Friday Friends: Old Friends, New Friends . . . and Busyness

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Here I’m suggesting two books by “friends” (on paper at least)—one, an “old” friend, Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., whose book Timeshifting I read many years ago; another whose book I bought maybe three years ago, and finally started reading. It’s a “radical” business book written by businessman and philosopher James Ogilvy, who showed, in 1995, that the only way to accomplish anything was in Living Without a Goal. The title alone grabbed my attention one day in a book store, so I picked it up, glanced through, and took it home.

The ’80s had been full lives with a strong sense of direction and all the confidence a crowded “to-do list” could provide. (I’d even been creating my own “planners” for years, since junior high school!) People always knew where they were headed and climbed toward the goals and incentives corporate America held out: higher salaries, better titles, more impressive offices.

After a decade of climbing, the air was getting thin. Ogilvy suggested people tear up the to-do lists and grant themselves the freedom to enjoy what E. M. Forster calls “the lights and shades that exist in the greyest conversation.” Ogilvy showed that richness, color, and flavor would flood back into life once goals that held people captive were set aside.

He explored how philosophers (from Plato to Nietzsche), lovers, ideologues, and executives had at one time or another lived without “goals.” His argument in Living Without a Goal took a new look at how to achieve personal creativity and freedom by fashioning one’s day-to-day life, not as a goal-producing machine, but as a personal work of art.

Are you feeling rushed? Feeling tired? Wondering how you’ll ever get through NaNoWriMo this year—yet another goal? And besides, you’re just over a week into it and—maybe—already falling behind. I am. But that’s okay.

In Ogilvy’s first section called “Finding Freedom,” he relates a tale of having been “relieved” of his future: he was expelled from boarding school at age 16. His first thoughts were that he’d failed to live up to the goals which had been set for him (key idea here: for him). Now what? Would any “good” college admit him? Had he fallen off “life’s great ladder for good? Was he permanently disqualified from the race? He had no idea, and he was frightened, knowing how badly he had “messed up,” knowing how disappointed in him his parents would be.

Yet, what did he feel? Excitement, exhilaration, a sense of his life lived in real time! He gloried in the “sudden and unexpected sense of release. This first flush of Goallessness [sic] felt like a liberation from a future that was all too well defined: prep school, college, profession….Because I did not know where I was going, I was making it up as I went along, and it felt more like living than following a rule book for life. But I can only say this in hindsight. At the time I was frightened and confused at the conflict between fear and exhilaration. Had I destroyed the life that had seemed to stretch out so clearly and gloriously in front of me toward the shining goal of Success?”

Are we so tied up with the list of goals that we aren’t enjoying the journey? Last year, at NaNo time, I’d just found out in October that I had cancer. Again. The surgery took place on Nov. 6 and, yes, I was already behind for NaNo. It took only seven hours, in and out, and some major sleep when I got home that day. Then I began dashing around meeting all my “goals” for that week: attended a meeting with the retired teachers organization the next afternoon, followed by grocery shopping . . . from my “list” (I was supposed to be at a writers’ meeting later that night too—which my husband refused to take me to); get invitations out for a Christmas Eve family party—at our house; we had theatre tickets that week-end; dinner with relatives the beginning of the next week and a neighborhood lunch; attended a program that Thursday, critique group Friday, a friend’s launch and signing Saturday . . . and so it goes. Or, rather, went.

By the end of the month I had very, very little written for NaNo, and was still jammed with other things. I ended up completing two-thirds to three-fourths of it in the final two days of NaNo. My “reward”? I got to wear my “winner” shirt I’d ordered early . . . I was not going to wear it unless I was a winner. And I wore it. Legitimately.

And I was exhausted!

So I met a lot of goals for the rest of that month. But did I forget to “live” the rest of the month? I’m still giving that some thought.

So thanks to my “new” friend, Ogilvy, for his book on Living Without a Goal. Thanks as well to my “old” friend, Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., I’m going to combine his thoughts in Timeshifting—which tells me how to slow down to accomplish more—with Ogilvy’s. That’s the way I’m doing goals this NaNo!

See you day-after-tomorrow for Sunday’s Snippets!

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