As I was writing my last post there were many things that I started thinking I’d love to write about. Of all the things the one thing I remembered I wanted to talk about was goals. Goals are such a strange thing because they are so different for all of us. When we talk about goals they can range anywhere from getting a degree to gaining a new perspective. Sometimes they’re physical or tangible, sometimes academic or mental, and others could be emotional. Some goals are difficult to achieve, some impossible, and others might be trivial. No matter the case it’s goals that mold us into who we are, because our goals become our aims and objectives in life.
When I was growing up I always dreamed big. I loved to plan out the rest of my life. Even if it was just a fantasy it was fun to do so. I had many goals in my life at a young age, and still have many. As I grew older my goals and life dreams changed a little. Some were because my interests changed, others because I matured, and others because I gained new perspectives on life. But nonetheless all of my goals have always been inspiring to me. So what is there to talk about goals anyways? Isn’t it just “people make goals, and that’s it”? Well I just wanted to write some thoughts because of the struggles I had in life when I made goals.
I grew up Mormon, and there were many things thought about setting goals in church. I think this article the LDS church posted gives a pretty good summary of the Mormon Church’s perspective on goals. Since no one will probably read through that, the basic summary is that we should set worthy, high, but realistic goals. I think this is good encouragement but I just want to express why I think there are issues with the emphasis on those three things. First the value of goals and who sets them, second what makes a goal “high”, and third why do goals have to be realistic.
The value of goals is something completely arbitrary. It’s just like a moral code, or personal ethics. Society has rules because we like to feel safe, but that doesn’t mean society makes things of personal value to you. Sure there are things like currency, diplomas, resumes, poll numbers, and other things society can give to you. It is innately you, however, that gives those things any value. If one day everyone decided that paper money was worthless the money would lose its value. So when parents, churches, schools, governments, or other people determine the value of your goals then the goal loses its personal value. That’s not to say that personal values can’t agree with social values, but that personal values shouldn’t have to agree with social values. I think one thing I struggled with so much as a child was the value I put on things. I put much more value on some things that were considered of no worth. When I got my eagle scout, I had a goal to finish it before I turned 14. My board of review (the last interview/final check-off to say you passed) was a week before my 14th birthday. The council representative told me that birthdays are just a line in the sand and that if he’d have known that we would have scheduled for the week after my birthday. Clearly the value of the achievement to him was not about the when, but for me the when did hold personal value. There were other things that I did not value, and sometimes was criticized for my lack of finding “worthy” goals in life. Serving as a missionary I hated the fact that my goals needed to be things like how many people did I baptize or how many lessons did I teach. My goal as a missionary was not teaching lessons or baptizing people but merely to make other’s lives better. I never wanted to treat anyone as a waste of time just because they weren’t interested in baptism. But my goals could never be achieved because church leaders told me what goals held value and what goals didn’t. Personal goals should always have personal value, and if they don’t they shouldn’t be personal goals.
What makes a goal “high”? So many times growing up I set extremely high goals for myself. I still have extremely high goals, and plan to achieve many of them. But what happens when we have too many goals that are too high? For me what happens is that I lose sight of the entire point of the goal. Some people set goals to lose weight, and when they set too high a goal they run the risk of losing focus on the purpose. When we are so worried about being “perfect” we run the risk of forgetting who we are becoming. When we go to church we often hear about how imperfect we are and what we need to repent of. When we go to school we’re sometimes reminded of how little we know, and how much we’re supposed to have learned. When we go play sports we’re sometimes reminded of our athletic ability and how out of shape or uncoordinated we really are. But if these things help to motivate us are they bad? Absolutely not, but for some of us they don’t help to motivate us. Sometimes I set really low goals for myself because I need to feel like I’m making progress. But those “low” goals often get repeated day by day and turn into great achievements. I have often felt so depressed because I’m constantly reminded of how imperfect I truly am. But when I focus on the little things in life my perspective is so much brighter. If I wake up every morning saying I’ll give a good effort that’s way better to me than writing down big numbers. You might say well you really should have set a “high” goal and then broken it down into smaller goals. You’d be right in saying that, but that’s not how I think. I’m very big picture, and very small picture. I’m not good with the medium picture. So until you think like I do stop trying to tell me how to set my goals. The difficulty of the goal doesn’t matter as much as the value of the achievement. Then again who am I to say that, you make whatever goals you feel are best. But don’t tell me it’s not worth it just because it’s not “high” enough.
The idea of realistic goals is a very practical view on life. I always had influences on my life telling me to set realistic goals. Sometimes it was in a nice but pushy wording like the church article above. Other times it was being told in a way to “put my money where my mouth was”. For some reason dreamers are resented in our society, I never understood why. One of the reasons an ex-girlfriend broke up with me was because I sometimes have “high (and often unrealistic) hopes and dreams”. I love making unrealistic goals for myself. If I set a goal that’s within reach how can I determine what is out of my reach? I do understand that if you fail to achieve your goals it might encourage an attitude of quitting. Making ridiculously high (possibly unrealistic) goals might make you come off arrogant. And there is no doubt that some people don’t see any value in the goal that you never achieve. All of these attitudes are fine, but remember that goals are personal. I actually developed what I call a quitting complex because when I was younger I was always told I couldn’t achieve my goals. Because of that my self-esteem suffered and it took a long time to work myself back up to the point of feeling like I could achieve things in life. So parents, teachers, church leaders, and everyone else please let the dreamers be dreamers. You may think different, but just think how you might have felt if you had a dreamer as a parent and teacher. They might have told you things like “you have no aspirations in life because you’re not willing to stretch yourself” or “you are weak because you think impossible is a thing”. If your way of setting goals for yourself works do it, but make sure you encourage anyone to set goals how they feel is best.
Having gone to some counseling (which is good for anyone, not just if you have “problems”) I was able to realize that my goals were important. My dreams do matter, and because I have had dreams and aspirations I’ve achieved things in my life. I once compared it to climbing a wall or a mountain. For me it’s not about getting to the top that matters, but more the experience of the journey. We gain strength in trying the impossible. If we don’t achieve the impossible, we’ll certainly achieve many things on the way. There’s always an advantage to improving, and setting a goal that’s higher than reach just encourages us to stretch as far as we can. Life is a journey, and you determine the destination. But sometimes it’s not the destination that matters, but the experience on the way to get there.