Goal-free, as free as the wind blows

cornell_artsquad.jpg Along with not being much for Valentine's Day, I'm also not much for networking, self-promotion, school spirit or any type of change.

But 2006 is destined, it seems, to be the year of doing stuff I am not really much for. So a couple of weeks ago, I combined all of the things that repulse me (excluding Valentine's Day, which had already been addressed separately) by attending my very first meeting of the Cornell Entrepreneur Network.

I did have a nominal reason for attending: to see and hear Steven Shapiro (ENGR, '86) talk about his book and philosophy, Goal-Free Living. After all, with my twin pursuits of punditry and ultra-organization, it was only natural that I want to see, up close and personal, someone who is not only living his non-goals, but getting other people to sit up and take notice.

I arrived late by design, giving myself 45 minutes to get from Hancock Park to the Skirball Cultural Center during the height of rush hour. (For you non-locals, that is akin to giving yourself 16 hours to drive from Yakima to Key West. In a Geo Metro. Filled with cinderblocks.)

Unfortunately for me, or not, depending on how you look at it, things were still just ramping up when I arrived, 10 minutes before the talk was supposed to start. Worse, everyone, it seemed, had come in pairs, like this was some Ivy League Noah's Ark. Some had even come in clusters. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to elbow my way into a goddam cluster. I'm shy, dammit!

Clicking into survival mode, I managed to kill a little time at the sushi and meatball stations, and got thrown a pity chat-up from the friendly and outgoing CEN organizer, Shannon...but STILL no one was showing any signs of massing in the speaking area.

Then a funny thing happened in line at the bar: I met someone. Someone else who was also not there with anyone else and also in need of a drink. We got to talking, so much so that the meatball station was threatening to close. He excused himself...and someone else wandered over to say 'hi'. Then one of those Noah's Ark couples wandered over and started talking, too, and all of a sudden, we were all chumming it up on the way to our seats.

The talk was great. I'll go into greater detail once I've read and reviewed Steven's book; for now, suffice to say that Steven was a lively, engaging speaker with an interesting tack on accomplishment, and that I more than got my money's worth from the seminar. What was really extraordinary, though, was the way the evening started out as one thing (me coming to hear a speech) and ended up something else entirely, me leaping to the podium during open-mic time and giving a brief but impassioned speech about my presentation graphics* skills.

I left the evening with a handful of business cards and a whole new perspective on goals. Had I gone to the networking meeting with the goal of networking...well, I probably wouldn't have made it to the meeting, let alone collected any business cards. Throwing myself into something new and scary just because I had a feeling that I might benefit by seeing and hearing this speech, all kinds of things happened.

The not-so-good news? I'm still sitting on those business cards, two weeks later, and I still haven't sent my own card to the printers. Having backed way, way off my type-A goal-focussed lifestyle a few years ago, I'm now thinking it may be time to reintroduce a few of the old carrot-and-stick measures. Or at least time to climb into the cinderblock-laden Metro and point her East. With any luck, I can reach the other coast by sometime next year.

Unless, of course, I find something really cool along the way...

xxx c

Photo of Cornell University's Arts Quad by Hobbes vs. Boyle via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

*After my recent tussle with the Evil Empire, I'm still having a problem saying P***rP***t.