Have you ever pursued a goal so viciously that you’ve overlooked the fact that it’s the wrong one?
For the past year I’ve been reviewing a book or movie on this site every Friday. My goal was to write a weekly review for 14 months: from November 2011 until the end of 2012.
For the first few months, this was exactly the impetus I needed to attack the huge stack of books languishing on my “someday” list.
I cultivated a lifestyle of voracious reading, one of my favorite pastimes. When I travel, I read nonstop; when I returned to the U.S. two years ago, I lost that habit. Setting a “weekly review” target reconnected me with my previous lifestyle.
It also connected me with some of my favorite recent business/finance books: What the Dog Saw, Good to Great, and The Retirement Maze. Recommendations from readers also helped me unearth some great new discoveries.
But (as I’m sure you’ve noticed), for the past few months these reviews have been feeling tired, uninspired. I’ve even skipped the past couple of weeks.
This led me to the question: do I call it off?
My tenacious side said no. I pledged to see this through. Besides, I’m so, so close to the end of 2012. Only two more months!
My contemplative side said yes. This isn’t serving anyone. I’m not benefiting the way I did at the start of this experiment. My readers (as an aggregate, based on the viewership data) aren’t interested, either.
My nature is to grit my teeth and push through it, especially with only two months left on the clock. But what good does that do?
So I’m calling off the Friday reviews. I’ll still write reviews occasionally, if I read something I want to share. And you can always browse the archives.
Don’t Conflate the Means with the End
On a grander scale, I’m starting to figure out that the dogged pursuit of a goal – so celebrated in our Type A culture – isn’t necessarily the best choice.
Goals are just a tool, like a hammer. They’re useful for building the life you want, if used correctly.
But any good carpenter applies judgment throughout the process, and keeps the end result in mind.
“Am I building the thing that I want to create? Or am I just hammering away?”
People who spend years stuck in a job they hate sometimes describe themselves as having “climbed the career ladder … only to realize it was leaning against the wrong wall.”
That’s shockingly easy to do – not just at work, but in any facet of life — because we tend to focus on the what rather than the why.
It’s easy to celebrate achievement, which is visible and quantifiable. It’s much harder to celebrate – or even recognize – the “why” underpinning it all.
- What good am I creating?
- Who am I serving?
- What’s it all for?
Those questions aren’t as measurable as “Did I get a master’s degree?” or “Did I lose 10 pounds?” But they’re far more essential.