James Zilenziger
James Zilenziger 11 April 2016

Goals Gone Wrong

We hear on a consistent basis to "set goals" but often don't receive much guidance after that point. This article discusses how to set healthy goals and how we often make progress when some goals are not accomplished.

I'm supposed to be in law school right now. Or at least that's what I told myself I would be doing at age 25. I was a History major in college with a good GPA. I excelled in my U.S. Constitutional Law course. My teachers recommended I look into it.

Well, I'm 25, and I could not be further from that goal. I work in a field completely unrelated to my major, and I probably will for a long time. So technically, I failed at achieving my goal. But more importantly, I'm glad I did. Life had other plans for me. 

Sometimes Failing to Achieve our Goals is a Good Thing

There is no lack of social media posts, articles or blogs emphasizing the importance of "setting goals" and "how to set goals." Whether it is our cliche New Year's Resolution to lose that 5 extra pounds or a financial goal to be earning X amount by age 35, we all have them. And that's not always a bad thing. Actually, it's a good thing. Goals keep us motivated, pushing us towards improvement. They are meant to make us a better person.

However, when we don't reach those goals, many of us don't know how to react. Some of us sink into depression ("I just keep failing"). Others turn to blaming ("If this person had just let me do what I wanted I wouldn't be so far behind"). But what if we actually took a moment to put things into perspective? Why do we address the importance of making goals yet completely ignore the fact that life and priorities are constantly changing? It is often because we forget to acknowledge that life is not a fixed pie. It is ever growing in shape and size. And that's a good thing. 

How to Build a Healthy Goal

Are you planning to be a millionaire by age 40? Or maybe just be out of debt by age 30? There's nothing wrong with either of those goals. What is dangerous, however, is how you engage with your goals on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. If you've made the goal an absolute, you are doing a disservice to yourself and a disservice to others. You haven't created a goal--you've created an idol to worship. You will feel pressure to put that idol before (and sometimes at the expense of) friends and family. You may even feel pressure to put it before your own health. But most significantly, the greatest danger comes if you refuse to adapt to the changing environment just for the sake of adding a check mark to a list. You will miss out on many more opportunities that tend to come into life sporadically because your goal has taken the form of a blinding obsession. The end point becomes the focus--not the journey that happens along the way. 

It is most important to note that the unhealthiest goals are typically born during tough circumstances or moments of stress. They tend to be those that are heavily materialistic and have no emphasis on improving our relationship with others or even with ourselves. Instead, they scream "ME!", and it is much more difficult to build a healthy relationship with a goal that involves you, yourself and no one else. 

Instead, build a healthy goal by deeply evaluating in your heart and mind the motivation behind the goal. Is it a certain salary for yourself? It is to appear more successful in the eyes of coworkers? Already you could be setting yourself up for failure because you've created a goal where you are the center, and every missed benchmark fuels a deprecating outlook of yourself. Or, as my mom used to say, "James, the world doesn't revolve around you, nor do you want it to!" Rather, seek to incorporate others in your goal. Or, at the very least, seek counsel from friends and family when you create a goal so they can help you maintain a healthy relationship with it. 

Keep goals simple and focused on helping others and serving. Refrain from always putting yourself at the center of a goal. But most importantly, realize that you will not achieve many of your goals because better ideas and things will come your way! Paths will change and even disappear. Be happy that they do. 

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