In an excellent chapter from The Antidote, Oliver Burkeman (who will be speaking at the 10th anniversary conference in April!) analyzes our obsession with setting goals. “Goal Crazy” zeroes in on the 1996 disaster at the summit of Mount Everest, documented most memorably in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Burkeman’s insight that the goals we set often become assimilated into our identities has strong resonances of Law. We are so uncomfortable with the undeserved gift of grace that we create goals for ourselves and then lament our inadequacies when we fail to meet them. Aided by the work of “stockbroker turned expert on organisational behavior,” Chris Kayes, Burkeman writes,

The Everest climbers, Kayes suspected, had been ‘lured into destruction by their passion for goals.’ His hypothesis was that the more they fixated on the endpoint – a successful summiting of the mountain – the more that goal became not just an external target but a part of their own identities, of their sense of themselves as accomplished guides or high-achieving amateurs … ‘The more uncertain climbers felt about their possible success in reaching the summit,’ as Kayes puts it, ‘the more likely they were to invest in their particular strategy.’ A bizarre self-reinforcing loop took hold (Notes of Mental Health Issue here): team members would actively seek out negative information about their goal – looking for evidence of weather patterns, for example, that might render the West Ridge approach even more risky than usual – which would increase their feelings of uncertainty. But then, in an effort to extinguish their uncertainty, the climbers would increase their emotional investment in their decision. The goal, it seemed, had become a part of their identity, and so their uncertainty about the goal no longer merely threatened the plan; it threatened them as individuals. They were so eager to eliminate these feelings of uncertainty that they clung ever harder to a clear, firm and specific plan that provided them with a sense of certainty about the future – even though that plan was looking increasingly reckless.

Burkeman continues the chapter with a discussion of how uncomfortable we are with uncertainty. His prescribed antidote, embracing our fragility, sounds a lot like belief, and Christ’s parables of the Kingdom:

“Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities – for success, for happiness, for really living – are waiting. ‘To be a good human,’ concludes the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, applying this perspective to her own field of ethics, ‘is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.'”