Mindful Leadership

Being Goal-Driven Actually Drives Me Crazy

If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you’re driven.

Me too.

But as driven people, we tend to get wrapped up in things we want but don’t yet have.

The dream job…the higher salary…the better body…you name it.

So when you want something, but don’t have it – what are you supposed to do?

Ah, yes. Set goals.

You write it down.

You check the box.

You congratulate yourself if you get it done… and beat yourself up if you don’t.

This is the path of women who have business books on their desk and self-help books by their bed, i.e. remarkably accomplished on the outside but plagued by a nagging discontent that’s like an itch we can’t scratch.

So we go to said business books, all of which tell us to “create a plan and work harder.” 

We go to the self-help books, which tell us to “be grateful for what you already have. Keep a gratitude journal and things will look better in the morning.” 

Both of these things are helpful… but not 100% satisfying.

So I’ve forged a new path.

One where I’m AS focused on who I want to become as what I want to do.

As I’ve written before, I’ve learned first-hand that using goals alone as the blueprint for how life is supposed to turn out is, well, dangerous. They rarely unfold according to our grand plans – or our timeline(!) – and as a result we get incredibly frustrated and discouraged.

Yes, yes, I know.

Goals are healthy.

We need them or we’ll all be drifting at sea.

I get it – but the problem with goals is that they constantly keep us focused on a future outcome. When your ability to feel successful is wrapped in goals, you inevitably spend the bulk of your time trying to be somewhere other than where you are right now. And even when you achieve the goals you set, then what? You just set more goals so the cycle is designed to ensure that YOU ARE NEVER SATISFIED.

That methodology is flawed.

And it took me 35 years but I’ve finally said, “Screw it. I’m not going to focus on what I don’t have, but I’m certainly not going to stagnate in one place either.”

I found a new way.

Well, actually I was introduced to a new way by Ben Franklin who used to measure his success through what he called his “13 Virtues.” Here’s a link if you want to check them out, but the point isn’t so much what his virtues were, but the fact that Franklin decided in the first place success was about living at his “best” self all the time. So rather than focusing on all the things he wanted to achieve someday he focused on the qualities he wanted to embody everyday and the actions he needed to take to underscore them. Franklin didn’t allow a focus on virtues to steal his ambition (obvy) he just understood that the best use of his time was to focus on the only thing he could control – his own behaviors.


Because if there’s one thing we all know for sure, it’s that – when it comes to goals – nothing ever works out like you think it will. Maybe, as in my case, that looonng-planned move to New York never happened, maybe you work forever to get a job only to discover you FREAKING HATE IT, or maybe – whoops(!) – you’re pregnant…again.

Whatever life throws at you, if you keep the focus on what you want, you will never be satisfied. But if you keep the focus on who you are, you’ll be better equipped to accept whatever path you’re on EVEN (perhaps especially) if it doesn’t fit the mold of what you had planned.

I’m constantly re-learning this lesson but it’s hit me again thanks to the hurricane. When the lights went out in our home on Tuesday morning, little did I know I’d be sitting in a hotel room for three days trying to work while also trying to entertain two completely stir-crazy kids.

My “goal” of checking off items on the to-do list was whisked away with Sandy – so now I have a choice: I can allow what I’m NOT getting done this week to eat at me like a cancer or I can take a deep breath, make the best of it, and spend some quality time with my sons.

I can’t control the weather – but I can control how I respond to the events in my life. And so can you.

Thanks, Ben.