May 16, 2019

There are many different approaches to self-development. Some of them are physical, some emotional, some spiritual. Most include a series of milestones or goals that allow you to track your progress and look forward to the next accomplishment. But today, we want to call your attention to a different approach. Rather than a future-centric pursuit toward goal achievement, we want you to consider a baseline goal to pursue whatever you find interesting.

Sounds obvious enough. Of course you aren’t going to go out of your way to pursue topics or ideas that you find uninteresting. But what if we told you to go a little further? Zat Rana writes in his Quartz article, All Goals Are Self-Defeating Except One, “The pursuit of interestingness, I think, solves the predicament that is inherent in goal-setting. It’s vague and nebulous enough to be honest about the unpredictability of the future, without being hopelessly lost in the chaos of pure luck and randomness.”

So what does this term, “interestingness”, actually mean? We think that’s up to you. It’s curiosity, certainly, but “interestingness” is more than that. It’s what awakens your inner child, and, really, it’s anything that fills you with wonder or excitement.

If anything, consider “interestingness” a necessary response to the unpredictability of the future. We all try, but you can’t plan your future the way you plan a trip to the grocery store. You may put all your eggs in the basket of an MBA degree, only to find out afterward that you have a burning passion to work in education. You may pin your hopes on being a VP before you turn 50 only to realize that the higher you climb, the more you miss doing hands-on creative work. Or you may figure out, after years of long and stressful days, that you can’t be all-in at work AND all-in with your family. Your plans fall through. You falter. You’re thrown off-course.

…Or so it seems. We set ambitious goals, thinking they’ll lead us to real fulfillment. But sometimes they lead us somewhere else entirely. As Rana points out, all goal-setting is a kind of gambling on the future, and that never works the way we think it will. That’s because the person you are when you set your five-year goals is not the person you’ll be when that five-year deadline arrives. Your vision for your future, therefore, should be more flexible, more open to new possibilities.

It’s time for a different kind of career planning and goal setting, one that harnesses your intuition and encourages your evolution. One that allows you to peek beyond corners and follow your quiet, inner yearnings without feeling like you’re straying from your life plan. One that gives you permission to enjoy the ride, regardless of obstacles that may spring up.

Most of us approach the workplace through the lens of goal-setting. That next promotion, hitting your sales target, learning a new skill. And this is certainly an important part of career progression. But we spend 1/3 of our lives at work. With all that time focused on the future, we risk missing out on possibly the greatest reward of all…the experience of the journey. The question stands: How do we incorporate “the pursuit of interesting” into our careers?

We aren’t claiming to be experts, but we have come up with some tangible ways to reframe your approach to self-development at work:

  • Frame goals more loosely. Instead of “create a $5 million business in the next 10 years,” try “build a business that inspires others to travel while it inspires and sustains me.”
  • Tune into your intuition, and open yourself up to new adventures. If you feel a tug toward a project or a person that surprises you, take a step toward it. Follow your yearnings. Throughout history, serendipity has led to the penicillin vaccine and manufactured dyes, among other miracles.
  • Greet each day with curiosity, and see if you can sustain it throughout the day. If someone hits you with criticism that seems unfair, instead of hitting back, be curious about their reaction. Can they tell you more? Pretend you’re an impartial observer. It’ll be better for your career, not to mention your blood pressure.
  • Translate that curiosity into your larger career thinking. Remind yourself that if one goal doesn’t pan out, there will be something else. The journey is long and the path is not straight.

While pursuing “interestingness” at work invites richness into our experiences, this idea extends beyond the workplace. If you look for what is interesting in the here and now, you find yourself to be more present and more mindful. 

With this outlook in mind, each task and day becomes its own important journey. And sure, it’s important to place some of your energy toward larger life goals, but don’t gloss over your present moment (and miss out on what’s interesting there) in doing so. Challenge yourself to find curiosity, wonder and enjoyment in whatever journey you’re on by seeking out “interestingness”. You may just be surprised by what you find!