Do You Set Goals or Feel Your Way Through Life?


I confess, the question of setting goals has long puzzled me.

How can you set goals if you’re not sure where you’re going?

And how in heaven’s name can you really know where you want to go?

As you may guess, I’m not a goal setter — mostly, that is. I confess that recently I did set myself a goal of losing 10 pounds. (Yes, I succeeded. :))

But that short-term simple goal stuff is not what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about setting bigger goals in life and then working specifically and tirelessly to achieve them.

That’s never been my approach to life.

Making the Case for a Life Less Planned

Mine is a more vague, less directed style. You might think it a losing strategy. But let me make my case for a life less planned.

1. Your end goal is likely to be flawed.

You don’t really know whether or not you want something until you get it. And then the chances are you won’t find it so great after all.

2. The sacrifices you make come at a high price.

While having the ambition and discipline to achieve a big goal is laudable, in my view, a little discipline goes a very long way. Soon, the costs of keeping your nose to the proverbial grindstone tend to outweigh the benefits.

3. It’s difficult to enjoy the journey.

I’ve found the zest of life to be creativity, surprise and delight. And I suspect that eye-on-the-prize hyperfocus keeps you from enjoying them.

4. Life is transient.

Most things in this world don’t stay the same. So going for a firm, explicit goal is really a fool’s errand. The road you have chosen is likely to shift or buckle as you traverse it. By the time you reach your destination, you may well find that it no longer serves your needs.

As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh said,

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.

And that pretty well sums it up.

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What’s Your View on Setting Goals?

Looking back over your life, how have you made choices? Have you set goals and worked hard to achieve them? Or have you wandered more like I have? What do you see are the benefits of the way you make life decisions? Have they worked for you or might you consider doing something different?

Take out a piece of paper and jot yourself some notes. Then share them with a friend and see if they perceive you the same way you do. (Note, my friends see me as much more goal-oriented than I see myself!)

If you get an ‘ah-ha’ in this process, do share it with us in the comments space below.

  • Love this post, Andrea. I confess I’ve always sailed through life, fairly ‘goal-less’ or generalized. From early childhood I wanted to be involved in politics and was lucky enough to land a few plumb jobs early on (which quickly convinced me that I DIDN’T want to be in politics). Now, in my later years, I am much more long-term goal-focused, and a lot of that is because I HAVE to be. It’s all on me. My income, my future, my daughters’ futures. No pension, no inheritance, no second income. But maybe my past as a free spirit is serving me well now. I’m wholly enjoying the journey and definitely have a better understanding of which opportunities to take (and which ones to pass on).

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks, Pam, for this wonderful comment. You put the tension between external pressures that force planning discipline and the more free flowing style of sailing through life. How wonderful that you have and are enjoying a seamless combination now!

    • Wayne Cook

      I love reading posts like yours 🙂 More power to you Pam!