If you’ve read The Simple Dollar for very long, you’ve learned that, in my opinion, one of the most important things in personal finance is setting goals. Where do you want to be in a year? In five years? In twenty years? Establishing those goals gives you something real to work towards and makes a tough choice today seem a little easier because you can connect it to something much bigger.
The problem is that it’s often hard to create a real picture of the future, especially when you’re extending out a few years or more. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns and sometimes we find ourselves marching down a much different path than we ever expected.
If you had told me ten years ago that I would wind up being a freelance writer so that I could spend lots of time with my three children, I would have looked at you like you were out of your mind.
These two things seem at odds. There’s incredible benefit in working toward a big goal, yet the bigger the goal, the more likely it is that life will sweep it aside for reasons you can’t yet fathom.
So why work for a big goal?
The reason is that the real value of a big goal is in the journey. Any journey you take toward a big goal is going to add positive things to your life. It’s going to bring you positive value in ways you can’t even imagine yet. It’s going to teach you skills. It’s going to build relationships. It’s going to put money in your bank account.
All it takes is a commitment to move toward that goal.
If something happens and the goal becomes unrealistic for some reason, it’s not all for nothing. You’re left with relationships, with money, with skills, with achievements. All of those things provide a strong foundation for whatever it is that you’re going to do next.
Don’t think of your big goals as things that are set in stone. Think of them as a wish list – things you’d like to achieve if your life contines down this same path.
My wish list involves raising three intellectually curious and self-sufficient children. Now, many things could happen that would prevent this, most of which I’d rather not think about. The fact that there is no guarantee that I’ll reach the goal doesn’t mean it’s not a goal worth working towards.
Another item on my wish list involves finishing and publishing a few novels. Again, many things can happen that will brush that goal to the side, but, again, the fact that there’s no guarantee doesn’t mean that it’s not worth moving toward that goal.
I can list many goals like this: building a marriage that’s strong for life, launching a community initiative I’ve been thinking about for a long time, moving to a new home – the list goes on and on. None of these are guaranteed goals.
What they all have in common is this: every step I take toward those goals will improve my life’s situation no matter whether I actually achieve that goal or not.
The goal just gives me something to look forward to. It’s a possible future – one that I want quite a lot and one that I’m willing to work today to achieve.
Yes, life might not lead me to those things on my wish list, but I get value out of every moment I spend working toward those goals.
So will you. What’s on your wish list? Every step you take toward those things will help your life, regardless of whether or not you actually make it there.
The only sure way to fail is to never start.