Commentary - Life is about more than achieving goals
January 30, 2009
We live in a society that makes a mania about planning and goal setting. Maybe that's why so many people are unhappy.
We would do better if we paid more attention to the details and let the big picture take care of itself. I can picture all the planners out there shaking their heads in disgust.
"You have to have a plan if you are to have reliable success," they say.
Well, they'll get no argument from me when it comes to organizations. On the personal level, though, I have to turn aside from that school of thought.
Setting long-term goals sounds like a good idea. But those goals rarely seem to be aimed at things that really bring happiness. They usually seem to center around the trappings of success - ranks to achieve, honors to be earned, money to be made - rather than the essentials of a happy life.
Goals inevitably become ways to measure success or failure, too - and more often than not the latter is what people find. You can't plan for happiness and contentment. Those are qualities you experience in the present.
People have too many regrets in life. They express those regrets in the ways they treat others and themselves. Anger, frustration, depression and finger pointing - those are the real results many achieve. They lay down wonderful-sounding goals for where they want to go, and never understand that life is all about the journey, not the destination.
That doesn't mean you don't look ahead. But how you live right now has far more to do with being successful than making grand plans about where you want to be in 10 years. For most people, a good view of the present is the biggest hurdle they face in getting to the future.
I did the goal setting thing for a long while, then something great happened - instead of following those intelligent goals, I developed some wisdom. And I have had greater satisfaction ever since.
Here is my prescription for success: live the best you can, right now.
When I enlisted in the Army in 1976 I had some long-range goals. I wanted to go to OCS and be a general officer. But I never followed up on the OCS thing and retired as a sergeant major. Measured against my goals I was a complete failure. But you know what' I am the happiest guy I know. I look back on a rewarding career. I have a wonderful wife and a great son. I live in a very nice house and look forward to my work every day. I take part in organizational planning - but my goals are pretty short term - I strive to do the best I can, today.
It is kind of a Zen thing, I suppose, this living for the moment, but it works.
There is a logic to it all. If you try to do the right thing every moment, isn't that the best way to be in the right place down the road' If you make a good choice now, doesn't that move you toward a better place in the future' If I try to be the best person I can today - every day - won't that make me a better person 10 years from now'
Living in the moment is not easy. It doesn't mean doing what feels good; it means doing what you know is right - all the time.
In many respects, those long-range goal setters are taking the easy way out. If your goals are years away, it is easy to take side steps away from the chosen path - "I can put it off, today; I have lots of time to catch up."
You may end up with a longer list of accomplishments, but what do you have to show for them' A high proportion of the "successful" folks I know are failures where it really counts. They have sacrificed family for career, thrown aside values in an effort to "win," and ended up achieving their goals only to wonder what they all mean.
Lower your sights, people. You are more likely to hit the real target.
An division commander I once worked for used to say that if you weren't having fun most of the time, you were doing something very wrong. He retired wearing four stars, so he must have been on to something.
String together a long line of happy moments and you end up with a happy, productive life - and that ought to be the goal for all of us.
David W. Kuhns Sr., a retired Army sergeant major, is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.