In the pantheon of big questions, there’s the obvious one: why are we here? Many have attempted to answer it, yet the question lingers. But a corollary to that one is the question: what are we pushing toward? What is so god-awfully important that we willfully expend our energy, our happiness, our lifespan (in many ways) trying to achieve it? Career success, academic success, notoriety, popularity, the perfect appearance, body, etc. It seems there always something that stands between us and being perfect exemplars of humanity. Despite the fact that perfect is an illusion, we push forward anyhow.
Naturally, having a goal is important. But what’s beneficial goal to have and what’s a problematic goal to have? I guess that depends on where your head’s at. If you believe it’s perfectly acceptable to deny yourself happiness for the sake of achieving some temporary, fleeting satisfaction, then I won’t be able to convince you otherwise. But ask yourself this: how many things do I strive for, if finally achieved, will quench my desire to strive for anything else? Chances are, when you’ve achieved this thing, whatever it is, there always something else you want or are willing to push toward.
This is due to a very simple yet profound inner reality: perception of incompleteness. When you are convinced, even subconsciously, that you are a partial being; that you are perpetually incomplete and unfulfilled, you look beyond yourself for external qualifiers. You are so extraordinarily unhappy with who you are and what your life represents that you passionately pursue something, perhaps tangible or intangible, that will legitimize who you are. But these things normally have two undeniable properties: 1) they are ephemeral and 2) they never really satisfy.
Am I saying that you should abandon your goals? Absolutely not. Goals are fantastic and we need people who have something they wish to achieve so that are society can benefit from their achievements. But there’s the issue: what’s the point of your striving? Is it to benefit others or yourself? As beings rooted in compassion and community, we are programmed to help others. Self-serving is a sort of evolutionary malfunction. We are eternally grateful to those who work hard: doctors who study for years to treat our diseases, engineers who build bridges and public works projects to make our communities safer and more efficient, teachers who study so that they can impart wisdom to us and many others. But when our achievements and efforts are geared toward others, the spirit of that achievement is eternal…not temporal. Any effort is only as good as the direction that effort is heading.