In the realm of goal-setting, we’re raised on a steady diet of Horatio Alger rags-to-riches super-down to super-up success stories. We’re sold the idea that ‘success’ is a tangible thing, an upward trajectory that increases happiness and occurs objectively to people who work for it. Well, it’s not. The terminology of success varies by culture, religion, and even gender. What makes someone get up in the morning varies from person to person.

Success shouldn’t be thought of as a goal for a few reasons. The first is that, if you define success as something that is Somewhere Else, you will be unhappy once the realization hits that you’re not there yet. People make themselves miserable for years striving for Success. It’s masochistic. On top of this, what do you expect to do once you’ve ‘made it’? We constantly hear stories of unhappy billionaires, miserable movie stars— it’s easy to see that the people whose lives we’re taught to aspire to are often not that much happier than we are. Sometime’s they’re less so. Like the saying goes, “once you get there, there isn’t any ‘there’ there”.

Once you stop rearranging your life around trying to succeed or reach a future goal, you’ll probably be more likely to get done what you actually need to get done. A few years ago, I set the modest goal of wanting to bench press 200 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps. I didn’t just show up at the gym and try to do it. If I did that, I’d have failed miserably and injured myself. Instead, in no hurry, I spent a couple years incrementally working up each week. Now I’ve reached my goal, and learned important things along the way, like proper form, injury recovery, and diet.

No shortcut is worth it. Great artists and musicians languish in obscurity for years before hitting it big, and once they hit it big the smart ones don’t behave any differently. The most perceptive and successful people usually remain true to themselves regardless of any external changes. They adapt, sure, but they don’t fully melt into their new situation. This allows them to keep a calm mindfulness in the moment and get done whatever needs to get done.

The weightlifting example is really simple but it carries over into over areas of life. That sets a framework I can use to accomplish other small goals and build up to something greater. This is excellent because it takes my mind of the big delusional goal and allows me to focus on the current situation. It also makes the big goal more realistic and puts the idea of ‘work’ into perspective. Work requires time, and time is certainly our most precious possession. Use it wisely.

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