The Problem with Goals

Updated December 28, 2015

Goals are great, except when they’re not.

My bad goals

I went to school. I did pretty well. I worked hard to be the best at things, as much as I could.

I got good grades. I played piano and the flute, was in band and orchestra, landed the lead role in drama and played several sports. I was voted MVP of stuff and even set a few (insignificant) records.

I graduated near the top of my class (there were only 19 of us so, you know, the chances were pretty good). Like all “good” students, I went to college and got a degree.

I met the goals set before me over and over again.

And you know what? I was lost. Because they weren’t really my goals, they were someone else’s.

When I finished college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. My degree was one I couldn’t do a lot with without more education. I worked a series of jobs I hated.

Occasionally I heard others say, “I LOVE my job!” but could never fathom saying it myself. (For real? You genuinely can’t wait to get up to go to work in the morning?)

When it came to my career, I was miserable. I was waiting for the day I got married and could rely on my husband to support us. Of course I didn’t really know what I would do after that either.

I wondered if I was just lazy. A wimp. Scared. Ungrateful. But I don’t think that was it. After all, I spent 18 years working hard.

I was disillusioned

Oxford says disillusionment is “a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.”

My feeling exactly.

I had done everything I was “supposed” to do (get good grades, go to college, get a degree). I didn’t have a lot to show for it. Well, except for all the debt.

The unexpected turn of events

Fast forward to 2003. I was 28 when I discovered the internet and found vast amounts of information on just about any subject I could imagine. It changed my life.

I stumbled on topics I had no idea I was interested in…and I got interested. Really interested. I spent countless hours learning new things. I felt like I had come alive.

I also felt sad I wasted so much of my life pursuing what I thought would make me happy. They told me it would. It didn’t. Doing what you’re supposed to do or being the best doesn’t necessarily bring you happiness or success.

Almost 30 years of my life passed before I really learned something, not because I had a test next Tuesday but because I couldn’t help myself from learning it. Because I actually enjoyed it. Because I enjoyed it, and not the accolades from others impressed by my ability to look like I enjoyed it. 

It interested me and was completely in line with my wiring and temperament and personality and uniqueness and intellect and creativity.

It made my heart sing.

I’ve learned a lot over the years, about working online, about life. This is true: you can’t rush it.

We’re always anxious for the destination, aren’t we? The end result. The goal. The finish line.

I want my kids to be grown so I can breathe a sigh of relief they didn’t turn out too bad (or to prove I’m really a good parent). I want my marriage to look like this or that or so-and-so’s marriage. I want to have X number of subscribers, X number of pageviews or make X amount of money.

I want to be more like this and less like that.

The bottom line about goals

There’s nothing wrong with having goals, but whose are they?

Also, this is a journey. I think the process is most of the destination. And the process is a lot more enjoyable if your heart is singing along the way.

I’ve asked myself so I’ll ask you: What are the great things you are reaching over now in order to get something you think will be great later? And is it what you want to reach for, or what someone else says you should reach for?

How can you do it differently?

52 thoughts on “The Problem with Goals”

  1. That’s the problem with school … you’re supposed to do stuff just because. There’s no connection between what you’re doing and the rewards of real life. But that’s a whole other blog post. 🙂 Thank man for the Internets, right? You can learn *everything* here. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Hi Amy

    This is great. I literally laughed when you said “I was voted MVP of stuff”.

    I have had these same thoughts for some time and especially with regard to my daughters. I just recently sent one off to college and I was wondering if I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing.

    Was she going to do what she loved or was she just going through the motions and checking off what she was supposed to check off? Would she ultimately end up in some job that she didn’t really enjoy?

    I try to show her through my own online efforts that she can truly explore work that she loves. The world/Internet provides a low barrier to entry with unbelievable upside.

    Thanks for posting this and for letting me know a lot of others go through this same struggle.

    – Jeff

  3. Oh My goodness! Pretty sure this post was written for me! Definitely eye opening to the fact that I, too, have grown up meeting other people’s goals and not my own. No wonder I’m lost when it comes to making and accomplishing my own! I absolutely LOVE your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  4. It was only 6 years ago that i came to realize that i should not live what others expected from me to become. Life is all about doing what makes you happy and realized what your passion is.
    Thanks for the thoughts Amy.

