Making Impossible Goals Less Impossible

The other day, I was going through my normal routine of websites. Via lifehacker I came across this article about impossible goals and how you shouldn’t do them. The five goals are:

1. I have to make everyone happy
2. I have to be perfect and never make a mistake
3. I have to never fail
4. I have to sell 100% of my prospects
5. I have to reach all of my goals by the time I’m [insert age here]

To me, these are not “impossible” goals. These aren’t even goals, really. Rather, they are guiding principles for life. A goal should be measurable and actionable. Go here to learn about SMART goals. Of the five goals the author brings up, only two (#4 and #5) are measurable in any realistic sense. You can’t prove #1; are you going to survey every single person that you have ever tangentially associated with to verify that you made them happy? You can only measure #3 after you are dead. Guiding principles are things we should always be going after, using them to dictate how we act in life. We should never give up on them. As far as the two measurable goals, I don’t have a problem with them. I personally have used #5 to set some deadlines to spur myself into action. Without that deadline, I wouldn’t have signed up for a race. This only works for some goals; don’t set an age deadline on something like marriage or you’re likely to make a bad decision to accomplish it.

That gets to my second criticism. The author, Noah St. John, says that you should stop going after those goals immediately. Why? Shouldn’t these be exactly the sort of goals that we go after in our lives? Shouldn’t we want to make people happy? To try and not make mistakes? To not fail? To me, these are EXACTLY the types of goals that can lead to a successful life.

If I could change something about the article, it would be to eliminate the absolutes. Change “have” to “strive” and drop the “never.” Go through the list again with that simple replacement:

1. I strive to make everyone happy
2. I strive to be perfect and not make a mistake
3. I strive to not fail
4. I strive to sell 100% of my prospects
5. I strive to reach X goal by the time I’m [insert age here]

Looks much better, doesn’t it? Striving to make people happy is a great principle to follow in life. Striving not to fail seems like such a no brainer; who sets out to fail? You will fail in life, for sure…that’s unavoidable. But you can seek to limit your failures by planning ahead and making smart decisions. Again, seems like a good way to live a life to me. If you’re in sales, shouldn’t you strive to close every sale that comes up? If I had a sales staff, I certainly would want them to do that. A job interview is selling yourself to the hiring manager. Shouldn’t you strive to always successfully sell yourself in that instance? I’ve never gone on a job interview where I didn’t!

Always be aware of absolutes like the first version of these goals. In fact, always be weary when someone tells you not to have a certain goal. It’s dangerous, pessimistic and limits character growth. The “goals” in the article are not even goals, but guiding principles in life that are actually a GOOD thing to push for.

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