To be human is to strive, to have desires, to set goals and accomplish them. We don’t just want to reach what is necessary for our species biologically – i.e. to pass on our genetic material. We want to feel good, push the boundaries, excel to our highest potential and then some. But the experience of wanting can be an internal roller coaster of emotions. We can identify with the thing we want so much that we spiral into an obsession, then feel guilty for wanting at all, or have shame for actually getting it. Or we can get it, only to realize we didn’t really want it, or to find that now we want more. Is it possible to be present, fulfilled and content in the present moment with who we are, AND have desires? Or is the very experience of wanting more riddled with selfishness, an inability to be present, and a complete lack of gratitude?
Desire vs. Longing vs. Goals
The word desire comes from the latin de-, meaning to be apart form, and sidere, meaning star. Therefore, to have desire is to be apart from one’s star. This is a really lovely concept to think about – we feel separate from our home, our light, our warmth, the thing that gives us life. Stars are beautiful representations of wonder, adventure and mystery. But sometimes we long for things without even knowing what they are, and sometimes we know they are no good for us (which might just make us want them all the more). The star can be an unhealthy, unattainable ego-based obsession that we define ourselves by and measure ourselves against. To desire is to be in a state of not enough, with a specific thing in mind that is going to make everything okay, and completely validate the desirer.
Longing is a non-specific state of aching, for whom or what, the longer is not quite sure. For me, spiritual longing started in middle school and became confused and caught up in romantic longings until I met and married my husband. The ache for a God who loved me unconditionally and perfectly, far surpassed my desire for anything else. The need for the Divine to whisper to me on the breeze that the innermost workings of my heart are known continually pulls me deeper to pursue my spiritual practice and toward my faith in the Universe.
Goals, on the other hand, are the standards we hold ourselves to in order to keep our ideals of a perfect life in check and on track. Our culture and millennial generation seem to be goal-obsessed as of late. Beyoncé immortalized the lyric “I slay all day” in her song, Formation. Don’t get it twisted – it’s a great song – but why are we so obsessed with murdering benchmarks and violently obliterating all competition? Why are there no songs about contentment, presence and finding inner peace? What’s more, I’m afraid young millennial women are being duped into perpetuating the capitalist cycle of industrial-era productivity under the guise of being #ladybosses. Aren’t we constantly seduced by the idea of having it all? Who wins when we swipe up to buy the product that will make it so?
According to Girl Power Marketing, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases and 92% of women pass along information about deals or online recommendations to others (source). Corporations have figured out our female spending power and use every influencing force in their toolkit to make sure we remain in a state of wanting it all, never being enough, forever chasing dreams and goals just out of reach. That being said, I am disgusted by the gender wage gap and I believe economic empowerment is a key to smashing the patriarchy. I just think when our credit cards come out, our guard should go up, and we should be defensive toward marketing that feeds off of making us feel unworthy (for more on the self-help culture we live in, read this).
But does goal-setting always take us away from presence? Can we be content and zen but still have dreams and desires? Are goals the very definition of searching for fulfillment in external things? Let me be honest – I set goals every week: goals to workout at least 3 times, to eat super healthy meals, and to stick to a good sleep routine. I set goals at work every day – to get through my to-do list and excel at every task. And I set goals with this blog – to post regularly, send out a monthly newsletter, and make sure my buffer is filled with future social media posts to send love and light out into the interwebs. Goals can help us stay on track to achieve the big, beautiful dream we have – they require work, dedication and a constant expectation readjustment. I think it all comes down to what happens when we miss the mark, and fall into a rut. If our first instinct is to beat ourselves up (probably furthering our procrastination), our entire attitude toward the goal is unhealthy and we have probably identified too closely with the thing we are trying to achieve. And identifying with anything besides our connection the Universe and all beings everywhere is a great recipe for suffering. On the other hand, if we can have self-compassion and forgiveness, keeping our goals in perspective as nice signposts guiding us to our deepest desires, then maybe we have found the holy grail of healthy goal-setting. Perhaps there is a way to be deeply fulfilled and use that contentment to help change the world and grow in our own abundance at the same time.
On the other side of the spectrum, of course, is the shame surrounding wishing for and believing we can achieve our deepest desires… or even having desire at all. Danielle LaPorte is the author of The Desire Map, an incredible book that gives us permission to explicitly and specifically state our desires in order to manifest them. She defines goal shame as apologizing for your goals when you share them, or that sinking feeling that drives you to not share them at all. This is not shame about sharing your achievements, but – more extremely – from sharing the fact that you have goals at all. Life Coach Brooke Castillo says you have to commit to not ever feel shame or guilt for achieving your goals. When you hear people say, “Must be nice!”, just reply, “Yes, it is!” There is power in owning our success and using it to change the world.
I believe women in our culture are especially made to feel ashamed of having desires. Rather, we are brought up to be the objects of male desire, and are hardly asked, “What is your desire?” We are shown what we can desire from a young age – and that is a husband, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence. Only hetero men are allowed to have sexual desire, whereas women are only allowed to want to please men and satisfy their desires. I recognize that it is a socially radical thing for a woman to say, “This is what I want, what I desire, and what I will go after until it’s mine.”
Striving vs. Being
We are not our goals, our failures or success. But I’d rather have failures under my belt than nothing, because that’s how I know I’m trying to leave this world better than I found it. Also, I know myself and when I don’t set goals, it’s actually from a place of ego, in order to protect it. It all comes down to our intention around the desire, the longing, the goal-setting. It’s the difference between striving and being. Striving is the desperation, seeking approval and validation from others, that causes suffering. But when we’re being the fullest versions of ourselves, we are transforming the world. When our intention is to be compassionate, hold space and share our wisdom and skills with others, setting goals and dreaming big becomes an outward expression of our level of faith in the universe.