Goals, Dreams, and Getting What You Want

The sentence in the article I was reading confounded me. A woman in a horrible relationship went to a therapist for “my first and last visit. He asked me to set goals.” The writer was appalled at being asked to talk about goals when she was in such pain.

I wondered what she would have wanted the therapist to ask. If the client

There is never a perfect time to start a goal. Just start.

is in pain, the smart therapist is going to ask what the result should be–leave the relationship? Stay and try to work it out? Demand couples counseling? Set a deadline for the other person to take action? For yourself to take action? All those sound like goals to me.

I think goals got a bad name in annual reviews. Business employees are supposed to set goals and then check them off. Goals are often artificial or checked off after attending a class. (I’m familiar with those people in my training classes. It’s often called “training as punishment.”) Real goals, those set with intention and thought, are more than useful. Without goals, life is stuck in the endless wash cycle–the dirt is out, but you churn without really getting clean.

A goal is a point in time we can imagine. Once we can imagine it, we can benefit from the joy or achievement we’d feel when we reach it. That’s the best motivation to move toward your goal.

A softer word for a goal is a dream. Napoleon Hill famously said “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Dreams are visions of a wonderful future. Dreams are often considered unreachable. “It was only a dream,” we sigh. But if we don’t dream, we can’t imagine what we long for. And without longing, there is no goal development.

I’m always troubled by coaching clients who tell me, “I don’t want to have goals, I just want to be in the moment.” Being in the moment is not the opposite of having a goal. It is part of having a goal. The “now” part. The part you work on right now because now is the best time to work on something you want to achieve.

When I ask the coaching clients who don’t have goals how they feel, they often tell me, “I’m unhappy. I don’t know what I want.” Not knowing what you want is different from not having a goal or a dream. Not knowing what you want is most likely being afraid to name what you want.

Often, when I ask coaching clients who has no goals why they are unhappy, they’ll say, “I never get what I want.” I can’t help myself, I ask, “How would you know?” To get what you want, you have to name it. To name what you want, you have to know what you want. To know what you want, you have to have a dream, a longing, a wish. It can be vague, it can be specific. The only requirement is knowing that having it will make you feel good–fulfilled, satisfied, successful, joyous. And you have to be OK with feeling good.

The person responsible for your personal goals is you. Only you can define them, and only you can manifest them. You have to do the work, but you get all the credit and joy, too.

I love the fable of the man who is stuck in a flood. He’s on the roof of his house, when a rescue boat comes by to help him.
“No, thanks, ” says the man, “I prayed to God for help and God will help me.”
The rescue boat motors on.
A few minutes later, the water is rising faster, and a helicopter appears.
“We are lowering down a ladder, climb up!” says the EMT.
“No, thanks,” says the man, “I prayed to God and He will save me.”
The man drowns and goes to heaven. He meets God and says, “I am so disappointed in you. I prayed to you, I trusted you, and you ignored me.”
God looks at the man and says, “What do you want from me? I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter, and you turned them down.”

Our goals, our dreams and getting what we want are ours to get or to lose. We have the choice to make. We have the work to do. We have the joy to feel.

Photo by JasonRogersFooDogGiraffeBee

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people who are stuck in their dreams, in their life, and in their work.