Undo the limiting effects of goals

In a recent workshop a young lady asked me a very simple question that turned out not to be so simple to answer if I was going to make sense.

What if I don’t want to perform at my peak? All I want is a very simple life that’s all”.

Husband, house, care and some children is all she wants. She doesn’t want to change the world or go to Mars or any of those things people dream about.  Have I taken this peak performance thing a little too far? We don’t all want to change the world. On Facebook, a discussion started when a young lady posted on her wall:

“my goal in life is just to become a wife”.

She had met a young man she is so in love with; the most important thing for her now is to be his wife—that’s it. Now a comment like that is bound to attract some attention in the very Jean-Paul Sartre/ Simone de Beauvoir world we live in. And it did.  Well everyone is reading Napoleon Hill and listening to Brian Tracy these days aren’t they? So it is almost standard for us to call that kind of thinking limiting. After all we are the “the sky is your limit” generation. Ok, in case you haven’t heard, we have gone beyond that actually. Now it is more like“the sky is not your limit”.


Recently a pastor friend of mine also made a comment in a radio discussion about, not needing goals as it might be best to leave it all to God. We just have to do his will and everything should be fine- we become like Moses (a performing personality of course). Moses didn’t really start life knowing he was going to be leading some Israelites to a new land did he? After all God is our biggest fan and is probably the only one who truly has your best interest at heart so why don’t we just leave the goal thing to him.

If you have been reading my work, you probably already know that I am the guy behind the dead-end goals idea. Lately I have been exploring the question of whether goals (whether dead-end, smart or intelligent) in themselves can be limiting. The answer is a scary one indeed. In my line of work, we place a lot of importance on setting goals and rightfully so- we need the structure it brings to things. No one hits a target that doesn’t exist. BUT the plain truth is; some people have hit targets they did not really predetermine. But for those who set goals there is a question regarding whether they could have picked a better target or not. Really how are we to know? I am going to avoid discussing what the experts’ theories say about setting goals for a minute and deal with the issue on a more practical level.

How can we determine with some precision what the exact possible ability of a person is? Could Michael Jackson have given us more? How do we know that he really did reach his peak and that there wasn’t any more room for improvement? Did Bob Marley reach his peak? Could he have done more in his thirty six years he lived? The answer is YES! But that is easy to decide for someone who passed in their prime. Can we say the same for a person who passed at 80?

I have been toying with the idea that the term peak performance itself could be limiting. For example, I have no way of knowing what a client is ultimately capable of in my work as a performance coach although I might be able to understand  to some degree what is achievable as per what they have. It cannot be pre-determined. Perhaps it will be wiser not to place a ceiling on where we can reach or what we can be. Setting a life goal as most are doing these days can have this limiting effect.

This is where my pastor friend might have a point although it will need exploring further. For those for us who believe in a God who has a plan and purpose for us, our goals can be limiting but only if they are out of sync with his purpose for us. This is why having a God is useful because it gives you an all knowing personality to turn to for answers. And while you might set goals, it will be based on his will and hence you will benefit from his guidance and direction. None one creates a thing and wants it to under-perform. Having a God also brings some structure to our lives giving it a direction that we must travel in. This is extremely important because in that direction we can set goals with a high degree of certainty. And when we reach it, we can always set another one as long as it is in the same direction.

For my lady friend who just wants to be a wife, there is such a thing as a good wife and a bad wife. Both are indeed wives. When we say the goals is just to become a wife we haven’t really said much. But if it is to be the best wife there has ever been, or perhaps even the best wife in your family, then we can immediately see a threshold that makes your goal S.M.A.R.T in more than one way but yet still limiting in a sense. Wife is a position that is meaningless until we use it to accomplish something.

We might be able to find the best wife there has ever been but why would we assume that there cannot be a better wife in the future and that in fact that could not be our lady friend. We don’t stop living when we reach something and since the sky is not the limit, where does it end. A person must then keep performing till he passes on, it is then that we can look at what they did with what was available to them. We must also remember that as we grow older, capabilities may change and that will influence the context of performance.

In search of a solution however, I believe that my idea of intelligoals may be the practical way to go without necessarily stepping too far from God’s will. Well I am still performing so I am likely to bring clarity to the matter before I pass on and when that happens, you will be the first to know J

About Markus Kennedy Katey

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