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Why big goals are overrated


If you’ve known me for more than a minute, you know I once had a big goal to bike the entire Appian Way, from Rome to Brindisi.

You also know that I never stop talking about it.

But you might not know that when I finally arrived at the end of the Appian Way in Brindisi, I fully understood the meaning of the word “anticlimactic.”

The pillar marking the end of the road was badly neglected, imprisoned behind cracked plate glass. Two teenagers sat on the steps leading up to it, completely absorbed in their phones and entirely uninterested in the historic monument behind them.

When I popped into a nearby bar to celebrate, a friendly sailor with adventures of his own candidly told me, “Nobody gives a bloody shit about your travel stories.”

My hand was stinging from poison ivy. My heart was stinging from the feeling it had all been a waste of time and money.

I spent months thinking, “What is wrong with me?”

You reached your goal. Now what?

You reached your big goal. You should be celebrating. You raised the bar, and you cleared it.

But after a short burst of euphoria, you don’t know what to do.

This feeling is important information. It shows you that it’s time to think about goals in a new way.

By itself, reaching a big goal can be confusing or even depressing.

Once you hit your goal, all the focus and motivation that were guiding you along suddenly evaporate. Your brain shuts off the dopamine and norepinephrine.

You’re on your own, possibly suffering withdrawal symptoms, and now you have to navigate your way between two fatal traps:

The first trap is endlessly reminiscing about your experience, obsessing so hard on what is now past that you’re not enjoying the present. (I’ve been guilty of this many times!)

The second trap is to immediately set another big goal so you can recapture the excitement you felt just a short time ago.

The second trap can look like a good thing from the outside. You’re constantly pushing the bar to achieve more and more. You look like a winner, and your deeds get bigger and better after every success.

But this can be an endless treadmill of rush and crash. Eventually it’s going to take a toll on your relationships with other people and your own mental health.

How do you navigate between this Scylla and Charybdis of post-goal suffering? You need a new paradigm.

Evolve and move forward

Imagine a person who commits to running their first marathon. This person isn’t an athlete. In fact, they might have bad knees or an extra 50 or 60 pounds on their body that they don’t want.

Running a marathon isn’t a goal for this person. It’s an adventure.

This quest is going to take a long time to achieve. Along the way, our runner will dramatically change their habits and their outlook.

Long before they run the marathon, our protagonist will notice improvements in their overall health. They will probably have more energy, which could improve their work life and possibly change the way they show up for friends and family.

They will become more thoughtful about what they eat and drink. They’ll almost certainly feel more self-confidence. All of these changes are likely to trigger introspection and some personal revelations.

On the day our adventurer runs their first marathon, they will already be a new person in every aspect of their life.

This transformation is the mark of a true adventure. You’re not simply checking off a box for something you did. Your adventure changes you and your circumstances. It may even have an impact on the world.

Adventures are larger, more sweeping, more transformational than mere goals. Goals should be steps along the way to the completion of your adventure.

When you finish the adventure, you won’t feel the need to dwell on it or immediately repeat the experience, because you won’t be the same person who needed the adventure in the first place.

You have evolved and moved forward, so it’s not hard to move on.

Goals change your circumstances. Adventures change your life.

What’s your next adventure?




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