  5. This post really spoke to me. I know everyone else has said this but I was is in the same boat. Problem is- I still am. I haven’t found my ‘it’ yet (or maybe I never will), but I will continue on that journey. Thanks for those words and I’m happy you were able to find your ‘it’.

  6. Well said Amy. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
    To a happy, healthy, exciting, fun and well rounded life. Where we can share wonderful things with others, explore, continue to learn and find out what makes our heart sing 🙂

  7. Yes! This is so true! I appreciate you putting this idea into words as you have done. Now, how do we implement this idea into the lives of our kids? Sounds like a blog post to me! Blessings to you!

  8. Okay, they were someone else’s goals but whose choice?
    You didn’t waste 28 years, you spent them learning what you didn’t want to do. Edison tried more than 1,000 times to invent the light bulb. He maintains those 1,000 times weren’t wasted, they were learning experiences.
    As Dave used to say, “where you stand, depends upon where you sit.”

  9. Great thoughts, as always, dear Amy. Thank you for sharing your journey with the rest of us and inspiring us to take the journey alongside you.

  10. “You can’t rush blogging. You cant rush life” those are the words I needed to hear this morning. I went to a (in)RL meeting Saturday. I loved meeting other bloggers, I came home inspired but in less than 24 hours the inspiration turned into comparison and then defeat. I had a huge pity party full of lots of tears and ending with a giant bowl of ice-cream. Still hours later when I went to bed, I was questioning God “did I hear you right on this whole Blogging thing?’. This morning He is speaking words of encouragement and I am dusting myself off, and going to work off that ice-cream binge later! I need to remember in those low points what I tell myself in my high points “I am in Blogging University” it is a 4 year degree, that could be followed by a 2 year Masters and a 2 year doctorates, results are not going to be quick.

    1. I can totally relate…on all counts I think (including the ice cream binge). 🙂 You’re right, you’ve just gotta stick with and think long-term.

  11. LOVED this post!!! My kids, my husband, our farm, TRYING to please God in all of them, that is my biggest priority right now. It’s so easy to want more, but you are so right…it’s the process. They need me now, more than I need to “accomplish” anything. Someday, I may have more time for the other dreams I have, but I can’t lose the greatest gifts I have now for those other things. Loved this perspective…it so helped me solidify some of the struggles I have had lately…with my blog, and with life. 🙂 Thank you!!!

  12. I can so relate! I am nearly 30 and I think I am just finding my groove. I really love blogging. Only I haven’t figured out how to make a cent from it yet. 🙂 Ahhh…hopefully someday! Life is about the process–I loved that. I think we spend so much of our lives for the next step, and forget that where we are right now is a beautiful place to be-if we make it beautiful anyway.

  13. I love that expression- make your heart sing. I’m on a journey to find what make my heart sings. This is an excellent reminder to enjoy the search.

  14. I graduated in a class of 8, so I totally get you there!

    That’s one thing I’m learning about blogging – the fact that it is a process. Pro-bloggers will entice you with all this destination advice, but readers want to follow someone who is real, engaging, and doesn’t have it all together, so they know they are on a journey alongside you.

    This was such an encouraging post. Thank you!

  15. I have just discovered your site and received this in my first newsletter. This came at a great time for me and I am very inspired by what you wrote. I also have just recently decided to start a blog and am devouring the information you are so generously passing on. I love your style of writing and know I am going to learn so much from you. Thanks for such a great blog!

  16. This is a great reminder! Thanks for sharing your journey. Far too often we do things that will make others happy or “proud”, at the expense of our own journey of self discovery. In this year, my first as a blogger, I know that I need to tend and cultivate the soil that is my blog content and enjoy the journey of blogging and not getting caught up in the destination. Great post!

    ~ Ferly
    Gifts We Use {to grow, love and serve}

  17. I so agree and really appreciate your perspective on the topic of goals. They are important but not the end. When it comes to blogging I have also discovered there are many unexpected positives as well! Not only is about being able to write and share about things that you love and that interest you, but it has also become part of an open source community of like minded people who are interested in sharing their knowledge and passions from all over the world. Suddenly the world has become so much smaller and connected.

