To Be or To Have: Goal Setting 101

by - May 24, 2020

When I started learning French my friend Florian pointed me to what he referred to as two of the most important verbs for my vocabulary; Etre (to be) and Avoir (to have). “This is fundamental to know,” he tutored. As I reflect on that moment, I realised that his language lesson unwittingly served also as a life lesson, specifically as it relates to setting goals.

I’m not ashamed to say that the idea of goal setting and intentionally working towards something is a relatively new concept for me, yes, at the big age of 29 years old. I’ve been a free spirit and have spent most of my life simply going with the flow of things. To no surprise then, three years ago when my boss asked me to write a story about my life in 5 years and then break it out into goals, I tiptoed around the assignment for as long as I could because I genuinely didn’t know where to start. Like most people, I simply went straight for typical symbols of success and all the nice-to-haves. As I sat in that naivety the years started trickling by, and along for the ride came anxiety, self-judgement, impatience and then disappointment. Why? Little to nothing was happening, and though I was hitting milestones elsewhere, THOSE goals did not budge.

Why did I suck at making my own goals?

Of course, I started questioning why things weren’t changing for me. Why did I suck at making my own goals? Where did I go wrong? And, can I unsuck at this?

The answer took me right back to that French lesson and the verbs, ‘To Be’ or ‘To Have.’ In the first iteration of my life’s vision in 2022, I was fixated on all the “stuff” I would achieve. I could easily relay where I wanted to live, the dog I wanted to get, my wardrobe, the degree and certifications, my successful book and other publications and the list goes on. My dreams were big and amazing and lacking.

I made the ultimate goal-setting rookie mistake..

I made the ultimate goal-setting rookie mistake by focusing on what I wanted to have in my life instead of who I wanted to be in this life. Of course, there is value in being able to physically envision a vivid picture of your ideal world but that is only 20% of the work. The giant feat instead requires recognising the version of yourself that will create this world for you.

One way of doing this is by identifying your values. It’s often said that your values are the qualities of the person you want to become. They act as your life’s compass and will ensure that whatever you are choosing is in alignment with your ideal self. On a daily basis your values inform your action which is why knowing them is so intrinsic to setting and achieving your goals. Since they direct us to our purpose, it means therefore that if your values aren’t conducive to your goals, you need to reevaluate what it is you REALLY want.

Truth be told, goal setting doesn’t come as naturally to some of us and as a result, we tend to borrow ideas from others. The challenge here is that even if we desire similar things, our why’s are often different. You have to be clear on YOUR WHY otherwise you won’t be as energised, feel motivated or even recognise when you aren’t in alignment with your targets. Remember, goals are intentions. Intentions are our prompts to action, our “raison d’être.” We must decide on our own values so that we aren’t just accumulating possessions but instead are ensuring our goals are assets for a meaningful life.

On the note of possession, understand that when you make a goal with your main focus being “to have”, you’re doing so with a scarcity mindset. On that premise alone you’ve immediately blocked your ability to create the conditions for success. It is almost impossible to thrive in a place of lack and so you’ll need to refocus on being an attractor of abundance and blessing.

I remember once hearing Kanye West say that “This generation is focused on looking successful rather than actually being successful.” Being able to make this distinction is paramount in goal-setting. “To have” is superficial. It is temporary and insatiable and therefore you will never have fulfilment in a meaningful way. We can collect all the stuff in the world and still feel empty. We’ve all heard stories of celebrities who are by every definition, financial successes but are miserable and in some cases even destructive. If you take a deeper look, you’ll find these individuals have lost themselves (and their values by extension). They crave a sense of immaterial wealth, for some this look like genuine connections, peace of mind and the like. It’s not a stretch to state then that when our self worth is defined by what we have instead of who we are, we’re in trouble.

You can achieve a goal and still not feel the success you thought you would. You can also achieve a goal and undo everything you did to get there. For example, you can set a target to save $50,000, a colossal goal from some of us, especially when you’re a spendthrift but it’s not impossible and you can get there. However saving that $50,000 doesn’t equate to being financially responsible, it just means you have the ability to save. It only takes one of those spendthrift impulses to blow 10k and then another and before you know it, you’re back to nought. 

Accomplishing your goal is a process and is therefore meant to be a transformational experience. You can have and not be as to have is usually linked to an outcome. To be is a continuous pursuit of improvement and development. I’ve never heard someone say I’ve capped my potential. That’s why in her 50s Michelle Obama, a distinguished woman, can write a book called Becoming because we are always growing into our better self.

So as you sit down and recalibrate your life’s plans, remember that to move the needle toward acquiring those goals, its imperative to make who you want to be your North Star. Use your values to direct your path towards substantial shifts in your world, ones that are lasting and stable. Do you want to just have a partner or be loved? Do you want to have a job or be a (insert dream profession here)? These are not the same thing. This is fundamental to know.

until next time......
Do Good, Dress Well

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  1. This was a beautiful read. I wholeheartedly agree with you to focus more on developing values than just arbitrarily accomplishing goals. great work