”Setting goals is the biggest waste of time on planet Earth.”
These are the words of Andrew Wittman, an ex-marine who now advises Fortune 500 CEOs.
I am going to compare this with something one of my favourite brains, Tim Minchin, said in a speech given to some students on graduation day. His message consisted of nine ‘Life Lessons’, the first of which is to not pursue a dream. Instead, he suggests, you should endeavour to aim for, and succeed in, achieving mini-goals.
”Being certain on a particular career path in your twenties leads to being blindsided”
His final point was ‘Don’t Rush’, the reasoning being that he knew loads of 30-something’s who had made goals and either, 1. Achieved them and then not known what to do or, 2. Not achieved them and basically had a huge mid-life crisis. Being certain on a particular career path in their twenties had led them to being blindsided from following other opportunities that presented themselves, or from pursuing what they loved.
”Until then, the plan was neatly laid out by the System”
I set out from Uni with a goal of getting a job within two years, with a certain unnamed Private Bank, and to earn a certain particular salary. I still don’t know why this was a goal but I think it had something to do with what I then envisaged as a solid target. Needless to say, I met this target but then had no idea what to do after. I hadn’t planned big enough nor far enough ahead. Until then, the plan was neatly laid out by the System; go to school, go to Uni, get a job, buy a house, marry, have kids, retire and die.
If you look at Tim, who by inference had no plan, he left Uni and simply pursued what he loved. Eventually, he found himself selling out arenas, writing scores for top West-End musicals and scaring the crap out of kids on the brink of stepping in to the unknown. What a time to tell them to stop planning, eh?
”There aren’t any templates from which to work from”
The conflict I see is in Wittman’s suggestion to aim for a ‘destination’; work out where you want to be and the steps will logically fall into place. I can see his point when he uses the example of booking a holiday. But booking a holiday is something everyone has done and there is plenty of guidance on how to prepare. Deciding where you want to be in Life is somewhat trickier, as you are the only person who will follow that path. There aren’t any templates from which to work from.
Tim says the opposite: bin the destination, focus on the object or project at hand and really enjoy it. Throwing your all in to each day and making the most of it.
So we have a battle between long-term vs short-term goal setting (so to speak, as obviously no goals are allowed).
”Aiming for a destination gives a purpose, a meaning to the days”
The merit of Tim’s approach is that he views life as ultimately meaningless, so fill it with doing cool stuff. You could die tomorrow, so what is the point of working hard to this ultimate objective you might never reach? All those days of potential happiness wasted in worry working to that one BIG moment.
Conversely, aiming for a destination gives a purpose, a meaning to the days. I also feel this approach allows you to define yourself by clearly setting out what it is you want. The problem is, what if that definition changes?
”I am on my own path, success is defined by what I want to achieve”
I propose a third outlook. The lesson that threads both their points together is that you have to follow your own path, but ultimately ensure you are happy and doing what it is you like, developing yourself in a positive manner and seeing each day as an opportunity to do something new and exciting. If you make, say, ‘Happiness’ the destination, then you can reach this but still have the flexibility to pursue new opportunities which will, in turn, keep you happy. Keep the destination abstract, then.
Maybe I am looking at it wrong, but then one of the points Tim makes is that you must constantly challenge your own opinions. So I will continue to follow what I love and keep re-evaluating my position. Who is right or wrong doesn’t really matter in the end; their points are reflections of themselves and the experiences they have had. Their viewpoint cannot reflect mine or vice versa. They are both successful and I am on my own path, success defined by what I want to achieve.
Ultimately, none of us should have to be unhappy in order to reach that mythical day in sun, at some vague point in the future. Bring the sun to you.