I enjoy setting goals and planning how to reach them. I have a small notebook that includes sketches and descriptions of what I want to do. I like setting goals not because I’ll be happy when I achieve them (happiness isn’t a destination, it just is), but because they’re good experiments in how wonderful life can be.
I encourage my friends to set goals and track their progress, too. Before I left the Philippines for Canada, I asked all of my friends to write down their two-year plans.
Where did this begin?
Imbayah: My parents gave us plenty of examples of the power of setting great goals. For example, my mom and dad helped organize a festival of traditional games called the Imbayah. I wasn’t born yet, but I learned about it from stories they told when I was growing up. I learned that a good goal can move other people to action. I also learned that you need both vision and execution to make a difference, and my parents work together really well because of that. My parents also told me stories about how they wanted to start a business, how they wanted to build a studio, and so on. I don’t think they ever drifted aimlessly. They were always working on something cool.
Books: I learned a lot about goal-setting from books, too. My mom had shelves of books on productivity, and she was always trying to help the employees in the company learn how to set and achieve goals.
Encyclopedias taught me an unexpected lesson about the power of setting goals and visualizing success, this by way of a story my mom told me about the time she sold encyclopedias door to door. She told me how she used to get through tough sales by imagining a check written to her for the amount of her commission, and mentally pasting this check on her prospect’s forehead.
Travel: One of my mom’s goals was to create family experiences through travel. She planned for it, saved for it, and made it happen. I remember a story my parents told us about how my mom had been trying to get my dad to join us on the trip. He didn’t want to go because of work, but one day, he relented and told my mom to go ahead and make plans. A few hours later, he was about to change his mind—but my mom had already booked the tickets. From that and the stories my parents told me of planning, I learned that opportunities are part luck and part planning. It’s good to set goals and prepare, so that you can make the most of opportunities that come up.
Lightpainting: I also learned a lot from how my parents set learning goals for themselves, like the way my dad taught himself photography and techniques like lightpainting. I remember watching him experiment in a darkened studio, trying to figure out how to create the images he could see in his imagination. I learned that you need to set goals for your own growth and work on moving towards them, because people aren’t going to hand you a curriculum and all the course materials you need. My parents gave us plenty of great examples of goal-setting for growth, like the way my dad taught himself digital photography and my mom taught herself business and marketing.
Ultralights: There were big projects too, like the cross-country flight my dad completed in an ultralight airplane. I learned how sometimes awesome projects start as crazy ideas, and you have to be open to pursuing them. I saw how my dad’s vision and my mom’s support in execution came together in making something cool happen, and I saw how lots of people were inspired by it both during and after the flight and the exhibit.
R. Hidalgo: My dad’s always doing some kind of initiative or another. One time, he wanted to help clean up R. Hidalgo, a street that used to be famous for the photographic equipment stores that lined it. Vendors clogged the passage-ways and the sidewalks were grimy. My dad organized the local shopkeepers and photographers, got the street cleaned up and the vendors moved to a different place, and helped put together a street photography exhibit. It was great, and it restored a lot of pride in the place. But it drew bad feelings from the displaced vendors, and my dad even received death threats. The local community wanted my dad to stay involved, but he saw it as a project they needed to take over and own, because they had a stake in it and he was from the outside. This is where I learned that sometimes good goals run into real-life challenges, and that it’s all right if a great idea doesn’t get completely developed.
Alabang: Likewise, my mom had a goal of having a comfortable house that could serve as a nice retreat from work. She saved up for and found a house in Alabang, and we stayed there occasionally. It was wonderfully peaceful, but it was a long way from the studio, so my dad and sister often preferred to stay in Makati instead. Eventually my mom decided to rent out the house instead. I learned that sometimes you need other people in order to fully enjoy a goal.
(must add this to diagram – CookOrDie): I don’t remember explicitly setting a lot of big goals for myself when I was growing up. I remember once trying to read 100 books and realizing that the goal was distracting me from the joy of reading the book. I had smaller goals, like understanding a particular book, and my mom told me that I’d read something again and again in order to understand it. I participated in programming and chess competitions, but I don’t remember telling myself, “I want to win X competitions” or “I want to master Y techniques.” I do remember starting to experiment after I graduated from university: my CookOrDie project (eat at most one meal out a day), for example.
Master’s: Going for my master’s degree in Canada helped me do a lot of goal-setting. I needed to get all the paperwork together. I started managing my own finances more closely. I needed to do research and write my thesis. I needed to establish myself and make friends. There were some goals I abandoned along the way (the courtyard garden box, for example), but the rest of my goals gave me lots of satisfaction. I started setting more quantitative goals, too, like saving X in my opportunity fund.
Projects: Now that life has settled down a bit and we have a stable foundation to build on, I’ve been learning more about setting goals, planning, and persisting through hobby projects. Whether it’s gardening, sewing, or woodworking, there are plenty of things I can imagine and make happen. Work provides plenty of goals, too, and I enjoy making progress towards them.
What have I learned about goals?
- If you don’t have them, you’ll drift, and you’ll end up following other people’s goals.
- Goals are great for shaping life.
- I like process-oriented goals more than outcome-oriented goals. That is, I tend to phrase my goals so that I focus on what I can control.
- I don’t particularly relate to the kinds of goals lots of people share in their life lists (ex: travel to all seven continents). Introspection helps me figure out my own goals.
- Drawing goals and regularly reviewing them is fun.
- It’s okay to let goals go when you outgrow them.
- Sharing your goals sometimes results in other people helping you with them, which is awesome.
- Don’t set yourself up for failure and self-hate. Pick goals that help you do better and that help you feel good as you work on them.
- A small paper notebook is a great way to keep sketches and lists of goals. Keep it handy so that you can add new ideas to it.