“A dream written down with a date becomes a GOAL. A goal broken down into steps becomes a PLAN. A plan backed by ACTION makes your dreams come true.” ~Greg Reid
We all have dreams, some of them really big. And if we are serious about achieving these dreams, the next logical step is to set a goal, make a plan, and start taking action.
But we are missing out on one very important step in the dream-creating journey.
This step is one that has taken me, personally, two decades to come to realize. And my first clue came from my kids’ bedtime story book, of all places!
Down in the depths of the ocean lived a sad and lonely whale who spent his days searching and searching for the next shiny object, never feeling complete or fulfilled in his quest for more. Then one day, stumbling upon a beautiful reef, a clever little crab stops him and asks:
“You are the whale that always wants more. But what are you really wanting it for?”
We seem to spend our whole lives setting goals and planning out our dreams, but we rarely stop to ask ourselves what we want these things for. What do we want the new car, job, promotion or house for?
If we stopped to think, and if we were really honest with ourselves, we would all have a similar answer. Because our goals and dreams often boil down to the same underlying human need for significance: to feel good enough, valued, validated, accepted, loved, or worthy.
Most of our goals are essentially attached to our need to feel good enough in the eyes of others and ourselves.
The Missing Step of Having an Unattached Goal
Having an unattached goal is the missing step in our dream-living process. It is such an important step for two simple reasons. When we have goals that are conjoined to the need to be good enough, we can only end up with one of two finish-line photos:
- You on the podium with the winning medal around your neck, but looking around at the next shiny medal to chase, not fulfilled by your achievement.
- You not crossing the finishing line, with an “I’m a failure” sign around your neck, left with an even bigger hunger for validation and self-worth.
Cease the Endless Quest for More
Just like in the children’s book The Whale Who Wanted More, a typical pattern is to chase goal after goal, finding that we are never satisfied for long and continually hatching plans for the next shiny object to chase.
It makes complete sense when you realize that these goals are forged together with the need for significance, acceptance, or validation. Because if we don’t fill those needs first and instead use our goals to meet them, there is no car, house, promotion, or partner that will. And we will always be looking for that next thing to meet those needs.
Cease the Self-Sabotage
Self-sabotage was my MO for many years. Just like an ironsmith beating his flame-red metal into shape, I had beat and bent my purpose so that it would fulfill what I lacked in self-worth and what I secretly craved in acceptance and validation. I would be enough only when I achieved my purpose-related goal.
And here’s the kicker—I not only needed to live my purpose in order to fulfill my need for significance, I also had to swim against the undercurrent of feeling like I wasn’t capable of actually doing it.
The fear of failure was so real, because if I failed at this I wouldn’t get the validation and worth that I needed. So any time I felt like failure was in sight, I would give up and hatch a new plan to reach my purposeful goal, and in doing so, sabotage my own path to it. My way of seeing the world had become: better to keep the dream of a possibility alive than have the reality of failure come true.
The Question That Opened My Eyes to My Attached Goals
I lived for twenty years under the guise of a pure purpose, a burning flame to help others. And though that was very much part of my drive and work over the years, it was subtly intertwined with the need for recognition and “becoming someone.” And it had slowly and silently transformed into a shackle for self-worth and significance.
About a month or two after reading that bedtime book to my children, I heard a question that split my tug-of-war rope in half; a question that left my goal on one side and my self-worth safely on the other. It gave me the separation, distance, and freedom I needed to be me and to go after my goals with no emotional agendas, just pure passion and purpose.
And the magic question was:
If you don’t get what you want, what would that mean about you?
When I first heard that question, my answer came so quickly:
I’d be a failure.
It seemed like a simple mathematical truth to me: don’t achieve my life-long goal equals failure. What other answer could there possible be?
As it happens, there is only one right answer to this question. And it wasn’t the one I gave. The right answer sounded simple. There was nothing complicated about it, but it just didn’t sit, settle, or disperse in any way. It just kind of hung there in front of me, just waiting for something to happen.
And something did happen, about a week later.
I was running through my typical pattern: the way I would always approach my purpose-related goals and how, after seeing and concluding that nothing would ever come from my efforts, just give up.
But that day, I suddenly remembered the question, if you don’t get what you want, what would that mean about you?
And more importantly, I remembered the right answer:
Yes, you read that right. The right answer is nothing. Not getting what you want changes nothing about who you are. You are still you.
You are still worthy. You are worthy, whether or not you achieve your goal. When we tie so much meaning and worth to what we are trying to achieve it becomes a huge block. And we end up chasing that goal or that dream for all the wrong reasons: so that we don’t feel like a failure; so that we feel loved, accepted, and recognized.
Your goals do not complete you. You are complete whether you achieve them or not.
When you truly feel that not getting what you want means absolutely nothing about you, you know that you have an unattached goal. And when you have an unattached goal, you are free to go after it without those typical self-sabotaging patterns and to enjoy achieving your goal when you reach it.
A dream written down with a date becomes a GOAL. A goal broken down into steps becomes a PLAN. A plan backed by ACTION makes your dreams come true.
But a dream unattached to your self-worth is the real dream come true.