Be Specific With Your Long-Term Goals
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
— Winston Churchill
Every time I ask people about their long-term goals, they always baffle me.
I want to be rich.
I want to make my parents happy.
I want to be happy.
They are not well-defined. They can be interpreted wildly. They can be achieved in an infinite number of ways. They are ridiculous, and frankly, meaningless.
You can’t plan with unspecific goals
Such goals are useless because they are not specific. When a goal is not specific, we cannot concoct a plan to achieve it. Hence, it is less likely to materialize.
We understand how essential planning is. It is important to have at least a rough sketch of where we are heading. Without plans, we are like headless chickens, running here and there looking for something that we don’t even know.
We are chasing shadows. We are running toward an imaginary finish line, but we don’t know where it is and whether it really exists. We keep running and running and running, and we die. Is that what you really want?
Without a plan, you don’t know if your current action leads you to your so-called goals
What if you just need to spend more time with your kids to be happy instead of getting that promotion? What if you just need to call your parents once a week to make them happy, instead of buying that BMW for them?
With such general goals, we can interpret it however we want. The thing is, it can be wild sometimes. It can change from one thing today to another tomorrow.
We have no plan to achieve unspecific goals. Without a plan, how do we know if our action today will lead to our goals? How do we know if our actions today will jeopardize the chance of us achieving the goals?
Let’s say you want to be happy. Then while strolling around the mall, you are hooked by those designer bags or shoes. They make you happy. They make you look good. They make you think about it all day.
What is the most likely option you will take? Buy them! Yes! Because they make you happy. Isn’t your goal anyway, to be happy? Sure! But you forget that $5,000 credit card debt you have been dying to clear.
I am not against expensive spendings. I am against short-term dopamine boost.
We have no benchmark or guideline to measure how good our actions are to our progress. An ethically good thing might be hindering your progress. That’s why planning is important; it assesses our actions objectively.
Then why don’t people have specific goals?
People still consider them as legit life goals, and I understand why; It is difficult to map our life specifically. It takes time and energy. And sometimes it is not feasible.
Life is full of uncertainties and surprises. We sometimes encounter those that truly upend our life, rendering our plans and goals to be obsolete. Once those plans fail, people often feel lost, and no one wants to feel lost.
That’s why people shouldn’t make plans. With no plan, nothing can go wrong and if something spins out of control, it doesn’t matter. Whether you kill someone or betray your country.
— Parasite (movie), 2019
But let’s be frank, do you think those without specific goals achieve their goals? NO.
If anything, it is those whose plans fail but re-plan; they will achieve their goals.
How to set goals
I want to be rich. I want to be happy. But the difference is that my goals are well-defined. This is how I set my goals.
A complete goal has two variables: tangible goal and time. A tangible goal is a thing you want, e.g., $100,000, a new car, a huge house, etc. Time is how long you wish to complete it, e.g., before turning 30, after graduation, after your kid turns 20.
For example, I want to be rich. My first target is to hit $100,000 before turning 30. I don’t need to know everything about the dos and don’ts. I only need a general idea of HOW to achieve it. It is different from having a general idea of WHAT to achieve.
If I know I want $100,000, I need to:
I have to generate money. It means I need to work. Now I know that I need to generate money to achieve my goal, I can assess my current condition.
Is my job the best option I have to accomplish my goal?
Is my skill set enough to accomplish my goal?
Will I be able to accomplish my goal if I continue to work the same job?
Is my goal unattainable considering my current circumstances?
Save the money I generate.
I have to save money. Again, I must assess my situation.
Does my income cover my basic expenses?
Does my income allow me to save/invest?
I want to enjoy life. I want to spend money. It is financially excellent but emotionally stupid — at least for me — to just save. Again, I assess my spending habit.
Do I spend on something stupid that I don't really want/need/use?
Is there any spending leak that I am unaware of? (such as gym, Netflix membership you forget about)
Those are just examples of how I assess my plan. If my plan is not feasible, I will downgrade my goal. If my plan is too feasible, I will upgrade my goal. Tweaks are OK and sometimes imperative.
Hopefully, I can convince you to define your goals and help you plan to achieve them.
- Specify your goals; otherwise, they won’t materialize.
- Set your goals using two variables: tangible goal and time.
- Create a rough plan to achieve the goals.
- Assess the feasibility of the plan according to your situation.
- Tweak your plan when necessary.