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The Beauty of Non-Goals

August 26, 2010

Waiting for the bus this morning, I started to think about goals. In all honesty, I’ve never been the best goal-setter. I can do deadlines and projects, but setting specific, long-term goals has never really been my thing. I’ve always been more of a go-with-the-flow kind of person, taking everything one step at a time and, if anything, avoiding planning too far ahead. However, it seems this actually often works out.

In fact, the two things I have done recently were both “goals” I had, but they weren’t cemented-in-my-head things I was always working toward. They were just ideas I always had floating around, things I thought, “I would really like to do this.” They were more what I’d like to call Non-Goals.

Since I was a kid, probably since I first visited Australia when I was 12, I always thought I wanted to live in Australia for a year. It wasn’t some light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel goal I was always working towards, just something I thought would be cool. In high school and college I never thought I would really do it. Sure, I did an internship in Oz the summer of my junior year but it was mostly just because I wanted to do an internship and Australia was really the best choice, especially given I was already on that side of the world, studying in Thailand. Senior year, my boyfriend and I had sort of talked about what it would be like to live in Australia. I mentioned how much I liked it and how I always kind of wanted to live there, but I didn’t really think we would do it.

The decision to actually go for it was so gradual. Even as we started talking about it a little more seriously, I still didn’t think it would actually happen. I didn’t truly believe we’d do it until the day we both applied for our visas. But here we are!

The other “Non-Goal” I’d had since perhaps sophomore year of college was to backpack around South America after graduation. Again, other than occasionally mentioning I wanted to do it and pondering taking more Spanish classes or a South American geography class  (both of which would have been helpful but unfortunately never happened), I really didn’t pursue the idea, let alone focus and meditate daily on it. Again, I really didn’t think it would happen. I imagined I would probably just get a job and, if anything, it would happen a year or two later.

But all kinds of factors came into play, and suddenly I found myself facing down the idea that I really could do that trip after graduation. I did try the job route and it didn’t work. Then it came down to my dream trip or going to Spain to teach English. I was distraught over having to make the decision, though I knew deep down which I really wanted, but in the end I didn’t have to really decide as problems with my visa for Spain made it no longer an option (or an incredibly difficult one, at least).

So I found myself booking a flight to Argentina and within a few months of graduation I was traveling solo around South America. Voila!

Of course, neither of these experiences were exactly what I had imagined when I first started dreaming up these futures. When I was a kid I imagined I’d be “old” when I lived in Australia (like, almost 30!) and I would have my own house in tropical surroundings and probably a car and an Australian boyfriend and a whole life there. Then, a year seemed like a whole lifetime. Sure, the realities are a bit different at 23 in a subleased apartment in Redfern, but I’m certainly doing a year of living in Oz.

And when I first dreamed of South America, I imagined six or more months crossing the continent, beginning in Central America and working my way all the way down to Ushuaia and Antarctica. Of course, reality meant worrying about things like hurricane season and constraints such as time, money and personal safety. But such is life. I still made it and it was still amazing! And there are still adventures to be had. (Ever since I read an article in the local Travel section on a couple who spent their three-month honeymoon backpacking in South America, I also have had a bit of a dream of traversing a continent with a partner, so there’s still more non-goals to be achieved!)

You never know what’s going to happen, but it does seem that having an idea that sticks with you can somehow lead you in the right direction. The reality may not be quite as grand as you imagined, but sometimes the best things are those you can’t quite predict.

I’m reminded of a perfect example. In the beginning of my South America trip I traveled a bit with a German girl. We were both still pretty fresh in SA, with lots of time left to go (especially her). Her plans had been to go only as far north as Peru, but of course we both had been hearing nothing but rave reviews of Colombia. We even spent a couple days traveling with a Colombian guy who tried to convince her to come visit him in Bogota for New Years. She insisted Colombia wasn’t in her plans, but perhaps if she met some guys in Peru who were also traveling there also, then she might go with them.

We parted ways after a week or so, as she was heading back down to Chile to do some volunteer work. When she resumed her traveling she met another German girl traveling alone, and they decided to continue on together. Eventually they went to Colombia (without any male companions!). And what happened there? Well, for one thing she stayed two or three months in the country she hadn’t even planned to visit. She extended her time in South America (when she was supposed to be moving on to Australia — she did make it for a couple weeks so I got to see her again!), and what was part of the reason why? She met a guy.

This ordinary German girl, who quit her ordinary job because she wanted to travel a bit before she settled down and had kids, who thought she would just return home and go back to her old job and meet a nice German man, who was afraid to even travel to Colombia and had no plans to in the first place, she fell in love with a Colombian man in Colombia! There went any goals or plans she might have made before. She did eventually drop by Australia for a couple weeks, then returned home to Germany to see family and friends, but then she returned to Colombia. She’s still there today, and they got married!

That’s the kind of thing that makes life (and traveling) so great, and makes Non-Goals so important. It’s great to have an idea of where you’d like to be going, and it feels really great when you find that you got there, but it’s also pretty cool to not know what’s ahead and to know that anything could happen. I, for one, like to be surprised.


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