“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Michelangelo
Most people would agree that it is important to set goals in life. I think it is even more important to set goals that are essentially unattainable. Life should be an unfinished project… with constant development required. My earliest experiences with goal setting came through sports. I was a pretty good curler and won big bonspiels twice. As a professional golfer I won three tournaments and had a number of top ten finishes. Then as a university professor, shortly before leaving, I was nominated for a teaching award for my college. Finally, as a restaurateur I was twice named “Restaurateur of the Year” for the Province of Ontario, Canada. Each achievement left me with a feeling of brief elation… but also with a tinge of emptiness… there must be more, I thought. In fact, each time I reached a milestone I found myself trying harder…it increased my drive to improve as I came to realize that it was the road to my accomplishments or goals that satisfied me most. Intuitively I knew I wasn’t even close to being the best in my field. More importantly, I knew that there was much room for personal improvement.
There’s an old cute saying that goes something like this: “shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon”. That might be the best prescription for anyone entering any profession. You’ll never reach the stars but getting to the moon is not a bad result! There will always be a sense of satisfaction that you have made some steps along the road in your journey.
It was Goethe who said it best: “Whosever increasingly strives upward…him we can save”. Perhaps he was talking about some sort of eternal salvation – I don’t know. But what I take way from his saying is that continually striving leads to a kind of permanent meaning in our life. The goal to develop is eternal, your efforts are too. Even in death people will refer to you as the person “who never gave up”. A nice legacy.
On a less morbid note, the realization that there is no such thing as perfection will always keep your goals alive. People who don’t realize this fact are the ones who set the low goals too low. They are the those who become self-satisfied… and even worse, develop that false pride you often see in underachievers who think they’ve “made it”. The tragedy is they don’t realize they’re quite average. Once they wake up to their mediocrity, it can be a depressing revelation.
The important lesson is to set lofty goals and not to give up in your personal quest(s). Some people will achieve their “too low” goal and after the disappointment that it wasn’t what they imagined, they’ll wallow in their discontent. These people tend to give up or just get cynical. They come to appreciate the old cliché: “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it!” Then what? Well hopefully, they’ll have the courage to push onward after that realization.
The best advice brings us back to that master artist and draftsman, Michelangelo who said “Genius is eternal patience.” That man had a goal to be the very best artist of his age. He worked his proverbial “ass off” day after day, year after year. He laughed at people who were in awe of his work as a stroke of genius. Little did they know that he spent hour after hour redrawing, reworking and touching up his paintings and sketches. The result didn’t come from heaven like a bolt of lightning or like some sort of gift. It came from determination, sweat and, probably tears.
And never forget, it’s also about discipline which translates into determined focus. In his book “Siddhartha”, Herman Hesse writes, “he is drawn to his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal”. With hard work, discipline and focus, and a dash of patience, you can set some pretty high goals in life. Don’t compromise.