Goals are Often Selfish

One of the most pressing problems with goals is how ego focused they are: When we set goals, we usually have ourselves in mind, not others. This isn’t usually the case with team projects, but it’s certainly the case for personal goals.

I realized this when reading Strategy for Living by Edward R. Dayton and Ted W. Engstrom. (The book was purchased for me by the director of a local non-profit. I now understand why he cites it as the single most life-changing book he has read outside of the Bible.)

“At a missionary meeting we attended we heard that the purpose of one group was ‘to bring all of Japan to the feet of Christ.’ What does that mean? It’s verbal fog. … Verbal fog can completely incapacitate us. We may desire to be a God-honoring father or mother. We may pray earnestly that God will make us such a parent. We may feel all kinds of love toward our children and have grand ideals for them. We may earnestly quote, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). But the question is: What are we going to do? How does a God-honoring father act? What does one do to train up a child in the way he should go? How can we know whether what we did was effective or ineffective if we really did not decide what we intended to do?” —Dayton and Engstrom, Strategy for Living, pgs. 47–48

Goals must be specific, focused, purposeful and measurable. If we can’t measure the success of our work, we really don’t have goals—we have ideas. We may know generally what we want, but until we know specifically what success looks like, we’re not ready to start our work.

And unfortunately personal success—accomplishing our personal goals—often looks like happiness, satisfaction or gratification. If we believe in loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus commanded, our goals shouldn’t look like this at all. Surely God can and does use ambition for his purposes; both David and Solomon are examples of this. But ambition alone is futile. Ambition doesn’t change lives; ambition makes individual people successful. It’s selfish. However, ambition coupled with a focus on God’s desires can lead powerful causes and change lives.

God doesn’t want us to ask what he wants us to do; he wants us to ask what we can do for his kingdom. (Notice the subject switch from “us” to “his kingdom.”) Goals should be focused on what we can do for others—the lives we can change.

As I set goals going into my birthday this year, I’m focusing on how I can help other people and not my success. I think it’s going to change everything. I’m telling you because I hope that you will do the same. (For my first goal, I’m raising $2,500 for relief efforts in the Horn of Africa; learn more here.)

How do you recommend we (all of us) change our goal setting structure and process? What ideas do you have?

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