Seeing opportunity where goals used to blind
Now president Trump wants to reopen the U.S. economy by May 1. Maybe it’s the right thing to do and maybe it is not. The only certainty is that he will stick to his plan no matter what.
Besides proving to be pretty effective in flattening the coronavirus curve, isolation is good for reflection. With so many places I don’t have to be these days, I find my mind wandering instead. Between cerebral destinations I question things I have taken as truths.
One of them is setting goals. Trump is convincing me this is a bad idea and I am not predisposed to being convinced on this. I have embraced this practice and acknowledged it as a factor that has produced the successful (by my own estimation) person I am today. Now this concrete belief has been jackhammered into jagged chunks I can’t lift.
It is mostly because of Donald Trump that I breathe the dust of lost faith in the notion that aiming for the stars is necessary for success. His actions have crystalized some thoughts about goal setting that might have otherwise percolated through the porous membrane of scrutiny where daydreams and idle thoughts normally seep through into fantasy.
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Donald Trump set the goal to be president of the United States. Fine. That was the first goal ever dangled in front of me, and I suspect maybe you, entering kindergarten. It was something not only incredible, but also attainable, if we really wanted it and were willing to sacrifice and work hard. The notion was bantered about along with the term “American Way,” if my memory serves. Or was it only propagated national idealism?
Either way, setting this goal allegedly worked for Donald Trump. He is the president of the United States. He has undoubtedly worked hard and made tremendous sacrifice to get there. But, what compromises did it cost? Could he have become a better person without the big goal? More pertinent, how much better off could humanity be?
I’m not just picking on him. I think this is a universal problem with goal setting. It is only that Trump has a high profile and it is easy to chart the course along with the collateral damage of his goal seeking. My point is, had he set aside his goal of getting reelected to the presidency and focused on doing the right thing for our nation and himself instead, a greater good likely would come from it. And, he still might have been elected president of the United States, by means of true merit instead of the win-at-all-cost approach he has bludgeoned us with.
I relate to athletes better than to politicians. Athletes in general are maniacal goal setters. I would say it is nearly axiomatic that the higher level of athletics you examine, the more defined are the goals set by the athletes reaching that level and the more ardent they have been about staying on the paths they identified long ago.
Yet, the reality is that only a small percentage of those driven athletes ever reach the highest levels they set their goals on, usually at a young age. There are many more failures than successes in this process of goal-seeking. It’s tough on self-esteem. Less obvious, perhaps, are the lost opportunities passed up along the way. It’s like picking a place you want to go, planning to drive straight through to get there, blowing past the natural wonders, historical sites, and beautiful little towns just off the freeway, and then having the car break down a hundred miles from where you set out to be and discovering you forgot to renew your AAA membership. And you are left to wonder.
Even for those who succeed in their missions, compromises are made, whether ethical or preferential. Would I have been happier as a family man in a regular job? Was using performance-enhancing drugs OK because everyone else was, too? Is it OK to mount a camera in centerfield to steal pitch signs along with accolades and lucrative endorsements that were rightly earned by other players?
Setting goals makes us rigid in thinking and actions. Setting goals leaves little room for considering change and options. Without embracing change and options, we effectively stunt our growth as human beings. Life becomes thinner, not richer. Goal seekers are the ones who reach their mark and muse, “Is this all there is?” where the less strident enthusiastically proclaim, “What’s next?”
Perhaps goals in general aren’t the problem. Maybe it is making them too specific. Perhaps a better goal than aiming for a title or position is to focus on having a positive impact in the world through doing something you love to do. Maybe instead of a girl setting her sights on being president of the United States some day, things would be better if she set out to figure a way to help the most people she can in the most meaningful way she can discover. In that spirit, the unmeasurable goal of being the best father, husband, brother, friend, and son has room in my life. Yeah, it’s vague. But, the results hopefully will be apparent. At least that’s the goal.
Roger Marolt’s new goal is to have less focus on goals and more of a wandering eye toward opportunities. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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