  18. Wow, this just completely resonates with me! Except I didn’t go to college, because I didn’t want to, and my gosh, you would have thought I had murdered someone for the response I got! It took me about 4 years after high school to figure out what I love and what I’m passionate about. Now that I know, it’s so worth doing things differently!

  19. HI Amy,
    I loved this post! I am so where you wrote about, pushing for more subscribers and going bigger sooner. I’ve been blogging for 4 months and having a good time. Your blog post reminded me I don’t have to have everything yesterday.
    Thanks you!

  20. Well said! I have lived like this. I don’t any more.
    I love my new journey. Every single minute of it. The learning curve is steep, but it’s a mountain I’m willing to climb to live with passion.
    Thanks for sharing this Amy.
    Miss Ellie

  21. Wow. I think my husband could sooooooooooooo relate to this!!! Unfortunately, he hasn’t found his “love” yet like you. . .and I’m the one who can’t understand because I have always known what I’ve wanted to be/do and so I’ve always had a goal in front of me that *I* wanted to pursue. Thank you for putting this all in words, though, because it helps me to better understand how people get to the place you were. . .relaying on and reaching *other* people’s expectations. As a teacher I will try to be more careful about that. . .it could be the most important lesson I ever teach — how to find “personal” goals, not “other people” goals.

  22. So much wisdom for a young woman. I’m soon going to be 56 and am just now gaining the confidence to not care what I should do, but do what I enjoy. I’m also blessed with a husband that loves me very much and makes it all possible.

  23. I love this post! I have decided to put blinders on when it comes to blogging and do it for me. I was getting stressed out by all the bloggers who are bigger, better, able to do it ALL( paid posts, reviews, giveaways, link ups, tutorials, without breaking a sweat! ( Or so they say).
    I’ve been ready to hang up my typing fingers, shut down my blog and walk away more than once… but I still enjoy the process, so I’ll hang around, low #’s and all until I know longer enjoy it, or more than likely, something else so grabs my creative heart that it becomes my new “thing”.

  24. EXACTLY! You described my life in high school (a few details changed). Nothing ever pointed me to being an artist, and nothing prepared me for such a career. But, nothing else fit!

    Learning for the love of it instead of the duty really kicked in for me when I learned to knit, to blog, to garden, to take photographs and edit them, to write, to oil paint, to speak in public.

    And I’m 52, so what a gift that those of you in your 20s and 30s are getting this figured out now.

    Blessings on you for sharing your story!

  25. Proverbs 16:9 “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”

    I want to be able to say with Jesus: (John 17:4) “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”

    I make plans – and people make plans for me, but ultimately I need to serve One Master – and do the tasks that He has for me – with the attitude that He desires I have.

    Your post reminds me of the folly of “standardizing” every child’s education – no wonder so many children are bored out of their minds – we would be, too! 🙂 Thanks, Amy

    By the way – I can’t tell you how many of your tutorials that I have completed and afterward said, “This is so fun!”

  26. Oh, Amy, can I come over later, and you and I can sit on your couch with our feet up and drink tea and talk and laugh for a while? I’m pretty sure I wanna be good friends with you. You always have such great insights, and I think we’d be sisters-under-the-skin in no time at all. Or you could come over early Sunday morning, and we’d go for a walk in the sunshine before we each rush home to get ready for church. How ’bout that? I’m so glad I discovered your blog. Such great practical tips and thoughtful clarity. Thanks.

  27. I absolutely LOVE this post! Thank you so much for writing it! I am in a point in my life where I feel exactly the same way. I’ve lived my life to someone else’s goals and it took me until about 2 years ago to kind of “wake up” from it. And I am always trying to achieve goals with my blogging/art/crafting that have made me lose site of what is in front of me (2 little girls that r growing by leaps and bounds). it’s so nice to know that I am not alone! Thanks again for the post…ALL of your posts actually! I love reading your tips/tricks/thoughts…THANKS!

  28. I’ve given up on goals. Oh, I have a few thoughts for the future in the back of my mind, but I’ve learned that God will send me the next thing just when I need it.

