Don’t Take Your Goals too Seriously

Personal Development

Recently, I came across an old list of goals of mine (the one I used before switching to my current system). I really liked, that I had achieved a lot from that list. But there were also a lot of goals on it, that didn’t made it into reality.

Now should I feel like a failure? Or should I put them on high importance again and push again to make them come true. Actually no! I really felt good about some of them not coming true. Because they don’t reflect any longer what I am about.

##Who Is More Important Anyway – You or Your Goal
**Let’s face it, it is not about the goal, it is always and only about you**

I give you an example. Some years ago my primary goal was to study medicine. It was clearly the most important goal I had at that time. I applied for it, and even though I was a senior compared to most students (they were on average 19-21 while I was at that time already 39, so I could have been the father of them) I really got into it and had lots of friends there. But other than the young students I also had a business running. And though I was able to delegate a lot of work, I was still not able to put 100% of focus to it. So studying a major field like medicine, while running a successful IT-company is a major form of putting stress on you. But that didn’t stop me.

But then they changed the rules. I had a specific outcome in mind, why I wanted to study medicine. After 6 years, I wanted to use this certification to become a doctor of homeopathy. I was already a certified non-medical practitioner, but I wanted to take it up a notch. But 3 months after I started, they changed the rules, so that what I wanted to achieve was now not 6 but 11 years to go.

At that point, I had to re-evaluate my goal. Was it worth giving 11 years of my time (and I value my time really high), going through a lot of struggle and through administrative and work struggle, that I didn’t like? I’ve been a freelancer all of my life. And I had to give up a lot of that freedom for this goal. At that time, I made the decision, that I wasn’t willing to pay that price. And I made the decision to cut it. But I made the decision to cut it with a high-experience. So I finished and passed all tests and certificates within that 6 months (where the failure rate was something about 70-80%) and then I quit. The difference was, that me quitting was not about not being able to make it, but because I made the conscious decision that this was not my major goal anymore.

Now I could feel bad about me, being a quitter. But I made the realization, that it is not about the goal, it is about me. And that is what counts.

**Honestly, how often have you’ve been pursuing a goal, just to find out that it didn’t made you happy. And how much struggle did you went through when at the end you realized it wasn’t worth that much hardship.**

##Does You Goal Fits You Any Longer
I’ve been really goal-oriented for quite a bit of my life, but in the last years I’ve found myself re-evaluating goals much quicker, and being able to drop them much easier without feeling guilty, if they don’t fit me anymore.

Because I know at the end, it won’t be about how many goals I’ve ticked of from a list. It is about what achieving those goals made me as a person.

So my guiding principle for goals now is, whether the WHY behind it is really appealing to me as a person any longer and whether it makes me happy. And not whether it is something I should do. There are a lot of people who tell me I should do a lot of things. And they speak with a loud voice. But there is only one tiny, little voice that is asking me, what I really want in my life. And that voice is the only voice that counts. And that voice is deep within me.

##Re-Evaluate Your Goals
So I made it a priority to re-evaluate my goals on a regular schedule, asking me these important questions:

– Do I still want to achieve it?
– What benefits am I really getting from it?
– Does achieving it will make me really happy?
– Whom else can I help with it by achieving this goal?
– Do I enjoy the process of getting it?
– If I don’t enjoy the process, how can I make it more enjoyable?
– Is it still worth the price to pay?

When looking back (and you know hindsight is always 20/20) those goals I didn’t achieve were as important to my development as those I did achieve. And I am lucky today, that I missed or dropped a lot of goals. I would have been a totally different person had I achieved anything on my list.

Now one word of warning: I don’t want you to become a slacker or a drifter, having no goals at all in life or giving up everything with the first problem coming up. You need goals and you need persistence to grow your muscles (physical and psychological), but you should look ahead of your goals and take into consideration your broader development as a human person.

Goals are just guiding posts on your routes towards development as a human person. But sometimes you might choose other routes and so goals might change.

**Don’t take them too seriously, they are just tools to help you move forward.**

10 comments… add one
  • Great idea to write a post about this! We all need to be remembered that we are not a to do list, and our value as human beings is not strictly determined by how much we achieve. And anyway, I find that some people set way to bold expectations for themselves. It may be a good way to become motivated, but it doesn’t mean if you don’t achieve all of them , it’s a tragedy.


    .-= ´s last blog ..Q: How do I look? A: Like everybody else =-.

    • Patrick

      Eduard, yes there need to be balance. While there is much power in boldness and shooting for the stars is important, there is also a flip side to it. If you define yourself through it, you risk your self worth when not achieving them. Then this turns from motivation into pure stress and it might even turn into fear and paralysis. So make your dreams big but at the same time disattach yourself from them. Sounds like a paradox but its necessary to remain mentally healthy.

  • This is such an important point you’re making. Goals are good, yes, but sometimes they can feel a little like prison. I used to tell myself to “set the goal and then forget the goal.” Wouldn’t work for everyone, but it did for me. It allowed me to let the fullness of the goal reveal itself to me, and be open to where it wanted to take me. And often that was much larger than the original goal. I recently found a list I wrote ten years ago, with one and five year goals. Some were accomplished, many weren’t. And that was okay, because of the other things I accomplished during that time that I didn’t even have a glimmer about when I wrote the list.

    .-= ´s last blog ..A Large State of Fear =-.

    • Patrick

      Patty, I like “Set the goal and then forget about it” – it puts my idea of going for the stars with an unattached mind, where you’ll land into a great statement of power. And like you, I’ve seen the same thing happen to my goals. They were springboards to start (and that is their important part), but their meaning might change along the journey. Thanks for sharing.

  • Patrick, a great post for someone like me who is very driven and continues to set stretching goals!

    I used to be fanatical about setting really tight goals such as when I got my first book written and printed within 4 weeks!

    That approach has worked for me in the past, but at the cost of my health and loss of a social life.

    Now as per what you suggest, I am very kind to myself and though I still set goals for myself they are more realistic – and more fun:-)

    Your post reminded of the saying that life is a journey and not a destination. As Patty, said – set the goal and forget about it. Just see what unfolds – or “unwraps”!

    .-= ´s last blog ..How to Make your Own Luck, Even on Friday the 13th! =-.

    • Patrick

      Arvind, I can relate to that. I’ve been there too. It had led me to a time, where I was working 115 hours a week, literally sleeping and showering in the office. Thank god, these days have gone, before they could lead to any serious damage in health and social life.

      It needed a real mind shift and unwrapping for myself, to get out of that treadmill of goal-fanatism.

  • Patrick, That was a great personal story about deciding not to pursue your studies of medicine when the requirements changed. It’s true that clinging to your goals no matter what can be bad for you. At the same time your point about not being a slacker is essential. It reminds me of a book by the often-maligned Dr. Phillip McGraw about life strategies. He discusses basic life goals, such as finding your life’s work, finding your life partner, and so on. Perhaps those are the universal goals, and our personal goals need to be re-assessed from time to time.

    .-= ´s last blog ..Leaving Seattle, Heading East =-.

    • Patrick

      Madeleine, I am not sure, whether there is such a thing as an ultimate goal – neither in work nor in relationship. Especially in relationships I wouldn’t call my old partners not fitting the description life partner – I guess it was time to meet and there is a time to separate our paths. And it is the same with goals. I would say if there is such a thing as a universal goal then it is growth and development, but anything else is a means (however nice or long lasting) to this end.

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