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Eyes Off the Prize: On Not Letting Your Goals Run Your Life

Life without goals is like a race without a finish line (you’re running nowhere).

You have one life. Set bigger goals.

Dream Big. Set Goals. Take Action.


Chances are you’ve seen phrases like these on the posters that get plastered all over classrooms and Tumblr feeds. You may have heard professors, parents, friends and family tell you similar things, especially when they’re trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do, like practice piano or apply for a summer job. Clearly, setting goals is a huge part of our culture and daily life.

Goal-setting is a healthy practice in a lot of ways. It motivates us to achieve our greatest aspirations and often comes with a feeling of gratification when we accomplish what we set out to do. However, placing too much of an emphasis on achieving our goals can be damaging. What happens when we fall way short of that A on our Spanish mid-term? What about when a conversation with our parents doesn’t go as planned? Even when we do achieve our goal, what if it doesn’t feel as satisfying as we wanted it to? As college students, we are often expected to have high standards for ourselves and failing to meet those expectations can feel like a catastrophe. By staking our happiness on achieving certain goals, we devote too much of our emotional energy into something that we have minimal control over. It’s important to remember that achievements are not prerequisites to happiness, and that fulfilment can be found in many other ways. With that in mind, here are five small ways to step away from a goal-oriented life.


1. Practice Mindfulness

This is a useful practice that not only takes us away from our goal-oriented way of thinking, but often improves mental health. Mindfulness is the practice of paying detailed attention to the way things are around you and to the actions that you take. In order to be mindful, you should do things like examine the objects that are immediately around you and mentally describe them. Whether you are folding laundry or walking to class, be aware of the way that your body is moving and the way things look around you. You will not only feel more present, but you may even find a gratification in what you are immediately doing rather than what you are working to achieve.


2. Take time to play

Research, like that done by scientists at The National Institute for Play, suggests that play is not only important for the emotional well-being of children, but for adults as well (and for whatever you want to call college-aged humans, I assume). Playing allows us to escape the need to constantly accomplish something, and it makes us irrationally happy. Discover what type of aimless activity makes you happiest—dancing, doing puzzles, throwing a disc, finger-painting, catching M&Ms in your mouth etc. Try to do whatever type of play you choose for a set amount of time each day, but don’t make it feel like a chore.

Playing also includes backseat concerts performed by my sister and me!


3. Call a friend or family member just to chat

They’re probably dying to hear from you anyway! Calling someone who knows you well often feels like a release as you’re allowed to say anything around them without the fear of being judged or misunderstood. It also breaks up your day and reminds you that life goes on outside of the seemingly endless cycle of work.


4. Take a walk (preferably in nature)

Walking without a destination is a really underrated pleasure that gets your body moving and allows your mind to relax. Instead of focusing on a destination or mentally keeping track of your busy schedule, try to walk somewhere while only paying attention to the walk itself. Turn off your phone and meander aimlessly around the BFEC or Gap Trail. If you have access to a car, I recommend making the ten-minute drive to Honey Run Waterfall where you can take a peaceful walk through Ohio’s natural beauty (it exists, I promise).



5. Read something good

If you can’t physically escape the business of campus life, curl up in bed with a good book and a mug of tea. Don’t read something that you think would impress that sadboi from your philosophy class. Read whatever makes you happiest, whether that’s Harry Potter or Hyperbole and a Half. If you want to read more about living in a nongoal-oriented way, I would highly recommend The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which explains Taoism using Winnie the Pooh, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.


It’s important to remember that happiness can be found in the smallest of actions, and I hope these tips can help you take a moment to step away from goal-oriented thinking.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, Vahni Kurra, 2

Vahni is a sophomore English major and writer for Her Campus Kenyon. She is an associate at Gund Gallery, junior editor at Hika literary magazine and an intern at the Kenyon Review. Vahni grew up in Muncie, Indiana and Columbus, Ohio, so she is a good corn-fed gal. When she is not singing the praises of Beyoncé and Zadie Smith, she is attempting to write fiction, watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and exploring book stores with her friends and family.
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