When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I also wanted to be a builder (which was my Lego-inspired term for ‘construction worker’), and I also wanted to dig up dinosaurs.
I have done none of those things, and it’s perfectly OK. I chose a different path, and I’m happy with it. All of us have done that, of course – very few of us are doing what we thought we’d be doing when we were four years old. And even as adults, we sometimes decide that something we once said we wanted actually isn’t that important to us anymore.
But why does it happen? Why do so many of us change our goals so frequently?
In my new keynote Conquering Tomorrow, I explore what happens anytime we realize that the path we’re on won’t help us achieve the goals we have. Sometimes we realize that our company does not have the resources or expertise necessary to take us where we’re trying to go. Sometimes we realize personally that our own skill set is insufficient to get us what we want for ourselves professionally. Sometimes we realize that the person we’re dating isn’t likely to lead us into the kind of relationship we’ve imagined for ourselves.
And every single time we realize that the path we’re on will not help us achieve the goals we have, we have a decision to make. Do we want to change our path? Or do we want to change our goals? Because one of those things is going to have to change.
The nice thing about these moments is that we generally get to decide which way to go. Changing our goals is typically the smaller and easier change. In my case, somewhere along the line I realized that I didn’t want to put in the kind of effort required to become an astronaut or construction worker or paleontologist, so I changed my goals. I stopped wanting those things and started looking for different options instead, things that would require the kind of effort to which I was more interested in devoting myself. All of us have done this many, many times, and it’s a perfectly normal and natural way to approach these moments.
Sometimes, though, we decide that our goals are ones we are not willing to sacrifice. When that happens, the only option left is to change the path we are on. This is typically the larger, more disruptive change. But if we want to become Olympic athletes, we have to find a path that leads to the Olympics – training intensively, finding the right coaches and facilities, and sacrificing other elements of our lives in order to pursue this goal as wholeheartedly as possible. When our children require something of us – more patience, a new way of explaining things, whatever it is – we find ways to provide them what they need. In these cases, the goals we have determine the paths we follow.
What this means is that we are always in the middle of asking ourselves this question: Is the path we’re on moving us closer to the goals we have? If the answer is yes, then we’re right where we should be and shouldn’t change anything.
But when the answer is no – and it frequently is – then we’ll need to answer a different question: Do we want to change our path, or do we want to change our goals?
So is it OK to give up on our goals? Absolutely. We do it all the time. It’s when we decide we don’t want to give up on them that we then must choose what new path to follow.
I hope all of this will make it easier to accept those moments when you decide to give up on something you’ve been pursuing, and I also hope it will become easier to start down a new path anytime you realize a new one is necessary. If your goals are worth it, the path you’ll need to follow to reach them will probably be worth it as well.