I've written extensively about the process of goal setting and listed some literature that expounds on those ideas (e.g. "Think and Grow Rich", "The Art of Learning", and "Mindset" - take a look at the "Good Reading" page for additional suggestions). However, what happens when a goal is within site or attained? What do we do next? How often do you see professionals who seem to mentally "check out".
The first one that comes to mind (as football season is drawing near!) is (former) NFL quarterback Jake Locker.
He retired this past March, siting a lack of desire to play football after 4 years with the Tennessee Titans. I'm not passing judgment on Locker one way or another, but this line of thinking scares me to death! Does he really feel fulfilled? How many one-hit-wonder musicians can you name? I can't imagine what some of these people go through, living in the spotlight day in and day out, constantly pressured to perform everywhere they turn.
I recently had the opportunity to take a week off of work to spend with my wife and newborn son. As you may have read in my "Personal Goals" post, one of my main objectives is to free myself up to spend as much time with my family as possible. This past week, a much needed adjustment period for our newly formed family of three, gave me a lot of time to think between the diaper changes, swaddling, and Law & Order-esque investigatory work to determine why he was still crying.
The week off acted as a snapshot of my future life; this glimpse gave me a preview of what it would feel like to achieve maximum family time. It felt good at first, but my restless nature began to wear on me as the week progressed. I began asking myself, "What now?" I worried that after I achieved this goal, a void would be left from the time I used to spend pursuing it. Much of this time will be filled enjoying my family; I absolutely can not wait to coach/spectate/cheer on my son through his practices/recitals/games. But it wouldn't be fair to either of us if I filled this time living vicariously through him. I was missing something . . . shouldn't an achievement like this equate to absolute fulfillment?
I began to form a theory that it is not a lack of desire that limits people from continuing their ascent up the success ladder, but a lack of goal-revision as they close in on an achievement. Arthur Ashe's cliché quote comes to mind, "Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome." If we reach a goal without setting a higher goal, we end up sitting there looking around and wondering, "What now?"
If you haven't read it yet, I HIGHLY recommend "Getting There: A Book of Mentors" by Gillian Zoe Segal. It is a book of anecdotal short biographies of successful people from all walks of life. One of my favorite passages is from surfer Laird Hamilton:
"My goals are constantly evolving so I never entirely achieve them. This is actually a good thing, because once you realize your goal, then where do you go? That's your crescendo. I've seen this happen to a lot of my friends. They set a goal to be World Champion of X, or even something far more modest, and then once they attain it, they live a life of disappointment. If you don't continually revise your goals, the only place you've got to go is down. So I keep thinking of ways to reinvent wave riding."
I think he has it right. Once your goal is within reach, aim to reach higher - and stretch! Was Locker's goal to reach the NFL, but not to excel? Is a band's goal to get a record deal but not multiple number one hits?
I need to heed this advice learned from others' mistakes. Once I can spend as much time as possible with my family, how can I make the time of higher quality? What can I do to improve my family's life and well being? Those are the questions I will need to ask myself as I move closer to that goal. Otherwise, I'll end up on the couch thinking, "Hmmm, this isn't what I had in mind" and all the work that resulted in our precious time together will have been in vein.
Set goals, achieve goals, set higher goals - and never let the cycle die!