Here’s what I know about setting goals: not every goal you set, however SMART you may make it, matters. Although, I admit, it took me a long time to realise that.
There are times when I feel like my life has been one long goal-setting exercise. But it’s only in more recent years that all that goal-setting has felt like there was a point to it. And that’s because, for many years, the goals I set myself meant nothing to me.
Think about that for a second.
I set myself goals that didn’t matter to me. And I’m not alone in doing that. How many of the goals you set yourself actually matter to you – how many of them are actually important to you? Hopefully, most, if not all, of them. But, I suspect that a fair chunk of those goals you’ve set yourself in the past, and possibly in the here and now, aren’t actually that important to you. Not really. If you achieve them, great. If you don’t, c’est la vie.
And there’s a simple reason for that: if you aren’t living your real life, as the real you, then the goals you set yourself can’t have true meaning for you. Not intentionally, anyway – how can they?
You see, if you aren’t living your real life, you are living someone else’s interpretation of your life. And if you aren’t living as the real you, you are living as someone else’s interpretation of you. A life, and a version of you, that don’t really matter to you, because they aren’t yours. So, it follows that any goals you set to progress in that interpretation of your real life, or as that interpretation of the real you, will likely not matter to you, either. And if they do, it’s thanks to chance, and not by design.
But, when you know who you really are, and you are fully engaged in the adventure of becoming that person, and creating your real life – your best life – everything changes.
Take Whiplash, the super-charged Snail in the movie ‘Turbo’. Sure, he found his ‘true self’ through a freak occurrence but the fact is (ahem, such as facts are in animated movies) that he found the person (slash snail) he really was, and, with a little help from someone who believed in his abilities, pursued (and – spoiler alert – fulfilled) his dream. Take a couple of minutes to watch the clip…
There simply is no getting away from it: when you know who you really are, and are committed to building the life that the real you is meant to be living, then every choice, every decision, every goal, is aligned to that person, and to that life. Aligned to your values. To your strengths. To your passions. Yours, not someone else’s. And goals that align to your passions, your strengths, and your values are important to you. Those goals matter.
The bottom line is this: when you pursue your real life through the adventure of becoming the real you, you live with meaning, purpose and hope. You find fulfillment. But, when you pursue an interpretation of your real life, conforming to someone else’s version of who you are, there is no meaning, no purpose, no fulfillment. There is only the endless pursuit of something – anything – that might satisfy the yearning deep in your soul. An endless pursuit that sees you set goal, after goal, after goal, none of which bring lasting pleasure when you achieve them, or fill the emptiness within, or which cause heart-felt anguish when they slip out of reach.
Which is why you must discover who you really are, and begin the adventure into becoming that person, and creating your real life. Because only then will your life have real meaning and purpose; and only then will the goals you set yourself be goals that truly matter: goals that help you to create the future you are made for, that energise you, nourish you, and inspire you. Goals that are not imposed on you, but instead flow out of you.
So, far from being something to be avoided because the endless pursuit of them brings no fulfillment, goals are an integral part of the adventure of becoming the real you. But, before you set about making that aspiration specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (or, SMART), you must first take time to get to know the real you. To reconnect with the person that you have always been, but maybe lost sight of along the way. To build a picture of your real life, and to give yourself a roadmap that will guide you along that journey of discovery – that adventure.
And only then, armed with that picture and that roadmap, should you turn your attention to setting goals. Because only then will the goals you set have meaning and purpose. Only then will they line up with your values, strengths and passions. Only then will the goals you set yourself matter to you.