by Annabeth Leong
I remember being 27, married, with the sort of job that could have become a career, going up in the ranks of a volunteer organization I participated in, publishing stories here and there. I thought I could see where this was going. It was time to think about buying a house, having a kid, getting a promotion, taking on more responsibility at that organization, and writing more and better. I believed in goals. If I wrote 1,000 words a day, the following year I wanted to write 1,250 words a day.
Two years later, most of that was gone. I had walked away from the marriage, the job, even the city I'd been living in. I no longer participated in that organization. I still wrote, but not under the name I used to use.
I basically hit the red button on my life. Under that other name, I used to have social media accounts and some growing reputation as an expert about certain things. I had invested in various pursuits, and was reaping the respect that came from that.
The events that led to those changes, combined with everything that's happened since then, have made me a little skeptical about goals.
Here's the question I never asked myself back then: All that more, where does it lead? Do I write 1,250 words, then 1,500, then on and on, until I'm someday writing 400,000 a day? (haha) Obviously, one can be smarter than that about setting one's goals, but for a long time, my only sense about goals was that they were supposed to be "more" and "higher."
I remember calling my mom when I signed my first contract for a book that would go into print. "Great," she said. "Are you going to try to get published somewhere better next time?"
And, philosophical person that I am, I wonder what "better" means.
The only possible answer to that is what's better to me, but that's so hard for me to answer. Going back to that life I used to have: did I want any of those things I thought I was supposed to do?
Years later, with another person, I started trying to have a baby. I'd been told that's what all women want. When I raised doubts about my maternal instincts (I have held a child exactly once in my life, and have to restrain myself from referring to babies with pronouns reserved for inanimate objects), I heard that hormones would fix all that. If I had a baby, I would want it. I would like it. People seemed extremely invested in convincing me that I wanted this even when I didn't think I did. More than that, they seemed extremely invested in issuing dire warnings about how deeply I would regret it if I didn't have a baby. I would wind up old and ugly and alone and very, very sorry. I would see my selfishness and wish I'd had a purpose in my life besides myself.
Anyway, once I started trying to have a baby, I found myself avoiding sex at any cost. And when I thought about that, I began to uncover the key piece of buried information: I absolutely did not want a baby. Believing that I actually wanted one when I didn't think I did was crazymaking — that stuff I'd been told basically asked me to assume I was insane, that I didn't know shit about my actual personality and wants and feelings. The fact that I'd been trying to believe it anyway for years — well, that had done some damage to my ability to know what the hell was going on with me.
Even now, it's hard for me to say that having a baby is not a goal for me. I was hanging out with an otherwise awesome woman not that long ago, but when she asked about children and I told her I didn't want one, she began insisting that I must freeze my eggs for the inevitability that I will regret this decision in a few years. I'm scared of writing what I'm writing now. All I can do is promise that I've given it a lot of thought and I'm sure about what I feel and what I know about the sort of person I am and the things I want to do with my life.
Goals — real goals that are true to me — are hard because it's hard for me to know what's true to me. A lot of things fell along with the baby goal, most notably my sense of my sexuality (A painful discussion that I've been revealing here in bits. What I'll say about it now is that it's another place where people seemed to feel free to tell me what my sexuality ought to be. I listened to them too much and for too long.).
I'm a bit ashamed of saying I'm so susceptible to what I've been told. When I identify a true goal of my own, it often seems unworthy, impractical, too rebellious — various definitions of wrong.
So the big goal, which is probably too vague to be praised by the experts in such things, is to figure out what I actually want and do that. To care about what I actually want. Corollaries: authenticity, honesty, courage.
I know I am supposed to make goals measurable. I am supposed to assess whether I am progressing toward them. I need to make sure they're achievable and realistic. I used to make personal five-year plans. But I don't have the heart for that anymore. I can't look at my heart and ask if it's realistic. Sometimes, I can't look at my heart and make any sense of it at all.
So I write it down. Not because it's a goal, but because that's what I do.