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Who needs goals?

I hear it all the time: how can we set goals if we don’t know if we can make it?

Whether you realize this or not, this comes from viewing your reality based in fear and uncertainty. For if one does not trust oneself, the company, one’s co-workers, you name it; then how can one commit to reach some goal which is currently beyond one’s ability?

And what will all one’s acquaintances say about this goal, which appears so completely “unrealistic” now? How would one face one’s family, friends, colleagues, managers and workers if one commits to the goal and fails to reach it?

No, no, it’s easier not to commit, not to take chances, go with the flow, chose the “safe” path, wait until one knows the goal can be reached, before saying anything. This will protect one from disappointment and fall.

And it will also make one miss most of the good things in life.

cover illustration from the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published by BLTC in 1864, drawn by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol) himself.
Ilustration: many paths to a goal

Why should we set goals?

You see, this is one of life’s little paradoxes: first – we set a goal, then we look for a way to get there. And we may not make it, but we are a lot more likely to than if we do not set that goal. Because if we do not set that goal – we are sure to not make it save by sheer accident.

Now, this is plain common sense: how can you get somewhere if you do not know where you’re going? The whole idea behind the popular GPS gadgets is setting the destination at the beginning of your trip. So why should the process of project or process (any project or process, from weight management to space shuttle design) management be any different?

How do we set goals?

Children are introduced to various “serious” concepts through literature. Lewis Carroll in his universally read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland teaches Alice this very lesson from the mouth of his ever-grinning Cheshire Cat.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Alice asked.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to”, said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –”, said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”, said the Cat.
” – so long as I get somewhere”, Alice added as an explanation.
Oh, you’re sure to do that”, said the Cat, “if only you walk long enough”.

Thus said the Sages.
Quotes by people worth heeding:

When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect for others.

— Dalai Lama

In other words, if you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter what you do, you will still get somewhere. The question is: will you like it there? Then what you need to do is consider where you want to end up. This will be your goal.

And how do we get there?

Once you have determined the starting and ending points of your intended journey, you may choose one of the various paths you can follow to get there, and the actions required to proceed. This is called “a plan” – but I shall leave it for another time.

USS Constitution, painting by Tom Freeman, 1815.
USS Constitution, painting by Tom Freeman, 1815.

And what if we don't get there?

However, there is still one thing to say to calm the fears of the most timid of heart and uncertain: I know it is rather pointless to tell you not to fear, as fear is not a rational thing. So if you fear – well, I sympathize, and can share that sometimes I do, too. It is quite natural. But, the commitment to goals is not a Catholic marriage. The goals are not set in stone. Your goals may also change with time and progress, and that is great, as well.

If you see along the way that you are not going in the right direction after all, then the beauty of this process of planning is… you can change them!

Retrace your steps and set new goals! Eventually, you’ll get where you want. Just as long as you know where you are headed and walk long enough…

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