Are goals necessary?

Reflecting on how I have changed over the past 6 months of writing this blog, and interacting with others here and in forums, my attitude towards goal setting has become less clear. I’ve always believed that having clearly defined, measurable goals is essential – even though I have struggled to use goal setting effectively myself over the years.

Since I qualified as an occupational therapist in 1987 I’m now in my 8th job. By taking certain directions I’ve gradually narrowed my options, but I’ve never set clear career goals.

Using the common argument in favour of goals, that without its like asking a bus driver for a ticket to anywhere, you could argue I have jumped on buses that have passed by that happened to be going in an interesting direction! Certainly when I saw my current job advertised I hadn’t been actively looking for anything new.

Many people I know professionally are similar. It could be we are drifting, but within a structure imposed by our professional qualifications? We enjoy what we are doing – when we don’t we start looking elsewhere. This I feel is still different to having clearly defined goals.

I’m sure their are people at the top of my profession who set goals of becoming what they are – I’m glad I didn’t because its not something I would personally enjoy. But the question remains, am I just lucky or does goal setting only really work for some people? Does it suit people in target driven businesses or who are in selling? Does the reason many don’t use clear goals is because it hard in this day and age to formulate a clear vision of where you want to be in, say, five years time?

I use affirmations, but of the eight in my affirmation software, only one I would say is goal related (losing weight!). The rest relate to personal qualities and are general positive thoughts (eg – “I have a wonderful family”, “I am a very positive person”). In the past I have tried setting goals for all aspects of my life, but looking back they have had little impact.

Again, I stress, I have made plans and have achieved things like the Big Swim in July (and two marathons in the past). But whilst I was goal setting to a point, I wasn’t using goals in the very directed ways that some argue is essential for success. But what do you think?

Marina @ Sufficient Thrust October 10, 2007 at 9:20 pm

I think it matters what you’re setting goals for. Setting a goal to “Graduate from one of the top 20 law schools” is admirable, and maybe even what you think you want at the time, but if your interests/financial situation/relationships/etc. change along the way and that is no longer the best pursuit for you, it’s crucial to realize that and change accordingly.

I prefer to set goals within my larger passion areas – i.e. get 1,000 new readers for a new blog I’m excited about – than to set a goal *defining* a passion area.

mark mcclure January 2, 2008 at 8:04 am

Maybe I’d rewrite your blog title to “Are goals necessary but not sufficient?”

And then ask myself, for what? I believe the answer to that question helps turn goals into a kind of course correction compass.

No two compasses are likely to be the same. And anyway, sometimes their owners just want to navigate by the stars 😉

David Rogers January 2, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Like with the passion & desire post, I’m really trying to think and challenge the way we set goals. As you say, Mark, “goals are not sufficient” is part of the problem.

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