The case against goal-setting 😲
What happens when life looks different from what we’d imagined?
A podcast caught my attention this past week, and it’s also led to some interesting conversations. The basics: in an episode of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us, Emmanual Acho presents his new book, Illogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits. They spent a large part of the podcast talking about one of the chapters, in which he says goals are dumb.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of narrow or myopic language. But I also know people are smart and that when Acho says something like that they can figure there’s more to it.
There is. As Acho articulates, goals have their place. But they also set us up for failure.
I haven’t read his book yet, but the conversation has sparked something in me, especially as I’m running full-tilt away from anything resembling a hustle. I’m willing to work hard (very hard). I know how to see the big picture when smaller details are bogging me down. And let’s be real: I’m darn good at hustling; I just don’t like the frantic, seemingly endless road that it is.
I want to do my best while being mindful of how much energy I’m putting into people and projects. Because none of those things should trump what is ultimately most important to me: my family. Keeping priorities in check is essential.
I have been a big believer in goal-setting. I can attribute much of the growth of my writing career to micro-goals I set early on. But, being a stubborn gal, when I set a goal it will take a lot for me to give up on it or let it slide—so much so that I’ve stuck things out for much longer than I ever should have.
And what happens when we don’t reach our goals, or when life looks different from what we’d imagined?
I used to work retail at a company that insisted every team member set goals in various aspects of life: health/fitness, relationships/personal, career/hobbies, you name it. I mostly thought this was a positive thing, and still do. It seemed like a healthy practice for a group of 20-year-olds to be playing an active role in their own lives. But something didn’t sit well with me when I looked at some goals related to relationships or family, including my own.
It went something like, “by December 31, 2015, I will be married and have two children.” 🤷
This is one of the examples that came to mind when I heard Acho talk about how goals can set us up for failure. Because I’m pretty sure we can’t create a relationship and offspring by pure hard work and discipline.
And, really, the same is true for many of our goals. In one of Acho’s examples, he tore a quad muscle during the NFL Combine, forever dashing his hopes of getting drafted in the first three rounds. One of my biggest professional goals was to attend the Banff Wilderness and Mountain Writing Program. I was rejected twice (frankly, I wasn’t ready for it), and the third time I was set to apply, the program was cancelled due to COVID.
Here’s the thing: goals have their place. They can help us take steps towards the things we want. Acho brings up the example of the relay race. The end goal can’t be to win the race. The goal needs to be to pass the baton without dropping it. So, we can set micro-goals or guidelines to keep us on track.
But goals as the end game? I think after over a decade of goal-setting, I’m finally over it.
It’s freeing, really. The alternative is to set micro-goals, go with the flow, work towards being our best selves, try our hardest, and reach out for opportunities even if they seem impossible.
It still takes discipline to live this way. It can be hard to discern when it’s time to keep trying or time to move on. But I think if we tap into ourselves, into what’s going on inside, we’ll know when we’re in the right place.
So often we try to play the hand we wish we had instead of the hand we’re dealt.
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What’s caught my attention lately… ✨
What I’m currently reading: Harley Rustad’s Lost in the Valley of Death, about Justin Alexander Shetler and his quest for spiritual enlightenment in India’s Parvati Valley—a journey he never came home from.
This interview with Brené Brown on We Can Do Hard Things about What to Say to Get What You Need brought up some new concepts for me about communication and connection with others.
Check these out too… 🙌
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