When people ask “What is your goal in life?” what they really mean is “What is your ultimate goal?”
What is that one thing your life revolves around?
What is that thing you’ll do anything to achieve, come hell or high water?
Some people have an easy answer. Billionaire Warren Buffett, for example, once said: “I always knew I was going to be rich. I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute.” Others aren’t as straightforward: Walt Disney — and at least 49 other people — took a lot of time and effort before he got it together and became one of the most iconic people of all time.
So are goals all they’re cracked up to be? Or should you do something else other than peg your life on that one thing you may or may not achieve?
There’s no simple answer to these questions, to be honest. What might look like a reasonable goal for one — a poor person who wants to be a billionaire — might be taken for granted by another — a person who’s already a billionaire to begin with. It really depends on a lot of factors, which may or may not be within your control.
Still, it’s worth examining both sides of the “goal-setting” camp. Let’s look at the “pro” side first.
You Should Set Goals, Because …
Goals can give you direction. Without them, you’d be forever spinning in place on point A, instead of moving to point B, then point C, and so on and so forth. They give you something to reach for, which satisfies your basic human need for “self-actualization,” as Abraham Maslow put it.
Goals can give you motivation. They encourage you to channel all your energies into getting out of where you are now, toward where you want to be. They give meaning to your existence, no matter how you interpret the word “meaning.”
Goals can make you accountable. They help you put your accomplishments into perspective. They make you more careful about your choices — from the food you eat every morning to the words you say to your boss on a bad day.
Goals can make you a better person. Achievements make you happier and more inclined to help others, which is a good thing, as far as the people you help are concerned.
All of these are true, to an extent. It’s possible to be a compulsive goal-setter, and still not achieve your personal definition of “success”, because of the reasons discussed in the next section.
Forget About Goals, Because …
Goals can limit you. If you’re too set on getting to point B, you might not notice that A, or A2, is a better place to be. Being focused is good and all, but not when it blinds you to other viable opportunities.
Goals can keep you from seeing the forest for the trees. Instead of setting sub-goals to achieve one major goal, you keep churning out “To-Do” lists for the sake of having things to do. You forget that sometimes, doing nothing is the best course of action.
Goals can discourage you. Yes, they motivate you to move forward, but once you realize you just keep running into a brick wall, you stagger backward and wonder what you did wrong. This results in a vicious cycle where you set new goals to make up for the ones you failed to achieve — only to fail in those new goals, too, and feel even more discouraged.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult — not to mention presumptuous — to give an absolute, end-all be-all answer to the question, “should you have an ultimate life goal?” What you think is the best life goal might be different from mine. Each of us is shaped by different backgrounds, experiences and cultures, after all.
However, considering all of the above, I think the middle ground is the best position. To use a ship-related analogy, your goal should be a steering wheel, not an iceberg. It should be structured enough to give you somewhere to go, but loose enough such that you’re able to take opportunities when they come to you.
Aim to set this kind of goal first, and you’ll be on your way to success — and, perhaps, happiness.