Goal Setting & Surrender

A line from Parasite that has stuck with me.

I love to plan—a lot.

I plan everything from semesters, weeks, and daily schedules to the way I spend pockets of break time, the ideal combination of classes to take years down the road, and things to say during anxiety-inducing class discussions.

Planning is my counter to uncertainty, and it makes me feel in control of life. If you can’t predict the outcome, at least overcompensate with effort to sway the odds in your favor.

Given this context, it’s not difficult to understand why I have always been obsessed with New Year’s resolutions. Every year, I am boundlessly optimistic about the ways I can improve myself, and I become convinced that, with the right amount of detailed planning and diligence, anything can be accomplished.

So I set language goals, fitness goals, academic goals, and just about any other goal I can think of. As the year goes by, some take priority while others fade into the background. But in the end, I am typically always left feeling disappointed by my perceived failure to follow fundamentally unrealistic plans.

As this year draws to a close, I had the strong urge to succumb to this cycle and was soon daydreaming about a version of myself who journals, meditates, exercises, reads, and studies kanji every day. I even made a Goodreads account and was on the verge of setting a goal for how many books I want to read next year.

But during a year in which nearly every single plan of mine has been derailed, I was finally able to catch myself.

Since 2018, I had been planning to take a gap year after high school to study in Korea. Just a few weeks before the semester started, I had planned to take classes on campus. But this fall, I ended up in neither Korea nor Bloomington, but my house in Texas.

Though I don’t anticipate every year being as tumultuous as 2020 (…but honestly who knows at this point), I feel a lot less inclined to join in the season of intense pledges to be better in the new year. If not a pandemic, life will get in the way, as it always has.

But the point of this post is not to be defeatist.

After a much-needed discussion with my mom—a goal setting queen—it struck me that all of my goals have envisioned myself as some kind of robot who is capable of abiding by strict routines and completing an infinite list of tasks each day. Not once have I ever resolved to take care of my mental health (or physical health for reasons that are not superficial). I’ve always gravitated towards that which is measurable and tangible, believing that nothing else is worth pursuing. I’ve always found the motivation to do more within the gnawing feeling that my current self is nowhere near enough.

My goals have always come from a well-intentioned yet toxic place.

In 2021, I am embracing flexibility and demanding from myself the same kindness, patience, and understanding that I have in abundance for everyone else.

I still want to read more, exercise more, and confront the adversary that is kanji, but I will only be doing these as much as I genuinely want to. No more deluding myself into thinking that I can or should devote energy to them all the time.

Thank you for attending my Ted Talk. I hope you’ve gotten through this year as healthy and sane as possible.

Hoping for brighter days.

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