Not surprisingly, a Google search for "importance of setting goals" returns a whopping 347 million hits. Pages and page of articles, ALL of which insist--vehemently--that goal setting is essential to success.
I respectfully beg to differ.
If you set ambitious goals before you know who are, you will almost always end up in a place where you don't fit. That's why so many celebrities (a famously goal-oriented bunch) are often drug abusers. Overachievers also have a higher-than-average risk of suicide.
You may have read or heard about the Harvard study that showed that the graduates who had written goals, decades later, were far more wealthy that those who didn't. Maybe so, but shouldn't college be about broadening horizons?
After all, if your identity is still unformed and you've grown up in a bubble, how can you possibly know what goal would be right for you?
I've met hundreds of goal-oriented people who are deeply miserable because they're on a career path or life path that's wildly inappropriate for them. Sometimes they make a lot of money but it never seems to make them very happy.
Without self-awareness, goal-setting puts you on a treadmill, achieving goal after goal, but continually asking: "Is this all there is?"
Being too goal-oriented also makes you vulnerable to being manipulated by employers who promise you'll achieve those goal... after working hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime. Definition of irony: burning yourself out pursuing a goal that, if achieved, would make you miserable.
It's not that goal-setting doesn't work; it's just that many, if not most, people lack the self-awareness to select appropriate goals. Therefore, before setting goals, learn to listen to the "small, still voice" that tells you who you really are.
When you listen to that voice, you'll feel a sense of peace and calm excitement whenever you're on the right track. You'll also experience a sense of disquiet and discomfort whenever you're headed in the wrong direction.
Because goals are far-off, they can deceive you. They look all shiny and perfect in the distance but then, when achieved, become burdens to carry forward. You might end up with a life full of achievements none of which really matter to you.
Somewhere in Wall Street, right now, working late, is a great painter, a social worker, a farmer, a mechanic. They're raking in the dough; they've got fancy cars, penthouse apartments... and they are failing at their #1 job: living a genuine life.
Similarly, there are writers and artists who--let's be honest here--aren't very talented but have set themselves to becoming the next Hemingway or Picasso, when they'd actually be happier trading stocks or teaching school.
An hour pursuing the wrong goal is a wasted hour. A life pursuing the wrong goal is a wasted life.
Rather than focusing on the horizon and shooting for the moon, use that small, still voice to guide yourself onto the life path that's right for you. Success--true success--only comes as you unfold the mystery of your true purpose.
Despite all the hype, goals all too often simply get in the way.