In this world of goals, targets and achievements, one of the common questions we ask ourselves or hear asked of us is - Where do you see yourself 5, 10 or 15 years from now. It appears that the best way to structure your life and focus your energy is to look into your future and then make plans based upon what you expect (or want) your life to be. There is an invisible force that drives our thought and action towards setting a 'goal' and then striving hard to achieve it. Corporate and marketing strategies are all based upon this guiding principle. Even the church is being encouraged to be 'purpose driven', both words that imply an aggressive movement towards a defined target. I remember making a 5 year and a 10 year 'Strategic Plan' for the hospital in Jharkhand where I worked for 2 years after my medical training. It was great fun doing it and I was quite proud of the final product, but I am quite sure it is gathering dust in some forgotten filing cabinet, if it has not been already destroyed. And I am sure that when I go to the hospital next month about 6 years after I left, a very tiny portion of what I envisioned will be in place although some much better and probably more relevant and fruitful things have happened since I left.
Now, I have always been a great enthusiast for management strategies and a regular expounder of these ideas, half-baked though they be, whenever I get the chance in discussions with the hospital administration. However, over the last year or so, the idea of 'purpose drivenness', which had so appealed to my Type-A personality, has been undergoing a gradual, subtle revamping. Though it has required (and still requires) an attitudinal sea-change which has been a harrowing battle against my achievement-requiring soul, it has been on the whole a refreshing breeze that is slowly but surely breaking down the walls I had built between me and my happiness.
Let me explain. Throughout my life, I have measured my happiness based upon my 'successes'. Be it a prize in a competition, a rank in the school or even a victory in an argument, I have tended to over-simplify happiness into the satisfaction that comes with achievement of a goal. Of course, I dearly love and am grateful for sources of joy like music, reading, friendships and family. But in other respects, my life has generally boiled down to the chasing of a goal and then raising the bar or setting a new one when it is reached. Now according to the business and self-help gurus of our day and age, I would be doing the right thing and I am well on my way to a 'successful' life.
But thanks to the blessing of marriage to a wonderful woman, and thanks to these two years we have spent in a near replica of my mind's idea of Eden, these ideas, while not yet completely dead, are undergoing a transformation. For in this time, I have begun to see that while goals and their achievement will bring us success, they will not necessarily bring us happiness. And even if they do, they are certainly not the only ways of finding it. In fact, they are poor cousins to the real joys of life and in fact take on the role of evil step-sisters who prevent us from enjoying these joys. For every day on this earth that we spend singlemindedly focussed on the achievement of our goals is one more day of blinkered existence where the forward focus has made us miss the beauty along the way. And every day brings with it new beauty to be savoured and enjoyed. Not just in nature; in the smile of a wife in the morning, happy to see you awake (at last!!), in the words of the Scripture that we often fail to read as we hurry on to more 'important' things that await us in the day, in the plants that I water every morning, often in too much of a hurry to actually be present to their ministry, in the happiness of a patient who is to be discharged, knowing he has been cured of his illness, in the love that a sister communicates to a patient as you watch while you do the paperwork in the nursing station...... The list of the things of beauty that we miss every day in our daily goal-oriented rush is endless.
And think of the things we miss in our lifetime goal-oriented rush. These last 2 years have been for me a time of realisation of these things. The regular study of the Scripture, the reading of good books, the spending of time with my loved ones, the enjoyment of bonsai, the involvement in the Friday Fellowship, the new-found skill (or lack of it!!) of cooking, the development of a loving and self-giving relationship..... these have all been things that would have never occurred to me to be put down as goals, but due to my total lack of goals for this time in Shillong, are things that have become so special to me. Had I been in the rat-race of my profession, where doctors are willing to sacrifice everything to the idols of money and academics, I would have lost rather than gained.
So this is the question I am asking myself - Do I really need to envision what I will be doing 5 or 10 or 15 years from now? Or should I rather, just enjoy the wonderful life that God has given me and let the future take care of itself. For I am sure, that as long as I am keeping the things of God at the centre of my life and allowing my limited understanding of Him and relationship with Him to keep growing, I am fulfilling the only goal I need to focus on. Of course, I may never win the Nobel prize, or build up a huge practice, or make a name for myself. But then, how many of those who achieve them are truly happy. And were those my goals in the first place, I may have given my life to achieve them. And what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul. I would vote for my soul every time....