For a lot of people, having goals is an important part of achieving success and happiness. Goals provide purpose and empowerment, and can be tapped as a source of energy, but for a some people goals are a double edged sword. Too much focus on goals, defining yourself by your goals, or pursing bad goals can lead to unhappiness.
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What’s the cost?
People often make huge investments in their goals whether it is business, sports, diets or relationships and sometimes the size of the investment is only obvious after the fact. I once attended a conference at which a business leader spoke about his company. He said that he and his team are making incredible sacrifices in order to make their company successful. When I heard this it made me think about the cost of achievement. If chasing your goal meant you lost your marriage or became disconnected from your family, would it be worth it. What if achieving your goal didn’t bring you the joy you thought it would. Would it be worth it? I know a lot of people who reach their goal only to tell me the achievement was great, but the cost was too high.
Living for the Future
Hyper goal focused people sometimes are so focused on their goal and so accustomed to making sacrifices today to achieve their ultimate goal that they aren’t actually enjoying their life or appreciating what they have today. If you live for the future, you sacrifice your life today. Is it worth it? If you spent 10 years chasing a goal only to be hit by a bus and dying before achieving your goal, would you be happy with how you spent our time on earth?
Is that it?
Another risk for people who are completely consumed by attaining their goals is that they feel empty once they have achieved their goals and the excitement has passed. The feeling of elation from achieving goals usually happens so quickly that it is gone in an instant followed by a let down. This feeling might be even worse if the person defines themselves by the goal and fails to reach the goal. What do you do next?
Achieve Your Potential
The happiest people I know self actualize. They live to realize the potential of their abilities and while they may be highly goal oriented, they have no single end goal because there is no limit to what they can achieve.
Once someone who self actualizes reaches a goal, they set new goals based on their ultimate potential at any point in time. They are like the people that climb to the top of Mount Everest and say great, now let’s find another challenge.
Of course, someone’s potential changes over time. Perhaps they acquire new skills, become more experienced or get stronger and goals they once set for themselves no longer match what they are now capable of achieving.
When I started my business career I wanted to earn $100k income by the time I was 30. I achieved that goal in my mid 20’s and next decided that I wanted to become a millionaire. A few years later I sold one of my companies and realized that pursuing money in and of itself was no longer exciting to me. I had become more excited by building great companies that solved real problems and that became my new business mission. And later still, my interests broadened even further to family and contributing to the world while I am here.
Another way to look at self actualization is that goals are way-points to new goals. Once you achieve your goal, you set new goals. Your goal is to achieve all the goals you can possibly achieve.
Sometimes a certain capability may deteriorate rather than strengthen. For instance, an athlete may achieve significant success and reach all of their goals before losing position against other younger competitors. Instead of giving up the sport they love because they have achieved their goals they harness their passion for the sport in new ways. Perhaps they become a coach and pursue new trophies or become the best at helping others achieve their own peak performance. I am always inspired by athletes who suffer career ending injuries and then pour themselves into new sports that they are able to compete in.
Happy people are also balanced. They know that pouring themselves into their goal at the expense of everything else, whether it is health, relationships, or time, ultimately compromises performance and is self destructive. Instead they enjoy multiple pursuits and know that this perspective makes them stronger in each pursuit.
I am convinced, for instance, that having a close relationship with your family, can make a huge positive impact on your business success. This can be a refuge to relieve stress or provide a lot of positive energy that you can use to propel you in other pursuits.
Deriving pleasure from multiple pursuits also means that you aren’t likely to be overly disappointed if things don’t work out in one area. I have goals across many different areas in my life including family, health and business and I tend to set shorter term goals because I believe in lots of baby steps and life changes too much to know what you want really far out. I don’t always achieve my goals but I usually achieve most of them and this provides me with plenty of satisfaction at all times.
For some people a higher purpose that transcends any particular goal provides happiness. Their life is the goal and they contribute simply by being. I can think of a few people like this and it is an honor to know them.
It’s 99% Journey
Perhaps the most important trait of happy people is that they find a way to enjoy every moment of their lives which is so important since people ultimately spend more time pursuing goals than actually realizing their achievements. Happy people live in the present. They may still be highly goal oriented but they also enjoy the journey towards their goals.
I consider myself goal and adventure oriented. I set many goals for myself and enjoy achieving them, but I also love the journey to achieving them. When I go on a trip, I enjoy the travel as well as the destination. I enjoy the people I meet along the way, the experiences and the feelings. If I have to work hard to achieve my goals, I make sure the cost is worth it and I enjoy the feeling of working hard. If I exercise self discipline to achieve my goal, I enjoy that part of it as well. For me goal pursuit is like a game and I always think of this great quote by John D. Rockefeller: “If your only goal is to become rich,you will never achieve it.” You don’t yearn for what you don’t have when you are happy with what you do have.
No Pain, No Gain?
Reaching your goals often means hard work, but you can even turn the old saying around and smile at the effort required to reach your goals. If there is pain, there is probably gain. And besides, when you feel discomfort you know you are truly alive.
However you choose to live your life, you only have one life, and I hope you consciously choose to be happy.