Are You Setting The Right Goals?

No, this is not one of those cheesy motivational things with a picture of a mountain and a “Yes, you can climb any mountain – Just believe and work hard” kind of message. This is a “If your goal is to make it to the peak of Everest, you will die,” kind of message. I’m not going to get all demotivational, and there is a purpose that will hopefully help you when you are setting goals, and if you do plan on climbing Everest, it may just save your life.

There is a growing body of work suggesting that pro-athletes are prone to depression after they retire. Athletes, by definition, are typically at the peak of physical health and fitness. They are therefore at the mercy of their body maintaining high levels of strength, fitness, and health to maintain their career for as long as possible. What does an athlete do when their physical abilities begin to decline, and all they have ever known and trained for is to get to the top of their mountain?

I was once at a meeting where a guy who had climbed five of the highest seven peaks in the world was giving a talk (I wish I could remember his name so I could let him know how much one anecdote has impacted my thoughts), and he was talking about what people should be preparing for. He said that many people set a goal of climbing Everest (or some other mountain where normal mortals will not survive), and fail to understand that this is not the goal. The goal, the real goal, is to go up the mountain and get home in one piece. The goal is to get back home safely. Hitting the summit is only half-way.

When you’ve worked so hard to hit the peak and you finally make it where next? The whole world is before you, you’ve dominated it. Stand still and this is the best you’ll ever achieve. Take one step in any direction and you begin your descent. Then what?

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Ask yourself what kind of goal you are setting. Is it a long-term goal or a temporary one? Being the biggest rock star on the planet is a short term goal, you won’t maintain the same status until you are 90 years old. However, if you want to publish a book every year, that is maintainable.

2 – What next? If you have a goal to be the World Champion or ranked first in you field, what next? Do you plan to dominate until you die? If you are an athlete what will you do when your body betrays you and someone younger, faster, stronger, and more resilient takes your place? Have a plan for this.

3 – Understand that life has stages. According to Erikson’s stages of development (my favourite development theory), if you are psychologically healthy when you hit middle age you will start thinking about what you can give back. You will want to help others walk the path you walked. If you are only prepared to be at the top of the mountain, all you will have when you come down the other side are newspaper clippings of glory days and stories that begin with “Remember when…”. Your identity will be lost in history. Be proactive and look at ways your unique experiences can help others to scale new heights. You may never make it back to the top, but you may be able to be part of helping others make it, and maybe go further.

Well meaning motivational types will tell you to “Go big or go home!” Sometimes going home means you went big and made it out the other side – which shows a lot more mental preparedness than simply going big.
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