Goals are dangerous things. Getting married to the wrong one can be very bad for your life and health. But does that mean that goal setting in itself is bad for you? Oliver Burkeman argues that it may be. He thinks that the path to the good life is coping with uncertainty. Accepting the worst possible outcome rather than chasing windmills.
Well, Burkeman is right and he is wrong. He is right that achieving goals in itself does not produce lasting joy. After winning the big game, you can celebrate but not forever. And before you play, worrying about whether you will win can be distracting.
But this chit chat misses the forest for the trees. One cannot live well without moving principle to action. We do that by adopting a set of measurements (metrics) to keep track if our actions are moving us in the right direction. Otherwise we drift. So in effect, Burkeman’s warning — not to take results too seriously — does not translate into a general principle against quantifying our way to the good life.
So I would not embrace stoicism as the path to happiness, if I were you. That is still the wrong focus — on potential outcomes. We do better by focusing on and managing process or “flow”.
The distinction can be a slippery one. For example, I think that Somerset Maugham got it wrong in his book (turned into a film), The Razor’s Edge.
The main character Larry Darrell, returns from war with a wounded soul and he seeks enlightenment. So far so good. He finds it by embracing eastern religion and becoming a better person. What’s wrong with that? This so called “better person” becomes a drifter.
BTW, you might compare this with another return from war story - The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steve Pressfield.
In this story, the wounded hero regains focus and stops drifting through a rather different process.