Don’t Fixate on End Points

We, humans, seem to love setting goals and objectives for ourselves. Particularly challenging ones. There’s a real satisfaction that comes from setting out to accomplish something, putting in a lot of effort and work, and seeing those efforts pay off through the successful achievement of that goal or objective. In general, I believe it’s a really positive practice. This type of big goal setting occurs in both our professional and personal lives. Professional goals might include striving for a promotion, attempting to hit a really big sales target, releasing an amazing new product feature that beats out the competition, earning an award for a song you produced, etc. etc. Personal goals might include finishing a 100 km bike ride, learning a new language, completing a PhD, having kids, visiting every national park, etc. etc.

There is one slightly risky way of approaching big goals and objectives though, which is to expect the singular act of achievement to result in some type of universal salvation. I’m being a little hyperbolic, but I’m guessing most people have experienced some type of this self-talk, even if a little less extreme:

  • If I get promoted, finally I’ll be happy.
  • If I hit my savings goal of $[x], finally I’ll have enough.
  • If I release that amazing new feature, we’ll beat the competition.
  • Once the COVID lockdown is lifted, my stress and anxiety will go away (circa 2021…)
  • If I get married, our challenges will go away.
  • If I finish my degree, my grandparents will respect me.

The reality of course, is that even achieving an extremely lofty, difficult, and amazing goal, rarely results in some type of panacea. As a result, when we obsess over the goal, and spend a huge amount of our attention and energy focused on it, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for disappointment. And depending how much stock we’ve put into the importance of that goal, it can be pretty devastating. “I got the promotion… and I still hate my job. What’s going on?”

This concept always conjures up the following image (and personal experience) for me: you’re running a race, and it’s really challenging. You’ve put what feels like your maximum effort to get yourself to the finish line. Then, when you think you’re 100 metres away from the end, you realize you misread the last marker, and you still have 3 km to go. You’re devastated, and struggle to finish the race, because you’ve hinged all your efforts on getting to what you believed was the finish line. The obsession with the endpoint, has potentially robbed you of your ability to succeed.

It’s important not to overly obsess about the endpoints. And why the cliché phrase exists, “the journey is more important than the destination”. If you can find genuine satisfaction in the efforts and energy you put into all the things that lead up to that endpoint (i.e., training, working hard, practicing, planning, etc.), you inevitably build more resilience and are better prepared to handle setbacks, or a (naturally) shifting goal post. Who cares if you didn’t get the award? You know you vastly improved your skills.