Goal setting and the great squirrel hunt
I love a good plan and recently my dog, Leah, helped me see that there is more to a successful plan than reaching short term goals. Knowing what you are going to do next, after you reach the short term goal, can be extraordinarily helpful.
It is easy to forget that you need to grasp the big picture. As I get older, I need to keep my eye on what I really want to accomplish, not just check off short term goals. In my case, the big picture means living life to its fullest, with endless fun and interesting things to accomplish along the way.
Adopted from the Nassau Humane Society at the beginning of Covid, Leah is a sweet and energetic dog whose goal has been to a squirrel. In her sleep, she whines and runs with her back legs, presumably chasing dream squirrels in open meadows. By day, she stalks them, carefully moving one foot a a time, closer and closer as they taunt her. She jumps at the fence in her yard when they venture inside. But until recently, she had never come close, no matter how risky their behavior…until she surprised even herself.
A teenaged troublemaker, Eddie Haskell Squirrel, was scratching the ground next the sidewalk where Leah and I were walking. His beady little eyes stared over his shoulder, daring her to make the first move. Leah took the challenge and lunged forward, deftly and precisely, executing each step as she had calculated over and over in her dreams. The cocky squirrel did not plan well for the time it would take to climb the fence next to the sidewalk.
Leah’s big paw pressed the squirrel’s tail against the fence and her face planted right into the fatty part around its shoulders, pinning it. She was ecstatic, wagging her tail so her hindquarters jiggled but the rest of her stood as still as an Army recruit during inspection. The squirrel tried to lunge but couldn’t. Its tail flicked back and forth like a metronome. Its effort to bite her were thwarted by a heavier push with her muzzle,
With the squirrel in her mouth, Leah panicked. It was her dream, finally realized, and she hadn’t a clue what to do next or what to do with her prize. The squirrel screeched , scaring the timid hunter. She dropped it and the rodent hit the ground and bounded back up the fence, beyond her reach. Leah looked at me as if to ask, ”What just happened?”
She doesn’t have sharp teeth, and has a very soft bite. She hunts for the sport, not for the kill. In this particular case, no squirrels were harmed. Unruly Eddie may have had a bruised shoulder for a day or so, but there was no blood and hopefully he learned a lesson. Likely his friends gave him credit for bravery.
Leah’s short-term goal was always to capture the squirrel. Her longer-term goal is to do it again and again. Like working a puzzle, when you get to the end you just work another puzzle. There is no long-term goal in squirrel catching.
Leah strutted for the rest of the walk, proud, pleased with herself, and still a little bit confused. She stalked a few more squirrels, as if she hadn’t had the experience of catching one. Her reset button was hit the moment Eddie scaled the fence.
As for me, I’m trying to stay focused on the big picture, while checking off my daily achievements, conscious that I don’t have the same reset button as my trusty companion. Living life to its fullest is an ongoing goal that isn’t a game but a series of lessons and experiences that are mostly enjoyable and rarely include squirrels.