourself, achieving goals, and breaking through the barriers to make your life worth something.
But I’ve come to the realisation that this constant obsession with goal achievement and self-improvement is a life of never-ending self-torture. And it can ultimately become paralysing.
So, in the circumstances, I don’t feel it would be right to continue writing here.
Does that embarrass me?
Not really. We all change, whether we aim to or not. I didn’t set out to “achieve” this particular outcome. In fact, if anything, my real plan here was to grow this website into a big resource over time.
But plans are often illusions.
Now I’m here instead, writing my final article.
At least this website has given me the opportunity to document this change, and maybe help others going through similar things. That’s one of the reasons I love writing and blogging so much.
A confession …
I’ve given the whole “goal setting” thing a good try over several decades.
It led me to doing all sorts of interesting things. But you know what – despite that, it’s never been enough.
Now I understand why.
Goals and expectations
It’s okay to have goals. But goals become a problem when they become a substitute for achieving happiness. They become a problem when we tie them to specific expectations about how we’ll feel when we finally “achieve” them. This is where I’ve fallen down.
In many ways, expectations are the root cause of a lot of unhappiness in society. Either we have high expectations of ourselves, of others, or of society as a whole. We expect things to be a certain way. We expect others to treat us in a certain way, or behave according to our values and beliefs.
As a result, these expectations result in many of our most negative, and dangerous, emotions – anger, impatience, intolerance. These emotions lead to some of the most horrendous acts of violence. Think about all the conflict in society, and how most of it is a result of people’s expectations about how others should behave. In fact, I challenge you to name one conflict that doesn’t involve expectations!
So what is this really about?
All of this really comes back to the well-worn cliche: live in the present.
If we’re constantly expecting that the goal(s) we’re aiming for will lead somewhere better than where we are now, we’re in trouble. It’s great to have ambition and an overall direction. But I feel, more than ever, that we need to be flexible and adaptable throughout the journey. Change is about the only thing we can really expect in life.
I’m not saying we should be passive. I’m not saying we should give others the power to determine our paths for us. By all means, we should take ACTION in life. But let’s do so without expectation. Let’s focus on the “why” instead. And, for me, the “why” boils down to my values in life:
- concern for others
All my day-to-day actions in life are about living those values. So was this blog. These values provide meaning. They provide a direction in life, one that is adaptable to change.
Values are really who you are. They’re the only things that DON’T change.
Looking back through this website, I realise that I’ve been dropping hints about these sorts of things all along:
“Is Your To-Do List Killing You?” was primarily focused on to-do lists, but it could so easily have been adapted to the broader issue of goal setting and achievements.
“Achieving a Zen-like State” talked about how I was able to find a level of contentment and peace I didn’t think was possible. While it mainly referred to one particular activity (playing a sport), it could have easily been adapted to an entire approach to living.
“Choosing To Be Happy” and “Life Would Be Perfect If Only I Had…” were about not letting external objects and events determine whether we’re happy or not. This could easily have been expanded to include goals and achievements too.
“Do You Really Need To Go To The Next Level?” was about accepting that not everything has to be about “fulfilling your potential”. The best example is this very website. I’ve pulled the plug on it just as it was gathering momentum and attention. I’ve exercised “The Art of Non-Finishing”.
“Don’t Underestimate the Side-Benefits” was about realising that the greatest rewards are often the ones we least expect. While pulling the plug on this website will mean I failed in my overall goal of building a HUGE blog, the lessons I’ve learned along the way have been well worth it. I’ve also realised that I’ve had an impact on people, even if only in a small way.
So, having said all of that, this will be the last article you’ll see from me here at Encouragement from a Stranger.
This particular journey has finished for me. This blog is now complete. It may not have become the huge resource I originally aimed for, but there is still an entire book’s worth of content in the archives. It will continue to serve as encouragement for anyone who is looking for it.
Thank you to ALL of you for your support, encouragement, emails, and comments throughout the last year. Hopefully we’ve all helped each other in some way on this journey called “life”. Now let’s go out there and LIVE IT, without expectation.