The Power Of A Goal That Doesn't Matter

A few years ago, I set a goal to speak at TED. The goal provoked some interesting reactions from my friends. Richard said, “That’s an excellent goal, because of what you’re going to have to manifest in your life to make it come true.” Helena, on the other hand, created a map for me. In the bottom left corner, it said, “Kaila 2009.” From there emerged two short squiggly arrows, pointing at… the blank space in the center of the page.

The only other thing on the page was the TED logo, in the top right corner. Here you are now, here’s the direction you need to go… there’s the goal.

Despite its lack of detail, I liked the map. I put it on the wall and started filling it in. Since I didn’t know what the next step was supposed to be, I decided to take every opportunity to change the world for the better or be a better public speaker. I dutifully added each event to the end of one of the arrows, and drew a subsequent new arrow into the unknown.

Imagine what happens when you take every opportunity to change the world for the better or be a better public speaker. What I realized pretty quickly is that “speaking at TED” is actually a proxy goal, a means of giving specificity and tangibility to an abstract yearning that most of us share: to live an awesome life. In the end, getting acknowledgment at a conference doesn’t matter in the least; what matters is what you do to get the acknowledgment.

We often use proxies, consciously or unconsciously. We might, for example, buy stuff we don’t need as a proxy for how we want to feel post-purchase. But if your proxy sits between you and your true goal, you run the risk of getting stuck there, gradually forgetting what you were trying to accomplish in the first place.

A good proxy goal sits on the far side of your true goal and forces you to go through the true goal to get to it. You still run the risk of forgetting the original goal -- but in this case, that would be a good outcome.

Next time you set a life goal, forget about S.M.A.R.T., and go for a good solid proxy goal instead. Make sure it’s one that forces you to manifest some pretty awesome things to make it come true. And then watch as the goal itself ceases to matter.

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2 comments about "The Power Of A Goal That Doesn't Matter".
  1. John Mallen from JMC Marketing Communications , June 29, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
    First of all I really like this blog. It touches on two themes that have long interested me: 1. Goal setting: I love the difference between the notion of "true goal" and "proxy goal." The distinction is profound. It can be used personally as well as in developing organizational plans. 2. Opportunistic strategy mapping: My term for synthesizing what Kaila says in paragraph 3. Thanks for the post!
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 29, 2012 at 12:03 p.m.
    As a very well known and smart technologist/author/speaker/columnist-blogger told me, some people have the wrong goals and dreams, especially new graduates (note to: communication/entertainment/journalist/fine arts majors) and pigeon hole themselves into unemployment and bitterness. There are other opportunities.