January 15, 2011 by Amanda Zahn
Nobody understands how much I hate this category. Goals in general have always been the bane of my existence. It is not that I lack ambition or motivation; it is that my decisions have always been fluid. I have been called an opportunist — among other things, of course — in that I adapt my life and my future based on the situation in front of me. If I’m suddenly faced with a brick wall, I typically choose something similar to deploying a grappling hook as opposed to smashing my face through it. I am not less motivated than the person who chooses to face-smash their way to victory, but I do choose to take the easy way, or the less-beaten path, when the chance is available.
It usually is.
I understand that the guidelines for the Leadership Portfolio are just questions to give us purpose or direction if we find ourselves with some form of creative block. With these questions in mind, I choose to set out on my own. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” No. “What is your dream career?” Not a chance.
It is not that I choose to avoid these questions because they scare me. I avoid them because I truly do not know the answers to them. Would my life be better if I could answer these questions on command? I don’t think so, but I know many people would disagree with me. They — yes, the dreaded They — say that having a plan or a path to follow will make achieving those goals sweeter than to just stumble upon them. If someone plans for it, and works hard for it, the final product feels like more of a victory.
Lies, I say!
I can look back at points in my life, at what I have accomplished and experienced, and feel immense pride in what I have done. Are my notable achievements cheapened because I did not lay them on the path I chose to walk? Would the be worth more to me if I had answered that question in high school? “Where do you want to be in five years?” It sure as hell was not sitting in 130° heat, wearing full battle gear, eating an MRE, and looking forward to another 300 days of the same. People don’t plan for that. Students don’t plan for that.
When I was living it, however, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing. Along with the 130°, the full battle gear, the MREs, and the long period of time ahead of me, I was attending classes online, I was studying for Soldier of the Month and Soldier of the Quarter boards, and preparing for the promotion board. I watched my sister get married live over the Internet. I turned a really rough situation into some of the most amazing friendships I could even describe. Webster has nothing on my definition of friendship and love.
Looking back on those times bring a smile to my face. Even during the worst of those deployments, I don’t remember ever uttering the words “Gosh, I bet this experience would suck less if I had planned for it five years ago.”
So what do I want to do in the future? Succeed.
Yes, that is it. This is the point that most people would ask how. I’m going to keep doing what I have been doing for most of my life: adapt.
I have a friend who I love very much who had his path set the day he entered this world. I do not doubt that his parents had his best interest in their hearts when they put him on the path of the scholar, and forcefully guided him into the books and away from the society of youth, but they inadvertently did him a terrible wrong. At any point in his life, he could have answered that five-year question in a general, if not specific, fashion. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have the answer now. When asked where he wants to be down the road, the answer shares more similarities to hopes than to actual goals. I believe very strongly that this is because he, or some part of him, longs for the little things he missed: the social interactions, the bad choices, the experiences. These things we take for granted because we have lived them, he missed.
He had a plan though! Even if he did not choose it for himself, he had a path to follow.
Is this what we doom ourselves to after a lifetime of planning? Does having a plan, and following it, remove our ability to flow? If so, then count me out. I would prefer to have the choice to shift with the options given to me than to live a life walking a path with walls on either side. One of my greatest assets is my skill with adapting to my situations. I don’t make choices based on plans previously made; I make them based on the fork in the road I might be faced with that second or based on past experiences I might have had.
This is the part of my blog that I choose to compare my goals to chocolate cake. I am a little disappointed with how easy it is. I was honestly hoping my joke of chocolate cake representing my goals and leadership styles would be more of a challenge, but I press on.
If I were a normal person, buying the ingredients for the chocolate cake would be the same as planning for the final goal. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not a normal person. I have accidentally stepped out of the mold in which I am “supposed” to fit and am letting life take me where it will. The normal person adds the ingredients for chocolate cake to the grocery list a week in advance. I happen to wander down the baking aisle and decide that a chocolate cake sounds amazing right that moment. Think about it: a rich, possibly gooey, chocolate cake with a thick, probably too-sweet, chocolate frosting. This is the stuff dreams are made of.
Okay, maybe dreams are not made of chocolate cake, but it’s pretty damn close.