    Instead, my purpose is to do what he wants me to do: love my hubby, raise and educate my kids, spread the word about God, get healthy, tell people about helpful resources, encourage other homeschooling moms as they try to obey the Lord, be hospitable, manage my household well….

    Not what I thought I’d be doing when I got my PhD, but it is enough, and I’m thankful to be alive. I am, actually, happy. 🙂

  29. Can I get an “AMEN!!!!!”??? Holy cow yes- I’ve been living someone else’s goals for as long as I can remember. And sometimes, those goals were right in front of my eyes in the form of three offspring that pretty much had my life planned out for me meeting THEIR needs. Now that they are (almost) grown and (almost) gone, I feel as if I’m about to walk slowly off the edge of the cliff…what’s next for me?? Where do I go from here??? I have a feeling it has something to do with writing/blogging too, but I’m taking my time. I love finding topics and subjects that I study because I WANT to study them! It’s so much fun.

  30. I’m in that job I hate now. And I truly want out of it. And that’s how I found you- because I’m looking for ways to make money doing what I DO love. I wish I could say I’m enjoying this journey, but truth be told I’m not. Maybe you only enjoy the journey when you ARE on the other side.

    1. Try to enjoy it now. I know that sounds trite but I look back with regret that I didn’t enjoy more of what was right in front of me when I had it. I don’t know your age, but if you’ve got that “I hate this; I want to do something I LOVE feeling”, that’s half the battle. You’re on your way. You’ll get there- it just takes patience, prayer and time. But you already know you’re unhappy where you are- that alone is a motivator. Keep pressing on!

    2. Hey Rumpy Dog I feel your pain!! I don’t hate where I am but it’s just ‘fine” and I don’t want to live my life being ‘fine’ I want it to be fantastic and its ME that can make it that way and no one else. I know that I’ve got what it takes to shine … I’m bright, I’m funny, I have fantastic friends, wonderful family so I’m already leaps and bounds ahead of most … now I just need to focus doing something workwise that fullfills me and makes me smile! Remember – Life is Good!

      Keep going and don’t forget to enjoy the ‘now’ as well.

  31. Being home schooled puts me at a little different place than you b/c I loved learning and always had my nose in a book. However once I got married I found out I still had to work, and hubby couldn’t pay the bills on his meager income, and somehow I lost my way. My aunt telling me about your blog got me learning again and I am loving it!
    Thanks for the part about goals, I tend find myself focusing on “getting followers” rather than just enjoying the journey.

  32. Awesome post. I think about this a lot as my kids grow because I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. I want them to find what they’re interested in and pursue it with passion. They’ll most likely need to figure it out themselves but it’s always in the back of my mind.

  33. For years I earned my living writing…but…it was not the writing I wanted to do and then I discovered blogging! So now, I write for me and surprisingly people follow me, not a lot but they keep coming and they communicate and they become friends and that is enough for me. I am happy with it all. My friends think I am mad I should be playing bridge, I should be in the garden club I should be doing this or that…I don’t listen any more….I blog!!!!!!

  34. If we had been discussing that subject, you and me, I would have kept saying “Yes!!” “Same!!!” “Isn’t it???”, while jumping on my seat from excitement of being so much on the same wagon… Thank you Amy, I’ve just recently discovered your blog, and I’ve had much pleasure reading many posts already + learned important things on how to improve my blog/blogging in ways that are me, and not just that should be because x or y said or abc does/is. Thank you.

  35. I so loved this post. I am so much like that. It’s always going to be better once I get this done or that accomplished.. I’ve been so frustrated with my blog that I’m not “further along” in numbers and things I think I should know by now, but the truth is I’m still a baby blog taking baby steps and I need to give myself permission to do that without my Type A personality getting in the way….
    Thanks for the great post Amy….


  36. Loved this. That is a hard lesson (or two) to learn. You definitely can’t rush life. AND in order to enjoy what you do, it is all about doing what YOU want to do, not what others expect you to do. I hope I can teach this to my own 3 children. (Yet I am certain that they will need to figure it out for themselves too… that always seems to be the case :))

  37. I was much the same. Loved school and was good at it. But then was at a real loss what came next. i have learned though, that the journey is just as important as the destination. I have also learned that you can make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

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