When I was younger, in my late teens and early twenties, I had a Franklin Planner, within which my life was planned, sorted, and annotated in great detail.
I used this planner to set tasks, appointments, and in the back, a great set of goals I had hoped to achieve within the year, five years, and ten years.
For a while I was convinced, obsessed, with the idea that setting goals was a necessary part of becoming successful. I greatly desired money and material goods, and I thought that outlining my goals in great detail would make them more substantive.
But then something interesting happened…
Every year, when I would perform an annual review, I found myself placing the same goals:
- Learn a new language
- Buy a new car
- Write a book
- Make an album
- Buy a castle
- Buy a boat
- Have 100k in the bank
Aside from the fact that all of these goals were material and/or ego driven, they all had one thing in common – they never happened.
Now, some might say that this was because I was lazy, or that my heart wasn’t in it, which might have been true in my late twenties. But I can assure you that in the times I was actively setting goals, I was hungry, hard working, and eager to achieve them.
Others might say that I had set the wrong goals, or hadn’t created the steps necessary to get there, which might have a hint of truth – more on that in a minute.
So, having achieved none of my major goals, I had a dark period in my life where I simply stopped caring. I stopped wanting anything, and in fact went so far in the opposite direction that I didn’t think I’d be able to rebound, but rebound I did.
Now, in my early thirties, I have achieved several of these goals. I don’t have a castle, but I did spend much of 2010 on a boat with my family, riding around the Gulf of Mexico on the weekends.
I don’t have 100k in the bank, but I’ve done OK.
I didn’t create a music album, but I did write a book, co-found an Internet radio station, and write a few songs.
Interestingly enough, all of this happened after I stopped writing down goals.
Since that time I’ve also taught myself how to program in a variety of web languages, have worked with a friend (and business partner) to build a great software company, and have finally achieved a dream of building my own home.
Trying to parse how I’ve finally got my ass in gear without setting goals has been a difficult task, but I think I have it figured out.
1. Setting goals limits my focus, and I miss opportunities that lead in different, but equally positive directions.
2. Setting goals does not account for the way things happen. That is, things will happen in their own time, and I believe that setting goals creates false timelines that lead to disappointment.
3. Learning to stop trying so hard has allowed me to see opportunity where I might not have seen it before.
On the whole, learning to be OK with not having goals has allowed me to grow into a different set of very similar goals. In retrospect, the goals I had were not necessarily the goals I truly wanted, but amalgamations of them. In the end, learning to look for opportunity instead of pressing for particulars has opened the door to new levels I might not have seen because I was too busy looking the other way.
I see now that setting goals is less important than setting direction, and having desire is less valuable than having a hunger. In failing to achieve my goals, I learned both of these lessons simultaneously.
Maybe failing is an important part of the learning experience…