What is the goal? Why do we do this thing that we are doing, i.e. working? I ask this because sometimes we can forget what the goals are. This is especially true when we get to some of the change points of life. We forget because we get on the treadmill of life and we start focusing on the little goals and forget the big goal. With business it could be little goals that could seem insurmountable like moving into management. In life the little goal could be figuring out how to afford the family vacation while fixing the car alternator, while paying for daycare. So at points of change we think back to what our goals were (a good job, a promotion, a family), and we continue to drive forward using those old anchor points.
Defining the original goals: This is a big one. I have an older daughter who has theoretically set her sights on being a Nurse Practitioner. Her stated goal is to be able to care for others as she was cared for and as her grandparents were cared for. As a parent, I just want her to get some sort of gatekeeper credential that allows her to get a good living for the rest of her life. Hell, as a parent I’ll probably be happy knowing she’s taking her education seriously enough to attend classes. But I digress. The point is my oldest daughter is at that time in her life where she’s trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do. Because of our abysmally wrong headed and antiquated education structure, she’s had very little work based learning allowing her to really get a feel for the different lifestyles that different careers provide. So she’ll most likely spend the next few years bouncing around into different jobs until she figures out what is right for her or more likely what she’ll eventually fall into that she’s willing to stick with. I’m not super happy with this outcome, but i’m OK with it as it’s not the worst thing that she could experience. She is, as I said earlier, at the time where this is supposed to happen. The thing is that I don’t believe what she eventually settles into will achieve her bigger goal of caring for others, or if it does it won’t be in as direct a way as nursing. This is where she’ll fall into the little goals. Enough money for rent, for the kid’s daycare, and for fixing the car. It’s a hamster wheel.
Redefining the goals: I have a reader who has recently redefined the goals in their life. Part of it is age. They are getting older and feeling their mortality. Part of it is that they, for the most part, achieved much of what they set out to do but also realized that the couldn’t get to 100% of their goals. For clarification their goal was what many of their generation aspired to: A good job that turned into a career with regular ascendance in responsibility and quality of life. Now they define the goal as enjoying life and maintaining what they have as long as possible. In this example, the reader really did stop, take stock of where they were and decide to retrench. .
I like that my older daughter had the admirable goal of taking care of others. I had a similar goal at her age. In my case it wasn’t direct care, but more care through being a provider. I wanted to provide for my family, my community and anyone in need. In my mind, when a car broke down I wanted to be the person people came to for help, not the person that had to ask for help. Quite the aspirational goal, eh? The thing was that life happened. I learned that it’s very difficult to take care of others if taking care of yourself, which must come first by default, is a massive challenge. So my primary focus changed, the goal was to build security. It was in building this security that allowed me to meet my first goal, the one about helping others but I was not nearly motivated to engage those activities as I was when it was my primary goal. That is an interesting subject unto itself, the idea of helping others and the best way to do it but not one for today.
Catalysts: I remember when I was in high school that we had a chemistry lesson that included sodium metal. The teacher dropped a little piece of metal into a glass of water which acted as a catalyst and the metal exploded into a small bonfire. There was one guy in my class who is so enthrall by the reaction that he actually went after school and bought a big block of sodium metal to experiment with at home. He dropped it into his water-filled sink in his kitchen and tried to observe the reaction again. I believe he was in the hospital for a week after that and when he came back all of the skin on his face looked new (true story). The point of sharing the story is to make an analogy that the catalyst for examining one’s life goals could be the result of a big reactionary event in your life. Getting divorced, losing a job, parents dying, or an illness can be reasons for change and reassessment. These are the easy ones to understand because they pretty compelling and very understandable story. “Her child died and she went off the deep end” or “after 30 years the plant closed and he decided to become a minister in Venezuela”.
Sometimes it’s not so easy to explain. Sometimes it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back and nobody really sees the straw’s effect because they are so used to you carrying the load. This is usually when there is a build up of something, something that has happened over time. The best way I ever heard it described this by Dave Ramsey who uses the phrase “when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired you are finally ready to make a change”. It could be any area in the milieu of work and life, but when it hits, it hits hard and the perspective changes and so does the goals.
Ramifications: The idea that my focus was building security as my goal changed uncounted daily decisions. Some of these were very big (career aspirations), and some very little (vacation location). Here is the key, when you start changing your decision making you wind up changing the relationships you have with those around you. It’s not just your immediate family it’s your friends, your acquaintances, your professional connections. In effect when you take stock of your goals and redefine them in a pure sense you are redefining who you are and that change may not work for some people in your circle of connections.
The point of this entire piece is to underscore how important our goals are and that every now and again we should probably stop and truly reevaluate what are larger goals are. Maybe reevaluate is the wrong word, maybe the right word is that we should reflect on them. Are the activities that we are engaged in align to with our current goals are or are we just coasting on the inertia of activities related to former goals? If your goals have truly changed what is the correct direction forward? Change can be filled with tremendous conflict and loss. Are you ready for those challenges? Change can also eventually lead to tremendous and unexpected benefits from getting close to or achieving the newly defined goals. Are you willing to take the risk to try and achieve the newly defined goals?
I don’t think doing a T Chart or having a conversation or two is enough to truly understand these larger life goals. Those activities are a good start, but not the be all end all. These types of goals are really something that takes a while to understand. Your goals, your core goals, are very important in that they shape all of the decisions in work and life. It’s OK if they change but you must absolutely understand the reasons and scope of that change or you will find yourself in personal conflict with your entire environment. Either way, committing to regular reflection on your life goal’s is in and of itself a goal, and one I think everyone should have!