Why you should stop pursuing your goals


“Most of my career is based on the fact that I went out for ice cream one night,” my writer friend Megan tells me.

This makes total sense to me.

Over the past week, my two most significant work leads both popped up serendipitously while I was taking much-needed breaks from the slog of job hunting.

In the first case, I was seeing a movie with a friend (the excellent “Margin Call,” in case you care).  We’d just settled into our seats when I espied two familiar faces, my former neighbors Lou and J.R., whom I’d last seen a decade back.

In the course of a brief friendly chat, I learned that Lou now chairs the board of our local employment board, the regional policy-making authority in developing workforce skills.  We quickly exchanged contact info—yes, I’m on Facebook, too—before the lights went down.

The next day I had a Facebook message from Lou with one concrete job lead and offers of further help.

And that’s not all.

As it happens I was in the midst of struggling to launch this blog, and as it further happens, Lou is a total computer genius.  In the course of Facebook and Twitter exchanges, followed by a couple of hours at a local café, he pretty much answered all of my urgent technical questions. (If you’re thinking this blog looks way better than it did a week ago, you have Lou to thank.)

In the second case, I was hanging out with new friends at a weekly coffee klatsch. (I’ve taken to calling our group The Coven, but that’s another story.)  I’d briefly considered skipping this week since I had loads to do, but I do love coffee and I love these friends, so in the end I went.

Good thing, too.

“So what sort of job are you looking for,” Ellen inquired. “Because I have a friend who works at a non-profit that might be looking for a writer.” Within a day, she’d put me in touch, and I’d sent off my resume.

My friend Megan’s story is more of the same: Out with her family at Herrell’s, our most excellent local purveyor of ice cream, she bumped into a woman who’d hired her four years earlier.  “Would you like to do a small project?” her former employer asked, after they’d caught up. That single chance meeting led to six years of steady freelance work.

So what are the lessons here?

Sometimes the best way to pursue your goals is to stop pursuing them. This isn’t to say that standard job search strategies don’t have their place. It is to say that they aren’t necessarily going to be the ones that work. That’s especially true today, when personal connections matter more than ever in a world where, at last count, there were seven unemployed workers for every job opening.

It’s easy to feel guilty for taking a break when you’re looking for work—especially as the days roll by and the pressures mount. You need to remember that job leads can pop up in the most surprising of places.

Plus everyone needs a break: You can’t just live your job search. You also must live your life. And sometimes the best way to do both may be to go out for ice cream.

Note:  The featured players in this post also have blogs of their own. On the job search front, Lou Franco’s Software Business Blog recently offered excellent advice to software developers looking for work. And for amusing musings on life in our beloved Northampton, check out Megan Rubiner Zinn’s Life in the Little City. (I especially loved her recent post There are a Million Viruses in the Little City.)

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “Why you should stop pursuing your goals

  1. I used to be a goal-oriented person. I am happy to say that I have gotten over a lot of my willfulness and can better trust the flow.

    Last Spring, I drove from California to Colorado, stopping in ten national parks along the way. I was off the grid, as I camped in remote places, and I barely talked to anyone. Occasionally I had a moment of guilt, thinking I should be working on some project or another. Mostly I was in awe of spring flowers and how deep the snow was at high elevations.

    When I arrived at my destination, my hosts were having a party. Sixteen people I didn’t know came for dinner. As each guest arrived, each had a different piece for my projects. It seemed like the seeds I’d planted before I left had sprouted while I was out in the wilderness – and in ways that had no logical connection.

  2. This has been my career plan- for someone to knock on my door and offer me my dream job. Maybe I shouldn’t have called it a “plan”, because now it might be doomed…or maybe I should go out for ice cream. I also “plan” to win the lottery, but have yet to buy a ticket.

  3. Sometimes we get tight and tense when we are doggedly pursuing our goals, and this doesn’t behoove us. When I get in knots about something, I stop my pursuit and take a break to focus on something else, and inevitably I get a breakthrough. It especially works well when I have lost something and am looking for it.

    Of course, though, the social piece is huge. If you want to find work, a lover, etc, you have to get out and mingle with your peeps. You never know what will turn up. It’s magic!

  4. The parallels to dating are perhaps too obvious to comment on. Live each day fully and the future will sort itself out. (If there’s a Lou/louise in Cambridge, send him/her my way.)

  5. This is so true, and it’s part of the reason I stopped pursuing my goals (though I’m now sort of pursuing new ones). So much depends on luck, and most of the rest depends on connections.
    Good luck with your new job leads!

  6. LOVE this, Amy! Love this post! Love the new blog! Everything! Couldn’t agree more. As someone who’s also been struggling to find my way toward new (paying) gigs, I love your message that things happen sometimes when you stop trying so hard to make them happen. Keep up the great posts!

  7. It reminds me of what Michael Jordan said. He’d come to the Bulls, had won the scoring title, the slam dunk contest at the All-Star Game, and scored 63 points in a playoff game – which they lost. When Phil Jackson arrived he helped maybe the greatest player ever by teaching him to let the game come to him. He said he could almost actually see it when it happened during a game. He reached his goal by letting it come to him. For two of his six championships, he actually fed a teammate when he himself got the ball at the crucial moment – as a result, Bulls fans will long remember Steve Kerr and John Paxson. But mostly we remember Mike.

    • Love that–thanks for sharing the story (which, given my sports knowledge base, I’d never have heard on my own.)

  8. I think this is also part & parcel with that whole Lois Weisberg notion, that it’s the friends of friends/the network beyond your close friends often responsible for work & other helpful connections. We need one another.

    And we need ice cream, too (or perhaps GoBerry).

    • Yes, Sarah–that too! I guess what especially interested me here, though, was the unintentionality of it. (The so-called “loose ties” theory can also underlie a concerted job search strategy–as suggested in bunches of career books.)

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