Letting go off expectations and goals?

Leo Babauta writes about living a life with no goals and without expectations. Yes, the blog is called zen habits and may be its only zen monks who are able to do what Leo wants people to do. That would have been ok if he wrote this for zen monks alone. But that is not the case, he writes this for everyone. I find this to be a problem.

David Damron wrote about why Leo is wrong about goals. His five reasons are that:

  1. A goal can teach you how to handle your emotions
  2. Focus on a goal can deliver measurable results
  3. The journey is more appreciated when you set your sights on “Destination X”
  4. There’s faith that you will achieve a goal by just being and then there’s faith in focused action that you will achieve a goal
  5. A community is far likelier to back a goal than a way of life

Leo’s rebuttals to all those points run around one argument – I have lived a life without goals and I know that it works better. I suppose that his arguments for living without expectations may also lie on the same thread of arguments.

At present, I find this philosophy of living very hard to digest. If you can live a life like Leo where you are self-employed and make enough money to support your family then it might be possible to live that way.

Yes, theoretically I’d love to be able to live without goals or expectations. I’d like to do whatever takes my fancy like spend my time climbing the mountains, swimming the seas and enjoying the peace. All would have been well if I was in a Himalayan monastery supported by philanthropy to search for the ‘ultimate truth’. But that is not the case, I live a life that we have built for ourselves after many millennia of organised human effort.

I am not trying to be philosophical when I say that this life that I am able to live is better than the life that I would have had, had everyone of us lived without goals or expectations. It is a better life from a utilitarian perspective. Sure there are many more who are poor and suffering from the time when Buddha walked the earth. But there are also many many more who are able to experience new things, live longer and have the ability to contribute to humanity than those who did in Buddha’s times.

We have achieved what we have through innovation and hard work.

Many times the achievement has been possible only because of organised hard work. Organisations and institutions would fail without goals and a clear vision.

One may argue that at least for innovation it might be better to live a free life. We can explore and learn new things and in the process develop new things. Sure that is one way to look at innovation. Innovation is very a murky area to explore but one thing we know is that there is no fixed formula to innovate. But in certain situations, we might have been able to innovate only because we were pushed by goals and expectations.

I am not trying to destroy Leo’s idea. I think there is value in the advice but it has limited applicability. If everyone adopts this philosophy of living without goals and expectations, many things will not work and we may not progress.

8 thoughts on “Letting go off expectations and goals?”

  1. whenever it comes to these ‘gurus’ doling out philosophy for life, its best to treat it like a buffet. You pick what works for you and leave what doesn’t. you can fill that part with what works best for you. I think you are allowed to be promiscuous when it comes to philosophy…

  2. I am fascinated by people who create amazing goals for themselves. Mainly because that is the opposite of myself. As a widow, I know that when you don’t get to have your goal come true, you are left devistated, directionless and heartbroken (no matter what the dream was). That’s a little different though. I can be sure that I won’t get the life that I had in mind. What I mean is, I know that, in my case, I really was powerless to change anything. I guess that’s why there are people who prefer not to have goals at all. At the end of the day it really just depends on the person, and the situation. Philosophy really isn’t a one size fits all subject. It’s broad and deep and complicated and that’s what I love about it 🙂

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

      Philosophy is the love of wisdom. And if there is any wisdom in the world wrt human affairs, it is that we are far too complex. So I acknowledge that using a certain principle depends on the person but in any given situation there is at least one way which is more efficient than the others. That there is no one-fits-all solution in philosophy.

      I also appreciate that things that are not in your control can very quickly cause a lot of harm but what if we could understand these factors better before thinking about goals that are set around them. Surely, with time, experience and experimentation, one make some progress in this critically important matter.

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