“What’s your goal?”
My friend used to drive me crazy with this question. Any time I’d ask for advice, express frustration, or tell him my thoughts, he’d respond the same way: What’s your goal?
I had no idea how to answer. No idea what he was talking about.
I spoke of goals in my last article, when I mentioned the conversation with my loved one. I knew I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t hurt their feelings, and as I faced this truth my friend’s question popped into my mind: What is your goal?
See, I’m finally starting to understand what my friend was getting at when he kept asking about my goals. I’m realizing that I create my own peace or misery according to the goals I set. For instance, as I mentioned yesterday, my goal to be liked was a bad one. Not only did it cause me to be dishonest in many of my interactions, it also–because I can’t control what other people think or feel–guaranteed my own failure at least some of the time. So I’ve spent most of my life striving to achieve a goal I had almost no control over. What a miserable way to live! But that’s what we do, right? We set ourselves up. We pick goals that are dependent on the actions/thoughts/opinions of others and feel terrible when we don’t achieve them. We practically guarantee ourselves failure, or at least frustration, and we do it over and over again.
I think this is what the bible refers to when it says “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I don’t think it’s advising against hope itself, I think it’s telling us to pay attention to the things we hope for. I remember when I first told Jon about being in love with a woman, I was terrified but later blown away by the peace I felt, afterward. I told friends: “I have more to be worried about now than I’ve ever had in my life, but I feel more peace now than I ever have.” I didn’t understand it, then. I think I understand it a little more, now. In that moment, I was focused more on revealing who I was than about Jon’s reaction. I achieved the goal of transparency. And the result was incredible peace. I think this must be part of what Jesus meant when He said: “the truth will set you free.”
The goals we set will either guarantee our failure at least some of the time, or guarantee our continual success. For instance, if I want to ask someone out and my primary goal is to get the date, there’s a chance I may fail. Knowing this, I’m probably going to have some feelings of anxiety (beforehand) and rejection (afterward) if they decline. But what if I flip the script? What if I make “Be Brave” my primary goal? That doesn’t negate the fact that I also hope to get the date, but suddenly I’m not wrestling with so much anxiety because I’ve guaranteed myself success—no matter the outcome—if I just ask. We can do this with virtually everything:
Breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend?
Be Honest vs. Don’t Hurt Their Feelings
Playing a competitive sport?
Learn From My Mistakes vs. Be the Best
(I would be willing to best that most people who are the best in their fields didn’t get there because they were focused on being THE best, but focused on doing THEIR best.)
Seeking publication for an article or book?
Steven King once said his goal was to collect so many rejection slips he could wallpaper his house with them. What a fantastic goal!
That’s not to say we should never choose goals we can’t guarantee our success in, but they ought to be nestled within larger goals. I can be honest and try not to hurt someone’s feelings. I can learn from my mistakes and hope it leads to me becoming the best. But the primary goals we set will determine our focus and our resulting successes or failures. If I hurt someone’s feelings or even lose a loved one as a result of being honest, I can live with that, because honesty–and not the maintaining of the relationship–is my primary goal. And with the goals we set, we can guarantee our own success, each and every day.
We create peace or discord, freedom or bondage, joy or absolute misery according to the goals we set. So before every conversation, every practice, every decision, ask yourself the question:
What is your goal?
And set it wisely.