Are We Lost Without Goals?

At the end of 2010 I set aside time to review my accomplishments for the year and to look ahead at 2011. As an avid reader of self-help books and personal management I leanred that goal-setting is a basic, essential ingredient to success. Or is it? I recently read this post on ZenHabits called Living Without Goals.

I believe the author is genuine in his recommendation toward a life of achievement without the over-burdened ‘structure’ and ‘limitation’ of strict goals. However, for me it reads a bit like satire.
I’m goal oriented. The links above illustrate that.

But I really enjoyed the article and it reminded me of a balance issue I think about often. If executing on my goals occupies 100% of my time, when do I improvise? How do I enjoy the subtleties of the moment at hand? What if I’m ‘wrong’ in my goals? What if my goals don’t capture everything and what if my goals change? I guess I have some answers for each of those, but more abstractly I think “How much of my week should be pre-planned and how much should be improvisation”.

“80 percent of success is just showing up” — Woody Allen

I love that quote. Not that success is easy, because ‘showing up’ is not easy. Fear often prevents it. But success is ‘natural’. Its automatic, given the right recipe of conditions. Maybe not all successes, but most. For me, setting goals is ‘showing up’.

The Importance of Goals

Goals are important. But first a bit on the meaning of life. I think the fundamental problem with most people’s lives is solely that they don’t know what they want, and they don’t go after it. In the the west, the latter part is more common – the ambition. But like a headless chicken – still running energetically around the farm, what good is this ambition if it has no direction and purpose. How to decide the direction and purpose is more complex. But in general, if it feels right to you, in a genuine fashion, then you are on the right track.

Finding out exactly what you want is something I think that almost noone seeks. More on that another time…
Now, the gap between knowing what we want…. and getting it, is goals. Goals help us get from a to b. Goals help us measure our progress. Is the progress to fast? Slow down, or more likely is it too slow? Speed up! Measurement helps you analyze (or simply ‘know’) how you are doing.

Personal goal setting also provides us with motivation to achieve what we want to achieve.

The important trick would be to make our goals as detailed as possible. Trying to vividly imagine or describe every thinkable aspect of it so that it becomes clearer in our mind. Then it becomes relatively easier to pursue it. If you don’t have goals then you are just wandering in the wild without any clear idea of where you want to go. That is why goal setting is so important.

What about improvisation?

Do you know what is one of the most important point in goal setting? It is to take action right now, however small. This helps maintain focus.
What is we change our mind? Think about it, honestly, and change your goals. Be careful to change your goals for the right reasons (not out of fear). Goals should be completely fixed, until you care to change them. Ha.


I have a long list of places in the world I’d like to visit. Generally to meet professional goals, I allow myself to be flexible to take a new contract job anywhere. Flexibility is a goal. I may plan to visit C. America, but get invited to the Caribbean. I check the new thoughts and new opportunities against my goals, and the larger plan. If I feel like a change is in my best interest – I go for it.

What about now?

But if we are always acting now on our future goals, how does that leave time for ‘now’. Good question. We know that living in the present moment (without the baggage of the past and the distractions of the future) is liberating and leads to a fruitful life. Improvisation is more of a perspective. It can easily work in concert with goal setting. So one of your primary guidelines should be to set goals that fit with the personality you have (or that you want to have).

Here are some ways you know you are living in the present moment;

  1. You feel fully ‘there’ and alive. Like after 2 cups of coffee, but without the coffee.
  2. There is a complete absence of fear or guilt.
  3. What you do feel is a sense of calm and focus.
  4. You can see the trees, but feel connected to the forest.
  5. You are conscious of each choice you make as you go through your day, and recognize that life is created through these ‘little’ choices, or non-choices, for that matter.
  6. There are no awkward relationships. I love the book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book (See all Self-Help Books), by Don Miguel Ruiz . Basically it says, put the ‘real’ you out there in the world and it will minimize the B.S. in life.


After much experience working while traveling, I settled on the quota of ’20 billable hours per week’ as the perfect blend. I add another 10-20 hours of non-billable hours (pre-sales with new clients, maintaining expertise by learning, maintaining internal projects, etc…) and I have a full ‘work week’. This leaves ample time to explore my surroundings and enjoy leisure time. 20 hours is an ideal. To meet other financial goals, I must offer 40 hours a week to my clients. This makes my impact more significant and makes me a competitive option against full-time employees or other contractors (where 40 hours is the assumed hourage). So my goal is to offer my services at 40 hours per week to capture the clients I want. I had to flex here from my original ’20 billable hours’. This is a compromise. Its a balance between the ideals and the practical realities needed to meet my larger goals.


  • Pretend your heart is the size of your head. – Declare your dreams.
  • Pretend you are fearless – Set your goals.
  • ‘Show Up’, Reach for your goals while living in the ‘now’.