Hustle smushustle: Why it’s okay not to always have goals

havegoalsThis past week — save for one day when I made it in to work and one day where I worked from home — I struggled simultaneously with recovering from a marathon, a head cold and the worst fever blisters I’ve ever had all at once, and being productive with my downtime. Normally I would have had several freelance articles on to go I could have worked on, a few blog posts to write and some strength training plans that I could have completed in my time at home and felt satisfied that I used my sick time wisely and productively.

But I didn’t have anything I “needed” to do. I wrote two blog posts and one strength plan in half a day, then started to stress out. I have time at home and can’t workout, which is rare — I need to be working on something!

Instead of relaxing with a book or a bowl of popcorn and Netflix like any normal person would on a sick day, I started researching all sorts of things I should be doing. Writing more blog posts. Brainstorming a book proposal. Looking into more ad networks. Planning my next training cycle. Reading other fitness blogs. Figuring out what I want to do with Koru Personal Training next (marketing? A downloadable guide? Online groups?).

In my frantic search for something I should be doing to better myself or my side businesses, I came across this article on and let out a deep breath after reading the following quote:

“The knight errant, who finds his challenges along the way, may be a better model for our times than the knight who is questing for the Grail.”

The quote comes from anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson (daughter of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead) from her book Composing a Life (published in 1989), which is about the “culturally conditioned mythologies of achievement and success, and what it takes to transcend them in order to live an authentic, meaningful life — a life that is invariably far messier and more strewn with contradiction than our misleading cultural mythos of self-actualization allows.”

a knight errant

Every blogger, freelance writer, fitness trainer and entrepreneur knows the importance of “the hustle” to achieve success in life and business. You’ve got to work hard, day and night, to get yourself and your business where you want it to be. You have to set goals and have a clear vision. You have to write down the steps it’s going to take to get you there and follow through with your plan. And when you reach your target, you’ve got to set a new, bigger goal to keep growing.

But do we always need to hustle and work towards a goal to live a fulfilling, authentic and successful life? Because isn’t that all what we want? Do we always need to be questing towards the grail to have that? Can’t we just live? Can’t we just do things as we feel like doing them? Can’t we just be?

“Our aesthetic sense, whether in works of art or in lives, has overfocused on the stubborn struggle toward a single goal rather than on the fluid, the protean, the improvisatory,” Bateson writes. “We see achievement as purposeful and monolithic, like the sculpting of a massive tree trunk that has first to be brought from the forest and then shaped by long labor to assert the artist’s vision, rather than something crafted from odds and ends, like a patchwork quilt, and lovingly used to warm different nights and bodies.”

catherine bateson quote

Although having goals and doing purposeful work is important, so too is just going with the flow sometimes. Yes, there are lots of things I could be doing to make my blog and fitness business better; but if it’s not something I desire to do, why force it? Maybe I’d rather take more of a warm and loving patchwork quilt approach to my passion projects instead of laboring over it for years to sculpt it into something I envision now, which may or may not suit my needs down the line. As Bateson writes, “We must invest time and passion in specific goals and at the same time acknowledge that these are mutable.”

After I read the article, I closed my lap top and had a bath. Then I made a fire and cuddled with my dogs while not doing anything in particular, and it was nice. My stress levels dropped. Anytime my thoughts went to work, I pushed them aside.

I’ve muted them, for now.

Do you have a clearly defined goal or vision for the next three years? Five years?
Can you ever take a sick day or relax without feeling like you should be being productive?
Do you always feel like you need to find productive ways to fill your time?