“If your plan doesn’t work – change the plan, not the goal.” – 16-Year-Old Afghan Refugee
Summer is almost here. End of the school year activities are in full swing, and the endless buffets of graduation open houses are on the horizon. There is an optimism in the air, as each new season brings with it expectations and hope. There are camping trips, lazy pool days, squirt gun fights, picnics, and casual strolls in the park that inch closer to our reach as the days get longer.
Last week, I sat and watched our kids run back and forth from the porch to the dining area, leaving behind them a trail of shed. First a shoe, then the other, then socks, then our daughter’s pants. Back and forth, our kids played carefree. Our five-year-old son armed with a slinky was battling our three-year-old daughter who was armed with two butterknives jostling back and forth like fencers in an old-time dual.
Hysterical laughter mixed with the menacing words “HOHOHO, I’m Santa. FIGHT ME!” Spewed from our darling, bare-bottomed daughter, as she taunted her brother. She was now Santa Claus, who as we all know, is most skilled with butterknives out of all the superheroes. Our son was Shang-Chi from the Marvel superhero universe, armed with his ten magical rings, otherwise known as a slinky. I don’t know what sparked the battle between Santa and Shang-Chi, but it was getting heated.
The battle raged on for more than twenty minutes. Inside. Outside. More articles of clothing were shed as the heat of battle grew. Santa’s cynical laughter and taunting “HOHOHOs” were starting to break down Shang-Chi’s will as his magical rings started to bend and twist from the multiple entanglements with the chair, fence, and one time our dog’s tail.
Before Santa could completely break the will of Shang-Chi, the greatest heroes of all intervened, collectively known as “The Parents”. There were tears and grunts of disapproval as clothes were collected from both inside and outside the house and the bed routine continued without their permission. Defeated, Santa and Shang-Chi reluctantly traveled to dream land as The Parents celebrated their victory with cup of hot tea.
The next day the battles of the night before were long forgotten, and more familiar fights were waged as The Parents worked together to get the kids to Montessori on time. Worn out before the day even begins, The Parent let out a collective sigh as we pulled out of the school’s parking lot and prepared ourselves mentally for the productive part of our day.
My husband went off to work and I went to teach an ESL class to adult learners. The day’s lesson circled around the concept of goals. For two hours the clarification of what a goal is and how it is different from a want, or a need came up repeatedly. By the end of class, I was beginning to question not only my effectiveness as a teacher but my overall philosophy of goals.
By the time I returned home, the subject of goals was far from my mind. There were dishes to be washed, laundry to be dried, and random socks scattered throughout the house to be collected. I did take a moment to review the yearly goals sitting in a frame in my bathroom and to my dismay, not a single one has been completed to my satisfaction. With the year nearly half over, there was a small jolt of motivation coupled with disappointment that washed over me.
However, these feelings were quickly set aside, to focus on more urgent tasks like the realization that I still needed to get groceries and that the kids would be returning from school soon.
The next evening, my husband and I attended a gala for “Green Card Voices” which is a non-profit organization that works to collect stories of immigrants and refugees. Their newest project is focused on Afghanistan and is a collection of stories from young people, many of whom fled Afghanistan in 2021 when the Taliban regained control of the country. Several times during the event, the impact of what these young people endured, slapped the room with the force of a wet towel. In short, it was heavy.
Towards the end of the evening, our evening anyways – we had to leave early to get back to relieve our sitter and put our kids to sleep, a young man talked freely about his multiple failed attempts to flee the country during the airport crush where thousands of desperate Afghan citizens were trying to get on a plane to escape before it was too late. His smile did not match the gravity of his words, but he spoke with such an optimistic tone that it was contagious. He concluded his speech with a simple yet profound statement: “If the plan doesn’t work – change the plan, not the goal.”
The words of this sixteen-year-old refugee from Afghanistan stuck with me. I wrote them down the moment he uttered them to reflect on “later.” Turns out that “later” was fifteen minutes later in the car with my husband. And again, in that evening’s reflection. And again, this weekend when all the plans that were carefully laid out before me were cast aside when I was burned by boiling water from an exploding coffee tumbler. And again, this morning as I sat with my husband going over summer schedules and wondering how we’re going to “get it all done.” And again one last time, when my husband demanded I go to the library to write because “writers write.”
It’s been less than a week since I stood in front of a class of English learners contemplating the deeper implications of what the difference is between a goal, a need, and a want. The lie of unmanageability is that I can’t reach my goals because of time constraints or some other variable. My lower self has been prioritizing needs, then wants, then goals. In an artificial hierarchy constructed by my own feelings of inadequacy, I’ve willingly put my goals beneath my current reality instead of using goals to break through my own limitations thus creating a new reality.
What if this young man arrived at the airport for his fourth attempt at escape but then changed his mind and decided not to try since he had already “failed” three times? We don’t need to know the answer because that’s not what happened. He learned from his prior attempts and remained agile until he succeeded. While I currently have nothing in my life that is as profound and intense as fleeing a war-torn country, the idea of changing tactics and learning from failure while keeping your eye on the prize is applicable to any number of life events and circumstances.
My newfound insight into my own goal making, has helped me let go of some self-limiting old ideas. I just need to keep moving forward, keeping my feet under me in the present moment, and walk towards my goals step by step. I may need to change shoes, socks, and periodically adjust my path, but as long as I’m moving, I’ll eventually reach my goals.
When I think back to a week ago, watching my children play Santa versus Shang-Chi, it becomes clear. My goal to be a good mother isn’t defined by the fresh food I make, clean clothes I provide, or the careful routines we follow. It is defined by my ability to be present with my children. While this goal is more subjective than most, it is perhaps the most important. As for the rest of my goals, the same sentiment applies. Goals are required for me to persevere. Any goal I do not reach, serves the purpose of granting me humility.
Today, I am energized by my goals and inspired by the mantra “If your plan doesn’t work – change the plan, not the goal.” To succeed as a writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, student, and teacher, I need to have something to measure against. These goals are the strings that will pull me up when I’ve lost my way and as long as the string is intact, there is hope.