The Good & Bad of Goals, and the Danger of the Word “Someday”

Today’s the last day of my 4 day weekend. With my new job, it might be a long time before I have an entire weekend off again. I’ve been thinking about how to spend this final day – what tasks I’ll push off to tomorrow or next weekend. It occurred to me that over the past year, I used the weekday/weekend distinction to procrastinate. Which is really stupid, when you think about it. When you’re unemployed, every day is Saturday! But the rest of the world has weekdays and weekends, and that’s how I justified procrastinating the job and home hunt this past year. “I’ll push it off to this weekend when I’m not so busy.” “I’ll push it off to Monday so I can enjoy my weekend.”

Now that I have a job, weekdays and weekends are meaningful to me again. And the danger of falling into this procrastination trap is even greater now. “I’ll push it off until the weekend because I’m busy working and too tired now.” “I don’t want to do it on my weekend. I want to relax today.” Same exact excuses, now easier to invoke.

The Good and Bad of Having Goals

I would never tell someone that it’s a bad idea to have goals, dreams, or ambitions. You need those things to drive you forward in life, otherwise you’ll just drift about aimlessly. Never improving, never growing, and never changing.

On the other hand, I think certain types of goals can be too ambitious and too long-term in nature. Goals like these can drain a lot of time and energy from us, and in the end, might not be worth the effort. This is where I find fault with the American Dream and consumerism. So many people work so hard for so long just to have money to buy material stuff that doesn’t bring us happiness. Or they pinch pennies to save for their retirement – a retirement they may never see a dime from if they get hit by a bus tomorrow.

hit by a busIn fact, before I set goals, I ask myself the hit-by-a-bus question. If I’m going to invest time and energy into a goal and get hit by a bus tomorrow, will I regret having invested that time and energy in the first place? As a result, I tend not to set long-term goals anymore. I no longer plan for my career 10 or 20 years out. I don’t give a shit about my retirement or my final days on this planet.

While my survival from one day to the next is not guaranteed, at the age of 37, the actuarial tables are still in my favor. There’s a very good chance that I will survive to tomorrow. A slightly less – but still pretty good – chance that I survive to next week, next month, and next year. Beyond 5 or 10 years, the math begins to betray me, so I see no need planning for a future that I may never see.

So most of my goals are centered around travel and experiences. Not only because travel and experiences make me happy in a way that material goods do not, but also because the things I have to do to prepare for travel are – oftentimes – rewarding in and of themselves. Whereas working hard and saving for my retirement is not enjoyable or rewarding in the present moment. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I won’t mind that I dreamed of adventures in far away places today. But I would mind that I came home tired and sore, so my employer’s shareholders could buy bigger yachts. Also, I can easily fit travel into my life within the next month, year, five years, or ten years. Most of us can’t say the same about our retirement.

The Danger of “Someday”

Someday

For those goals we deem worthy of having, it’s important that we continually keep on top of them. We can’t put them off until “someday” when circumstances are more convenient or just right. There is no such thing as “the perfect time” to do something. You will always face obstacles. There will always be able to save more and create more of a cushion or emergency slush funds. There will always be a safer time or more opportune time to take off of work. You will never completely escape your obligations to family and friends. If you’re waiting (to travel, for example) for the perfect and most convenient time, then you’ll never accomplish your goals. Sometimes, you just have to decide to pull the trigger.

This reminder is coming from a person who had the guts to shut down his law practice, sell his home, get rid of most of his personal possessions, and go about gallivanting across the wild west last summer. I know what it takes to have that courage. But I also know what the rewards are for not putting off my goals to “someday”.

And even with these pull-the-trigger experiences, I still struggle with the “someday” problem. Take this new job for instance. Already after just two work days, I hate it. I took the job because I couldn’t afford not to. My plan for this weekend was to overhaul my tragically over-qualified résumé so that I would have a better chance landing interviews. I also intended to start work on my new business idea. The good news is, I did actually do some work on these tasks this weekend. The bad news is, I only did a little bit on one day. I wasted the other two days, leaving the remainder of today as my only shot at redemption.

I don’t want to work on my résumé today because it’s a tedious task and I’d rather enjoy this, my last day off. Tomorrow, I won’t want to do it because I’ll be sore and tired from work. I’ll want to punt it again to the next day I have off, and so on, and so on. And the problem with all of this, of course, is that the longer I wait to do this tedious task, the longer I’ll be stuck in this job I don’t like.

There are always excuses. If we want something, we have to decide to make time for it. Each and every day. You don’t have to accomplish your goals today. But you should make some progress – no matter how small – toward your goals each and every day. That way, you’ll be a little closer to accomplishing your goals next week than you are today. That progress will also provide momentum and encouragement to keep moving forward.

My favorite bit of advice from The Minimalists is that “someday” is the most dangerous word in the English language. While I’m sure there are more dangerous words out there, “someday” surely does rank high up there. If you’re passionate about something, make time for it. Do it now. Take one step – even a small one – toward that goal today.

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