The Best of Goals, the Worst of Goals

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Setting goals is one of the most important ways to make great accomplishments in life. But for me, they are a blessing and a curse.

I make lists every day. And I seek to tackle those lists with fervor and excitement. And thanks to their guidance, I manage to do a whole lot with my time. And for that I’m forever grateful.

The Lists Take Over


However, sometimes the lists take over. They cease to be my guide, and they instead become a ball and chain, shackling me to them, and causing me frustration when they’re not attended to.

And when the goals are enormous, the matter could get even worse.

I was once teaching at a school, and I had somewhat of a ten-year plan. I had two giant goals that were supposed to carry me through the experience. If I could make those goals happen, I would be utterly proud of myself and I’d feel like I made my mark on the institution.

The “problem”: I conquered both goals in just four years. 

I never found proper replacement goals. And despite feeling very accomplished, it was also accompanied by a bit of pain. I no longer had what to strive for. I didn’t have my guiding lights. And in many ways, it was the first step of my placing one foot out the door.

The Need to Finish


I realize this problem was not unique to that part of my life. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember, and it’s the source of a lot of trouble for me.

Way back when, I studied in yeshiva. This is a place dedicated to a full day of Torah learning. And the goal is learning for the sake of learning. Every minute you spend immersed in your studies, the goal is already accomplished. Nothing needs to be “finished”. No papers needed to be handed out. If you were there, and you were savoring the complexity and intensity of the learning, you were already fully accomplished.

But that’s not the world I grew up in.

Degrees and Certifications


We American folk need to get degrees and certifications. We need to complete units. And no matter how much I wanted it, I couldn’t shake any of this. I didn’t want to study for its own sake. There needed to be an endgame, be it a piece of paper or a career path. And despite how much I recognize the cognitive and emotional benefits of letting go and savoring the moment, I’m nevertheless constantly already thinking about the next moment.

I recently read The Power of Now. I’ll be honest. Not a fan. To me, it read like a high-as-a-kite hippy emoting from atop a tree stump. But the premise is incredible. And fairly easy to summarize.

We are stuck in the wrong place. We’re constantly fretting about the past, despite our inability to change it. And we’re worried about the future, even though it has yet to happen. So we’re worried about things that do not exist or are irrelevant!

True happiness and bliss come from learning how to be fully present so you can completely enjoy the moment. The second you think of before now or after now, you already lost the magic. All good things are right here at this precise moment.

But I’m so far from that ideal, despite philosophical and theoretical knowledge, I can’t escape from my head. And my mind always seems to be dissatisfied if I’m not extraordinarily busy, and I don’t have a full and complete idea of what my next steps are.

Pride and Discomfort


So, in essence, my productivity and organization are a source of pride and simultaneously a great source of discomfort for me. And I’m faced with the choice of getting cozy in my routine, and continuing on a path that works for me (at least most of the time), or demolishing my comfort zone and fighting for a new reality, one in which I uproot my nature and learn to find enjoyment being in the moment, and to some extent abandon an urge to have a plan, a roadmap to what’s coming next in my life.

But in some senses, it’s not really a choice. Because the choice is obvious.

Any objective person would have an obvious and immediate answer to a question like this: What is more important, your daughter or the text you just received?

However, despite how abundantly clear and easy such a question seems, it’s not how many of us act in the heat of the moment. We’re sitting across someone whose importance in our life is paramount, and yet we completely allow ourselves to get yanked away from something so great for something so clearly mundane. And in that instant, we’ve showered a level of blatant disrespect upon the relationship. Something’s been damaged and we’ve taken a step backward.

bjective person would have an obvious and immediate answer to a question like this: What is more important, your daughter or the text you just received? Click To Tweet

The Benefits of Being Present


I’m rarely in the moment. I’m itching to finish the task at hand, desperately wanting to move on to the next big task.

Never being present harms my attentiveness and focus. It’s not good for my relationships. And I honestly feel that learning to be more present would positively impact literally everything I do in life.

What wouldn’t be better by my learning to focus, and becoming 100% immersed in any given moment of my life?

I would be better at my job, focused more on helping customers and giving them the best possible solutions to whatever issues they might be facing.

I would be a more attentive father, able to listen intently to everything any of my children say, thus better at addressing problems and being there for them with whatever they might need.

I would be a more capable husband, always able to enjoy the moment with my precious wife. Always able to be comforting and compassionate, never worried about whatever else might be happening in my life.

Goals vs. Mindfulness

I can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t be improved upon by my learning to ignore the past and abandon the future for what’s right in front of me.

Yet I am who I am. I’m writing this blog piece right now because it’s on my to-do list for today. And that task followed another, and there was another before that.

Will I ever discover the secret to putting mindful attentiveness before excessive productivity?


But I imagine it’ll only happen if I put it on a to-do list…

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