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Is it a Mistake to Set Goals?

by Vinay Jain Is it a Mistake to Set Goals?

We live in a culture that constantly tells us that in order to succeed, we have to set actionable goals and follow through on them. But could there be a downside to goal-setting?

Influential blogger Leo Babauta thinks so. In a post entitled “The Best Goal is No Goal,” he writes:

Goals as a system are set up for failure…Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

So if you don’t set and pursue goals, what do you do? Babauta’s advice is something that we’ve previously scrutinized: “follow your passion.”

You find something you’re passionate about, and do it. Just because you don’t have goals doesn’t mean you do nothing — you can create, you can produce, you can follow your passion.

Of course, one potential problem with “follow your passion” that we previously discussed is that you don’t always know what your passion is. If you just do what feels good, you may quit when things get tough (as they inevitably do at some point), and not stay with something long enough to become good at it. 

But Babauta’s larger point is worth considering: we can become so focused on our goals that we put blinders on, missing opportunities that we might otherwise see and seize upon. If Steve Jobs or Bill Gates had made it their firm goal to graduate from college, for example, they would have never given themselves permission to drop out and pursue their passion for computing. 

Babauta’s larger point is worth considering: we can become so focused on our goals that we put blinders on, missing opportunities that we might otherwise see and seize upon.

Babauta also makes another good point, which is simply that most of the time, you should enjoy what you do. It’s not that life is meant to be wall-to-wall pleasure, but if your goals are directing you towards activities that consistently make you unhappy, then they are not serving a useful purpose.

As Steve Jobs once put it, “[F]or the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

What do you think — is goal-setting useful, even necessary — or is it better to let go and follow your intuition? Tweet at us at @shakelaw or add a comment below.

 

photo of Vinay Jain
Vinay Jain

As Chief Legal Officer, Vinay serves as Shake's general counsel, is responsible for the company's legal contracts and content, and leads efforts to educate consumers and small businesses about the law.

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