# 340: Goals and Life


Goldratt, Eliyahu M., and Jeff Cox (1992/1984). The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement.

Story behind the Passage

I have to admit, there is not really a path-breaking passage in the book for me. It is rather the title that made me pick it today: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. I wrote about goals before on the blog. Somehow, this blog itself is one big goal — or rather a small one. I mean, how “big” is it to blog every day? Yes, you need to allocate time and you need the discipline to actually do it. And then, what? I still do not know what to actually do with it when it is done. Still, I feel like a project is coming to an end and that in and of itself is usually a reason to be happy about the work that has been completed.

My thoughts about goals are so prominent these days because I somehow knew that, by the time I end writing the blog, I would have reached a new point in life and in my career. And this suspicion has come true. Somehow, these past three years feel like a long vacation somehow. Indeed, I worked on many projects and got many things done. But all these were micro-projects in a way compared to the big ones I completed before. There was not one big vision, one big goal driving me these past three years. Yes, I did have that at the very beginning when I was totally absorbed by the startup world and thought about growing my company. But to be honest, I knew beforehand that simply growing a business would not be fulfilling. Actually running a business and working completely independently is an important and extremely valuable experience.

So, all this learning has basically taught me one thing: the importance of having goals — at least in my life. And that is why the title is interesting. The aspect of continuous improvement is something that people also apply to their own lives, to their personalities. “Everybody wants to grow,” someone said last week. I asked: “Really?” I do see many people who do not seem to have that as their personal goal. They do not want to change. Still, they might want to grow their bank accounts. I am not judging any of this, I am just trying to find out if having goals is really that important for all people.

If you now argue from a Buddhist perspective, pursuing goals in the future might steal the “here and now” from you and thus call unnecessary suffering. O.k., fine. I think, that is a learning that I achieved some time ago that you can still have goals but also enjoy the present moment. It took me half a lifetime to get there. I just never really understood how important it is to have goals as companions in life — I mean bigger ones. I know that some people do not really need or want them because goals put them under pressure. Look at all the average office jobs or people working in the service sector: Your micro goals are making it through the day and if you do that for a long time, then you can more or less count on the fact that you will be able to raise your living standard by a few degrees. So, steadily climbing the ladder of success might be subsumed as the overarching, maybe even implicit, goal in life.

The same might apply to life itself. Just think of this phrase when some old or really sick person passes away and we catch ourselves saying: “He/she did not want to go on anymore.” Does that not reveal that the goal of living has been given up at this point? In other words: living is a goal in and of itself. And whenever you stop pursuing it, you will die. The reason why I am saying that the past years feel a little bit like a long vacation is because not pursuing a big goal to me makes me not enjoy the rest of the time which is not directly related to the goal. In other words: If you feel like every day is a holiday or you are on vacation all year, then actual holidays do not count anymore. You do not even notice the difference anymore.

So, this post is probably already part of my final resume which I will devote more time to at the actual end of the year of blogging. For sure, however, these insights about the importance of goals in my life have been among the most valuable ones. There was just some tiny operational detail which I had to figure out along the way: the balance. It is probably the Aristotelian way, the middle path of everything, that is the solution. But just reading about it and intellectually understanding it does not work for me. I had to experience all the different facets, the extremes, of overworking yourself by chasing big goals and not being challenged at all because there are no goals — until realizing that something big is missing.

My Learnings

Knowledge should be pursued, I believe, to make our world better — to make life more fulfilling.” It is funny that I actually stopped at this passage when skimming the book. Knowledge and knowledge-seeking are the other milestones I have come to unravel. I tried to run away so often from the fact that I love knowledge and learning. I just never managed to get the two together: the learner/researcher and the manager. No matter how much money I was looking at or which entrepreneurial adventures were waiting in projects —I never fully embraced the business side. At the end, I always caught myself feeling fulfilled and somewhat happy when people said: “I have learned a lot.”

My love-hate relationship with education has been the most serious, difficult, but also rewarding struggle. In the end, your personality will make the decision and you will understand that you cannot change who you are, no matter how much you do change and grow. But then you also have to see that there are always things you are not seeing. And a managerial type is not a teacher type. It is that simple. Some people like standing in a classroom with students all the time and some do not because they love fixing all kinds of problems that come up unexpectedly. And, the managerial type might be a lot more egoistic because he is seeking adventures. So be it.

Knowledge-seeking will forever and always be my biggest goal in life. I will never stop learning. That is a promise to myself. And I am quite sad about the months and partly years which I wasted when I refused to learn because I wrongly thought it would not take me anywhere. Yes, partly that is true but the pleasure of learning, the joy of reading, and the experience of trying new things, will always remain a core part of my personality. If I suppress it, I will suffer. I just had to understand that this needs a professional role which values education but not all the learning needs to be squeezed into it. And it definitely does not require some globetrotter life with no rules, no discipline, and no big goals. That does not work for me, at least not on a permanent basis. And, yes, of course, globetrotters also have goals, no doubt. In the end, we all define our own goals and can give a shit about the definition of others.

To “make life more fulfilling,” knowledge should not only be created and passed on, it also is a value that people need to stand up for. They need to represent the joy of learning, even if they are not the classical teacher or professor type. That is, after all, the thing that always brought me to the management and entrepreneurship crowd. And I think, this will always be the most fulfilling lesson from my startup time. Being surrounded by crazy learners did make me happy for a while. But then I also relized that knowledge and knowledge are different things among different generations. Just as difficult as attaining a thorough education might be, it is impossible to reverse the process. Your knowledge sticks. And now I have to return to “my” tribe — people with the top level of knowledge who might embrace someone who can set and achieve Big Goals with a Big Heart and medium-level passion.

Reflection Questions

1) Do you think novels are more effective in teaching management lessons than non-fiction books? Why/not?

2) What is a long-term goal in your life? Have you gotten closer to it in the past five years?

3) If someone offered you 10 million dollars right now and the only requirement to get it would be that you promise to retire and never take a job again in your life — would you do it?