I believe in the power of a good goal to get you through a tough time. Even if the goal is never accomplished, or met fully.
Goals are more than a means to an end but an act of defiance. With a good goal, we defy the status quo of our life and dare the universe to pay attention, to hear us, to listen. With a good goal, we set things in motion and actively state a purpose and meaning for whatever number of days we do or do not have left on this Earth.
Happiness, joy, and contentment are good things to pursue, doubly so when you put every effort into building these things in the lives of others, but when the days grow tough and difficult, we need something sturdy to lean on. For me, that has often translated to the work and effort I’ve put into the pursuit of my goals. Not the accomplishment, though that’s the end result I’m working toward. It’s the conscious act of daily working at something I want, embracing the mess and mystery of life itself, and growing into a better version of myself, that gets me through.
Here are a few more of my thoughts about goals.
Between two extremes
Goals are one extreme, not having any is another. And somewhere between these two points is a fundamental question that all of us have to face and will face multiple times throughout our life: what the heck is the meaning of all of this?
No one can answer that question for you. Sometimes you won’t even be able to answer it for yourself. In those moments you have to embrace the mystery and just keep moving forward.
Why bother with goals?
If goals can be bad for us, can lead us to be over-ambitious or push ourselves too hard, are they bad things? Or are goals tools that are being used incorrectly? Remember, a hammer can drive a nail or smash a thumb, it’s all about how it’s used.
This is where the problem with how we understand and approach goals and goal setting begins. Do we see our goals as a means to develop and progress into better versions of ourselves or are we trying to achieve artificial versions of success for some kind of acceptance?
I think it’s from this point that people begin to misunderstand goals and think of them as only their worst meaning.
In this light, I can understand and appreciate why someone would feel apprehensive about trying to keep goals. But it’s a shortsighted and unfair conclusion to say goals are not only unhelpful but bad for you. Why? Because the simple truth is that goals are whatever we make them and they hold whatever power we give them.
In other words, goals are tools that can either help us or hurt us.
In defense of imperfect goals
I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum with goals. I wrestle with perfectionism sometimes and can push myself too hard. But when I recognize any of these tendencies creeping in, I don’t abandon my goals and blame them. I treat them like the tools they are and I look to see how I can fine-tune them.
Likely, when good goals go bad, it’s more to do with me than the goal or goal setting in general. If it is the goal, I stop and take a closer look to see if there might be some way it can be adjusted. If it can’t, I scrap it and pivot. If it can, I fine-tune it and keep going.
In other words, I live by the principles of a growth mindset. I accept and even anticipate things sometimes messing up and not going as plan, or that I might make a mistake or miss the mark. But because I believe that while I’m alive I have the opportunity to grow and adapt, I embrace my potential for the opposite as well. I might succeed, I might accomplish things I never imagined possible before.
It all must begin with belief, but belief alone won’t get you there. Hope is not a plan. Goals are.
Are we driven by what we get from our pursuit of goals or who we become along the way? That’s the driving question. The purpose of setting goals ought to be less about their results (what we accomplish) and more about who they help us become.
This brings us back to the purpose of life.
Is life all about joy and pleasure and living for happiness alone? This may be hard to hear, but happiness can be fleeting. That doesn’t steal from the overall joy that life can offer though, even on its toughest days. There’s a powerful distinction between joy and happiness.
But if we make life only about pleasure then we miss out on the ability to grow into ever-improving versions of who we are and are capable of becoming despite how we feel and despite what life has thrown against us. In other words, life demands grit, messiness, mistakes, failings, and even pain to some degree. These are tough teachers helping us become more than we dare imagine we are capable of being.
The only real question is, who are you becoming and who do you want to become?