Thursday, February 09, 2006

Finding Flow and goals

I am reading the book, "Finding Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Here's an excerpt from one review:

`What is a good life?', is basically the question addressed by this book. Well, isn't a good life just about being happy? Ok, but that is not the complete answer. For how do we become and stay happy? Not by watching TV, eating, or relaxing all day! In small doses these things are good and improve your daily life, but the effects are not additive. In other words: a point of diminishing returns is quickly reached. Also you don't become happy by having to do nothing. Csikszentmihalyi's research shows that both intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something) and extrinsic motivation (having to do something) are preferable to not having any kind of goal to focus your attention.

Last night I started reading the section on the importance of having goals, and I realized that for most of my life I have simply stumbled from one day to the next without any long-term goals. I have set goals at times, such as my goal to move to Nashville to see if I could "make it" in music, and my recently achieved goal to create a comprehensive database of decisions made by my agency.

But long-term goals? What are they? How would I recognize one if it hit me in the head?

Maybe just surviving each crisis has seemed to sap my energy. But many of my crises in the past have resulted from not having a goal in the first place and simply picking the path of least resistance. For example, I started my 29-year career with the Telephone Company in 1969 in the shadow of the Vietnam War, when I was desperate to find a job to sustain my new family (wife was pregnant with our first child when I got an early out from the Navy).

And I just stayed. No particular passion for the phone company - it was just a safe, decent-paying white collar job that happened to be in the area where I grew up. And I've always had a knack for corporate survival. I'm a smart people-pleaser, so I've always found ways to be useful.

But after working for the Telephone Company about eight years, I found myself in an intolerable job. I felt like I was in a box and had no options. My family (wife and kids ages 5 and 7 at that time) depended on me. I felt like I had no transferable skills, since I had worked very specialized jobs that only exist in the Phone Company. I even contemplated suicide, but this was not feasible, because so many people depended on me. So my short-term solution for making a living ended up biting me in the ass, because I found myself in a job that was not of my own choosing and that was driving me crazy. Those were the years of anti-depressants, Valium, Librium and Probanthene. But I stuck it out, managed to change jobs and finished out a long career in 1998.

Stepping back a few years, why did I marry my first wife? Did I even know who I was then? Was that relationship just an attempt to escape from a repressive family of origin into some kind of independence?

Of course I made it work - we stayed married for 26 years and raised two wonderful children, who now have given me four wonderful grandchildren.

But that choice of marriage partner, like my career choice, also lead me toward ultimate disaster. Our relationship grew increasingly toxic, because we grew increasingly apart from one another. We found we had nothing in common after the kids left the nest. Our initial motivation, to escape from our parents' family, quickly wore thin once we had established our own family. So my goal then became to simply stick together for the purpose of raising our children. I now know that my first wife stopped loving me quite early in our marriage.

So it's not like I can second-guess myself and wish for a different history. I am what I am, and I did what I did. I'm actually proud of myself for getting and keeping a good job, providing for my family and keeping our marriage together for the sake of our children. I'm just reflecting on my general lack of goal-setting behavior.

And so it is with my current job. I came to Nashville for the music, not for the day job I now hold. It's a great job, one that offers me challenges and at least psychic if not huge monetary rewards. But it supports me and my wife, and I'm grateful to live in such a great city in such a comfortable house in such a beautiful area. But that's not the point. The point is that I jumped at this job because it was available, and I desperately needed a job after 1 1/2 years of unemployment following my retirement from the Telephone Company in 1998.

Now retirement looms just six years away, when I'll be able to draw full Social Security benefits.
Thus I may have my first opportunity to really set some goals for myself.
What kind of goals?

Writing poetry, prose - telling all the stories I have to tell
Photography - my new passion discovered thanks to a good friend's father/
Genealogy - I want to tell the stories of my ancestors
Music - playing, writing, recording
Travel - see interesting places

One choice of which I can be proud is my wife. I deliberately set out to find her following the untimely death of my second wife from leukemia. I was looking for someone intelligent and passionate, someone who appreciated music like I did, and someone who could see the world through similar eyes. I wanted to find someone who could actually relate to the REAL ME, not some projection of her Perfect Man.

Now I have found her, and she has found me.
She understands my soul.
I see into her soul.
We are soulmates.

Now I finally know what Real Love is.

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