Oh, The Places You’ll Goal

Earlier this month, we pondered the story of Julia Albu, the retired widow who traveled from South Africa to London to have tea with Queen Elizabeth II. Julia traveled for months, over 8,000 miles in her 20-year old car, only to have her request for an audience rejected. Mostly traveling alone, she slept in a tent, night after night, spent a significant amount of money and put herself in dangerous situations to achieve her goal. However, ultimately she didn’t reach it.

“The English are a strange breed,” Albu told the BBC. “I’m not sure they appreciated quite how long my journey to Buckingham Palace was.”  

Viewing this story through a pessimistic lens, one could say that Julia should have known she wasn’t going to gain an audience with Queen Elizabeth II just because she asked for it, no matter how long her journey. They might say her goal was unrealistic and she should not have wasted her time because it was clearly unattainable. They could say she would have been better off choosing a more attainable pursuit. After all, what’s the point of wasting your time on a goal when it is obvious that it will not succeed?

We all know people with this viewpoint. They set up realistic goals and achieve them, and also feel frustrated that they didn’t accomplish more in the same amount of time spent compared to others. Some refuse to pursue their heart’s desires because they fear they will not be able to achieve the full vision of their dreams. Others set ambitious goals and establish elaborate step-by-step strategies, only to be bored or uninspired half-way through.

People with these types of mindsets see their goals and accomplishments like treasure hunts. They think they know the exact goal they are going after, and may not even set off down the path until they have their treasure map (plan) in hand and verified. Expecting that you know what you will gain on the hunt routinely results in disappointment, as even a small deviation in the expected result can feel like a failure.  

A classic scenario of this approach is to set out for gold, only to find copper instead. Rather than celebrating the good fortune, the hunter feels disappointed that the treasure they worked so hard for is not precisely what they envisioned. This “failure” can prompt them to change direction, going down another path or, worse yet, ditch that treasure map for an entirely different one, only to repeat the cycle of disappointment.

Clearly, Julia was not a treasure hunter. If she were, she would have saved herself the time and hassle of driving to London without an invitation for tea secured. Perhaps she would have stayed home and sent a letter to Her Royal Highness and waited for a response. Or she could have worked to gain more media attention and allowed the excitement of her ambitious goal to reach Buckingham Palace and pave the way for her tea with the Queen. However, Julia did none of these things; she was an explorer, and her goal to have tea was her compass heading.

Declaring her intention to drive from Cape Town to London set her on a path. The goal provided her a direction to travel, something to focus on, and momentum. As she progressed towards her goal, she took her time to learn and grow from her experiences (both good and bad). When things got tough, she didn’t change her goal and decided to have tea with a less distant and more accessible state leader. Instead, she kept her eye on her original desire, took learnings from what she encountered along the way, and continued to move forward.

We’ve all heard the expressions hundreds of times: “life is about the journey, not the destination” and, “shoot for the stars and you’ll catch the moon.” Julia’s story exemplifies both of these idioms. Having tea with the Queen was a moonshot, but all the effort, time and money spent gave Julia an adventure of a lifetime, new friends and experiences she would have never had any other way.

When Julia arrived in London and was turned away at the gates of Buckingham Palace, no one would have blamed her for being so disappointed that she sold her car and flew back to Cape Town. However, for Julia, the goal was not an end achievement. Who’s to say having tea with the Queen would have been all that interesting anyhow?

Instead, Julia’s goal allowed her to achieve something even more valuable – to live her life fully, and maximize her experiences. This mindset made it a simple task for her to take the rejection from the Queen’s handlers and turn her compass back towards Cape Town for another adventure.

No matter how well you prepare or organize yourself, life rarely (if ever) goes according to plan. By focusing on the goal as the only element of your journey that holds value, you can miss all the personal growth and amazing experience that lies in-between. The sum of these elements is often more valuable than reaching the goal itself. Yet, when achieving the goal is the only success metric, sometimes reaching the goal doesn’t feel “enough” for all the effort. Rather than celebrating and “resting on our laurels” when we achieve our end, we immediately look for the next goal to fixate on – something that we hope will feel like a true accomplishment. Missing the moment of celebration, or achieving a goal too easily, can result in as much disappointment as not reaching the goal at all.

Another challenge of fixating on the end goal, rather than the journey, is that in the time it takes one to develop an extensive plan, the landscape invariably changes. Those who notice the changes have to start their planning all over again, and may never actually set off on the path, let alone reach the goal. Those who don’t see the change in circumstances discover their plan to be ineffective, resulting in a hit to their self-confidence, frustration and disappointment as they struggle to meet their goals.

Instead of becoming points of fixation, let your big goals be the catalyst that sparks you into action, and the compass heading for your journey. This mindset allows your goals to be adaptable to changing circumstances and malleable to new learnings and information. 

When our experiences inform the next choice we keep ourselves open to new opportunities and stay in the flow of life. Whether you are looking to change careers, build a company, retire early, or move to France and speak fluent French, the goal inspires you into action, and your daily choices and the results of your actions give you the motivation and momentum to continue moving forward.

In this way, the real measurements of a goal’s success (the treasure) are those actions you take each day that move you closer to achieving your desires. When we value these experiences, and take the time to reflect and honor how they helped move us closer to our goals, we take in the full picture of our journey through life. This often results in feeling fulfillment, regardless of whether or not the goal itself was achieved. In this sense, your journey – like Julia’s – becomes more valuable than the destination. 

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar, American author, salesman, and motivational speaker (1926 – 2012). 

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