Letting go of outcomes
unfinished is enough
Note: written last week.
Outcomes are intoxicating. They take repetitive tasks that seem mushy and meaningless and give them purpose, turning them into something concrete and shiny that we can show to other people, and to ourselves, as proof that we’ve accomplished something worth doing—practice piano for 10,000 hours to succeed as a musician; network with hundreds of people to secure your dream job; write for three hours a day to become a ‘writer’.
Without outcomes, we feel as if we lack intention - as if ironically, effort for the sake of effort is not really worth the effort. This mindset is rooted in our desire to be in control. Naturally, we all want to optimise our actions, and what better way of optimising one’s life is there than sketching out every step and goal on a piece of paper, as if it were an intricate blueprint that could be obsessively followed?
I’ve struggled with this lately. I’ve been feeling this strange tension between wanting to do the things I love, like writing and meeting new people, and finding them to be vaguely worthless exercises that don’t really lead to anything. They don’t bring my desired outcomes closer to me and, sometimes, make them float further away.
I was speaking to a friend about this mini-heartbreak (or quarter-life crisis) recently, and she said something that helped reframe my perspective: “yes, it is frustrating when things don’t go your way, but be content in the knowledge that the act without the outcome is enough. If something feels unfinished, maybe that’s all it was meant to be.”
Not everything has to have a quantifiable result we can show the world on a silver platter. More often than not, life leaves us feeling empty-handed.
And that’s okay.
It’s okay to follow your curiosity and for it not to turn into a pay check. It’s okay to meet someone and for it not to turn into a fruitful friendship or relationship. It’s okay to build something that no one uses. It’s okay for your writing not to mean anything to anybody - sometimes, it is enough that it means something to someone, and it’s okay if that someone is just you.
Writing this reminded me of a quote by Herman Hesse on the difference between finding and seeking that I first read when I was younger:
“When someone seeks," said Siddhartha, "then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
This quote (and the book it comes from) has shaped much of my life’s philosophy and always helps clarify periods of my life where things feel, for lack of a better word, muddy. More than anything, it helps remind me that predetermined outcomes are fleeting illusions of security.
Chances are, once we rip away these illusions, once we stop striving to be exceptional, once we let destructive emotions of success and failure slip away—our actions become more meaningful because they exist in a space devoid of entitlement. A space where action and awareness merge, where you know that, whether life compensates you in the way you wanted it to or in an underhanded, secret way you can’t quite understand right now, you did what you felt was right—and that is enough.