An Essay About Goals In Life

"Don’t be encumbered by history – go off and do something wonderful."
(Robert Noyce, Co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel)

If you want to do something wonderful, the first step is to decide what that something will be. Goal setting is probably the most significant factor in improving performance in nearly every area of life. Goals are not only great motivators; they provide a focus for your efforts and help you make decisions along the way.

This article deals with the practical side of goal setting and planning. When we set a goal we are actually stating how we would like to improve the world – specifically some aspect of it that we can control. So we can express the goal as a description of the improved situation. How would you like to change your world?

Start with the long-term view: what do you really want to achieve in your lifetime? Many people find this difficult: after all, it could be a long time, with many possibilities and opportunities. So put it another way: what would you really regret not having done or achieved in your lifetime?

Think about what you could aim for in different areas of your life:

  • Family
  • Career
  • Education and personal development
  • Hobbies and personal interests (art, music, intellectual pursuits, community, sports and fitness, etc)
  • Peer group: career, social and neighborhood

Whatever goals you can think of in each area, write them down – or put them straight into Goalscape!


Make sure your goals are SMART. They must be: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Ambitious
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

Test each of your goals against this list by asking pertinent questions. There is more background on SMART goal setting here.

Once you have collected all the goals you can think of, review them: narrow down your list and start to set priorities for those that remain. Consider what you have already achieved and how you did it; and where you have failed and why. What does this tell you about your strengths? Where might you need to develop and learn new skills? Answering these questions will provide clues as to which goals are within your reach.

Play to your strengths in terms of your talents and skills; yet look for ways to extend yourself beyond your comfort zone. Make sure you choose your own goals: those that are in line with your own personal values, rather than merely reflecting the expectations or wishes of others (parents, teachers or peer group). Do however share your goals with those close to you, especially where they are involved in a particular area – eg your partner, your boss and colleagues (for work goals), team members and coach (for sports goals) – and take their wishes and opinions into account.

Keep breaking down your big goals into smaller subgoals. Set their relative importances according to the contribution they make to their parent goal.


Always be prepared to add or change some of your goals and their relative importance. Set specific targets in the lowest level goals, decide how to measure your progress and enter it into your plan as you go. Checking off completed tasks and seeing your progress advance will make you feel really good! Celebrate your major achievements with everyone who helped you.


Future articles will include specific advice about working towards your goals; some background about why goal setting is so powerful; and how to make sure your goals are meaningful.

I spend a lot of time writing about goals. But I realize I haven’t shared many of my own. Although I wouldn’t consider my dreams to be unique, I don’t know too many people that share them. Most of my friends are caught up in the mythology that you need to get a good job, settle down and chain yourself to a retirement package for the rest of your life.

I’m purposefully avoiding details such as deadlines and plans in this entry. Although I’m a big believer in writing out your goals and setting plans and deadlines, that isn’t useful here. I want to share the broader vision for my life, not the grittier implementation details.

Goal #1 – A Completely Digital Life

I don’t plan on downloading my brain into a computer. By a digital life I mean that all of my income will come without a location. This will probably mean the internet, but it might mean something completely different in ten years as technology continues to expand. This means I will be able to live anywhere I can bring a laptop.

I plan to make use of this freedom and I might easily be a wandering vagabond for most of my 20’s. I want to be in a position where I can say, “Hey, let’s live in Spain for 6 months,” without needing to worry about quitting a job or abandoning a physical business.

Progress:

This website is my primary income source right now. Although I’m not yet at a point of complete financial security, I’m fairly close. If things continue as they are now, I consider it likely that I’ll have achieved this dream before my 22nd birthday.

Goal #2 – Financial Freedom, Not Being Rich

I’m not a materialistic person. I don’t like buying things and I have very simple tastes. I like eating simple foods, living in simple houses and keeping simple items. Owning more stuff doesn’t make me happy and I place far more value on the things that can’t be bought.

As a result, the idea of being rich interests me, but I’m not driven by it. If I had a billion dollars, I’d be living almost the same way I am today. Perhaps I’d travel more and worry less about financing necessities, but my life wouldn’t change.

My true goal is financial freedom. This means never having to worry about money because my lifestyle is far below my means. With this freedom I could start a new business, without worrying about losing the money from an old venture. I want money to be removed from my life.

Progress:

This one is much further off. I think it will probably be at least 10-15 years before I completely reach this point and it may be longer. But it is all a matter of degrees. My next step is setting up an investment account and trying to build an emergency fund of at least 1 year of income.

Goal #3 – Learn Everything

This is a goal I’m never going to be able to realize. However, I’ve made a lot of progress. Self-education is something I will keep doing for the rest of my life. With each subject I learn more about, three more opportunities branch off. There are few subjects I’m completely uninterested in and too many I’m fascinated by.

Progress:

I’ve read close to 300 books in the last several years and I’m always trying to read more. Books are a good way, but projects and classes are great for learning ideas that books can’t cover. A few of the things on my To-Learn list:

  • Read the collected works of Shakespeare.
  • Read the Bible, Dao De Jin and Upanishads.
  • Study more advanced computer programming topics.
  • Read a few books on Bayes Theorem.

Goal #4 – Marathon Running and Physical Fitness

I’ve made a lot of improvements in my physical fitness over the last few years. But a few of the individual fitness goals I have:

  1. Run a marathon.
  2. Be able to do 10 one-arm push-ups with each arm (5 was my previous max)
  3. Benchpress 200 lbs (I’m stuck on 185)
  4. Run a 5 minute mile.
  5. Do a “Superman” pushup (a pushup from a handstand position)

I don’t do all this fitness stuff just to be healthy. And it’s way too much work for the point of looking good (buying nicer clothes is way easier). I just have a lot of fun working out. I’ve never been great at sports, but I really enjoy the incremental goal setting of lifting weights, running and staying in shape.

Progress:

The most I’ve ran before is 17 km. I would like to do a marathon next year. In most aspects of physical fitness I’d say I’m above average. Flexibility is something I’d like to spend more time on since it is neglected by my current routine.

Goal #5 – Relationship & Social Success

As someone who wasn’t very outgoing as a kid, this is an area that required more work to get good at. My ultimate goal here is to be able to easily make new friends and relationships in any place I go to.

Living a digital life and traveling the world can create a whole new batch of problems. One of them being that you can’t rely on a workplace environment to provide your social contacts. This is doubly true if I plan on traveling to many different countries where language and cultural barriers will add an additional challenge.

Progress:

I think most the people who have met me in the last 2-3 years would say I’m outgoing. I’m always happy to meet new people and I have a large group of friends. Last week I went with my roommate to knock on doors in our building to introduce ourselves. I don’t think anyone would say I’m shy.

But there is still a lot more I need to learn. It’s easier to build connections when you already know a few people. I’m trying to master the ability to quickly make friends out of a crowd of strangers.

Other Goals and Thoughts on Life

This list is in constant flux. It wasn’t the list I had two years ago and it probably won’t be exactly the same in another two years. I don’t expect it to remain constant. I’m constantly seeking new experiences, so I need to be prepared if those new experiences change the aims I have in life.

Achieving these goals won’t make me happy. I don’t expect them to. Most of them are simply issues of comfort, they aren’t critical to the quality of my life. Working on challenging and meaningful goals accounts for 90% of my happiness. Only 10% is based on my comfort with external factors like money and location independence.

These goals are important to me. But I already have everything I want.

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