No goals, no problem! OR The Fear of the Untapped Potential

23 Oct

Like most blog-writers, I possess a healthy amount of narcissism. Add to that a medium-sized obsession with CVs. My own and that of other people. How did they get to where they are now? What were the success-defining moments in their life? How did the narrative change over time? And I am constantly amazed when people talk about a dream or experience they had as a little child, that would define a clear path for the rest of their life.

If somebody had told me 15 years ago what I would do for a living in 2016, I would have declared that person as utterly insane. Neither “management”, “software” nor “psychotherapy” was something I would have ever put in the same sentence as my own name. Not even remotely. Today is not the result of a grand plan.

Retrospectively it is of course always possible to construct the narrative in a “meaning”-full way. Narrative aside, I recently got curious about some underlying principles, characteristics or personality traits that have resulted in my vita being rather unpredictable and me being where I am today. And I found two that at first sight don’t look so great but that have worked out alright for me:

Lack of future goals & Impatience.

Thinking about “my future life” in the past, I have never ever had a concrete goal that would manifest itself so deep in my soul that I would do anything (or at least work really hard) to achieve it. Until my mid 20s, there were only very rough areas of interest (acting, film, media, culture) that I was being pulled towards. And these were paired with an incredible amount of naivety. I really knew very, very little about these industries, about possible career paths (not that I ever thought about “having a career”) or even how salaries and the ability to afford stuff were linked. But there was also an incredible amount of self-confidence. I knew that I would be successful and that I would get as far as I would want to get if I just set my mind to it. Thankfully, I did not have a definition of success, so that statement served very well as a general motor without any real limitations. Over the years, things and I kept moving, but the direction kept changing constantly. And I have collected and developed so many interesting and diverse skills and abilities over the years that a more linear, goal-oriented approach might have never allowed for.

Even today I struggle with the concept of “life goals” as future milestones for me. Honestly speaking, I wish I had some. I wish I could say that even just work-wise, I want to specifically achieve this or that, so that I can channel and focus my energies, assuming that channelling and focussing would lead me to great success quicker. But beyond the short- or medium-term to do lists or the overall goals of the company, there is little planning for me personally. It’s really about the process. About identifying new areas of interest, about making the first step and about doing my best in most situations. That does not mean, of course, that I excel in most situations. Sometimes “my best” is really not very good, objectively speaking. But I try to stay on top of things and to not screw up too often. And to be honest with myself and others. If I achieve that on most days, this will keep leading me to good things and good people. Even without the slightest idea of destination.

One reason why I wish I had more concrete goals is because I know that goals work – especially when it comes to achieving things beyond ones comfort zone. I would have never been able to ever run 21km, had I not decided on my 25th birthday to run a half marathon 3 months later. At that time, I had never ran more than 3k at a time – and I don’t hink I had ever really pushed myself outside of my comfort zone for anything. Without that clear goal, I would have never trained so hard (I did not even know that I could train so hard!) and today I can look back at not just one but three half marathons that I successfully completed. So I know I can achieve stuff when there is a clear goal and some degree of external accountability. And perhaps I could achieve a lot more than with my strategy of simply “going with the flow”, which can be seen as a bit lazy. Perhaps I could not just be good at many things, but great at one thing. The fear of the untapped potential.

The second trait mentioned above (impatience) comes coupled with a really low tolerance for boredom or for “things not being right”. I might not necessarily get bored or frustrated super quickly, but when I reach a certain level or point, I have to do something immediately. I can not even stand another day of it – impatience takes over and then it’s just a matter of minutes before I change something. This can mean small changes that remain unnoticed to others or it can mean big, dramatic, 180 degree changes that confuse the life out of people around me.

This also means that I keep discovering new worlds. Because sometimes I don’t want to actually change the life I have but add something to it. And then it happens that I sign up to a ballet class once or twice or that I start a 2 year training course for a psychotherapy accreditation.

That sounds just fine, and it is. But two downsides are that: a) sometimes it does take me very long to get to “that point” and that b) when I do reach it, I can act so quickly,  impulsively or even brutally, that I am not always sure this is healthy.

But overall, I am quite happy with “lack of goals” and “impatience” as my buddies. You can’t have everything after all, and while of course it would be super interesting to peak into the alternate universe in which I had more goals and patience, the grass on my side is already pretty green.

UPDATE: After I published this post, a friend pointed me towards this great TED Talk about “Multipotentialites” by Emilie Wapnick: Why some of us don’t have one true calling. She puts very similar thoughts into much better words, so I highly recommend this!


Picture: (CC0 license) via


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