for when goal-setting starts to feel like striving

This past Tuesday, after a week of family, traveling and not much down time, the familiar end-of-the-year panic hit me.

Taylor and I are hanging out at home, with nothing really on our to-do lists, and all of sudden that becomes a real problem in my mind.  My mind starts yelling at me, “It’s the last week of the year! You’re not doing anything! You’re so unprepared for 2016!”

And just like that to-do lists and made-up tasks threaten to take over what was supposed to be my week of rest at home. Anyone feel me on this?

In a moment of clarity and grace, I recognize my soul isn’t in a great place and I hit the stop button. I get alone, pull out my journal, and start writing. As I’m processing my thoughts and this anxiety that’s crept into my heart, I realize this isn’t a one-off occurrence. Thinking back over the past few years, I can recall this specific anxiety making an appearance right around the end of the year. Its voice is familiar, and sounds a lot like, “You’re not enough” and “You’re wasting your life because you don’t have a plan” and “Look at how much everyone else is accomplishing. What have you done?”

In the past, I’ve responded to this voice in different ways. Some years, I give in completely and desperately fill my schedule with trivial tasks and to-dos that make me feel busy (read: important, worthy). I went back to work feeling exhausted. Last year, with all the best intentions, I responded to this voice by setting goals in different areas of my life, complete with specific action items for each goal. That lasted until about March, and then life got a little crazy and that process went on the back burner.

When the end-of-year-anxiety hit this year, the temptation to fill up my last few days of rest with meaningless tasks was in full force. The temptation to sit down and write out a list of goals, to make a plan for 2016 was strong. But neither one of those sat well with my soul. It felt too much like striving, like I wanted to feel like I was in control of my life, and have a handle on what’s coming next. In reality, as I look ahead to the next 12 months, I have no idea what they will look like. Truly. And I don’t want to pretend like I do.

So this year, I’m not setting goals. Not because I think goal-setting is inherently bad or harmful, but because I’m not in a place where that’s a healthy, life-giving practice for me. It too quickly turns into measuring my identity and self-worth by my accomplishments and performance. It too quickly turns into a crutch for control.

This year, I’m choosing to lean into the uncertainty. Instead of setting goals, I’m asking the Lord for a word or phrase to characterize the next year. Instead of asking myself what I want to accomplish, I’m asking “What do I want to be about?” And for me, in this season, those shifts are helping me walk into 2016 honestly, with an open mind and heart to God’s will and not my own.


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