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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 2 million readers. They live in Montana by way of Dayton, Ohio. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, USA Today, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Toronto Star.

When Goals Are Important & When They Are Not

JFM pointing, photo by Adam Dressler

People have all sorts of clever words to describe what they want to do: Objective. Target. Plan. Endgame. Outcome. Goal.

If you know me, then you know I used to be The Goal Guy when I was in the corporate world. I had financial goals, health goals, sales goals, vacation goals, even consumer-purchase goals (I shit you not). I had spreadsheets of goals, precisely tracking and measuring and readjusting my plans accordingly.

These days, life is different, and I no longer have goals. Instead of an arbitrary target, I prefer to have a direction in which I travel. If you’re searching for a sunrise, it’s important to be headed east; for a sunset, west.

I do, however, believe there was a time in my life when goals were direly important: when I was in a hole and needed to get out. Truth be told, most of my goals were ridiculously irrelevant (e.g., purchasing and accumulation goals), but a few of my goals helped immensely (e.g., getting out of debt and losing 70-80 pounds).

I liken these latter goals to escaping a crater in the middle of the desert. When I was fat and up to my eyeballs in debt, lingering in that bowl-shaped cavity beneath the ground, my goal was to break free from the sun-scorched basin and find the earth’s surface. You see, I couldn’t even fathom a direction from down there; I simply needed to get out of the hole. And my goals helped me do that. (N.B. I don’t want to give too much credit to the goals, as it was actually my consistent actions over time that got me out of those fat/debt craters, not the goals themselves.)

Once I found the surface, though, I no longer needed goals. I simply needed to look around and pick a direction in which to travel. There were mountains to the west, flat planes to the east, sand dunes to the south, and whispering-pine forests to the north, all blanketed by the complete sum of endless blue heavens above. If I wanted to be on the mountain, I’d need to travel west. If I wanted to get lost in the forest, I’d head north. And so on.

A Good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.

—Lao Tzu

The nice thing about choosing a direction is that you never know what you’re going to get. You might head west in search of the mountains on the horizon, but along the way find a beautiful river instead. Or you might traverse the sand dunes only to find a village a few miles from the crater behind you. Suffice it to say, you never know what’s around the bend.

Once I got out of my craters, I didn’t need goals to enjoy my life. My daily habits help me do that.

I discovered that sometimes it’s OK to wander in the direction of your choice. And if you get lost, so what. I mean, really, would that be so bad? Once you’re out of the crater, you simply need to stay out of other craters. You can always change your direction if you’re unhappy.

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