By one definition, a goal is a promise to internalize a sense of failure until some future instantaneous moment of achievement… that may never come. It is all too easy to focus on the achievement and overlook “the process” as the primary source of benefit from the practice of goal setting. It is all too easy to lose sight of that component vector of true success and enrichment when monetary gain and social consequences are attached to an outcome, not the process.
How anyone could land a job at Facebook, a new house in the bay area and not find happiness is a long story…
…suffice to say I had several things that kept me moving forward after the stark realization that the future required backtracking. I have an irreplaceable, indomitable rock of a woman by my side that kept the ship running at full speed in my emotional absence. I had wonderful colleagues at Facebook that afforded me every opportunity to grow and excel at the company.
In retrospect, the goals of “working at Facebook” and “living in ‘The Silicon Valley'” were point accomplishments disconnected with the momentum and trajectory of the past 10 years of my career. For the first time in my life I had set a goal, achieved it, and not moved “forward”. It was actually entertaining at first, watching from a distance as my arrogance was mercilessly obliterated in an open field. Decidedly less so and frightening when that faceless predator rounded on my self confidence…
In any event, I am happy these days. Getting back on track with full awareness of my abilities and limitations is inexplicably empowering. However, the point of telling this story is not as a cautionary tale of navigating the technical job market. It’s a point of reference on the toxicity spectrum. Yes, the ubiquitous American pastime of setting goals and achieving dreams has downsides. To a parent of a special needs child, this folksy sentiment is exceedingly venomous. “Goals”, to a parent of a special needs child, have the capacity to be more destructive than something that makes you move to northern California for a year. The consequences of wielding goals incorrectly in this context are devastating and the method of deriving any benefit from them at all is counter-intuitive.
It is the rare person that, when I tell them my daughter may always need a feeding tube, may never walk, or talk, does not fall into a bargaining-denial loop probing me for a happy ending. “Please, could you be so kind as to excuse me from my budding feelings of sadness and helplessness?” Inevitably, when the questions cease, they end up making a face that is half pity and half annoyance that I don’t know how to play the “Blind Hope and Reassurance” game. However that’s when I get to feel pity for them as yet another person who sees life as a bag full accomplishments… akin to how small children measure the spoils of their Halloween trick-or-treating.
No, as the parent of a special needs child I have no use for disappointment or anxiety, dreams or hyperbolic positive thinking. It’s a quantum super-position of emotional states where my wife and I are hell bent on the pursuit of eating, walking and talking while having absolutely zero attachment to the end game. Every step in that direction is another fruit ripening on the tree. If a certain branch stops growing and no more fruit comes we pause, step back, give thanks, and take pride in our beautiful tree. She has earned the right to never feel “I am a disappointment to my parents.”
…and then we notice “hey, what’s this new little branch over here doing?”.
So, the old adage “Never lose sight of your goals” is completely backwards. *Always* lose sight of your goals, be on the lookout for branches that bear more fruit, and pray that you never reach the end.