Where I learned Goal setting
I really learned goal setting in High School. One of the very best decisions I made in my life was to forgo the public school experience and attend a private Christian high-school which used an Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. A central facet of this curriculum is that students were allowed to "learn at their own pace," but never allowed to fail to push themselves. In order to accomplish these somewhat paradoxical goals, the school required us to engage in goal setting. This goal setting included long-term, academic quarter, weekly and daily goals.
Long term goals for a high-school student might be simply graduating in four years. For me it was graduating in four years with an adequate course background to be prepared for college. You have to start out with the long term goals and break that down into smaller goals. With this as my goal, I looked at college entrance requirements and figured out what would have to be accomplished to get into a school I wanted.
Following that, I could break up the requirements into the sixteen quarters of high-school and figure out how much work I would have to do in each quarter. I figured out right away what classes I would have to take in what order and how quickly I would have to move through them to accomplish my goals.
I broke those down into weekly goals and each day I set daily goals according to those weekly goals. Every day, when I would accomplish my goals, it would get me closer to my weekly, quarterly and long term goals. If I fell behind one day, that would mean I would need to dedicate extra time to that goal the next day.
Long term goals require dreams, AKA visions.
I have to admit that somewhere in college I lost track of having goals. My plans: to get through high-school and then college with certain GPA's in certain amounts of time were based in a dream I had, a vision for my life, an idea about who I was and what I wanted. My plan was to become a lawyer and stand up for Christian principles in the courts. While in college this dream suffered two major blows.
The first one was that the more I learned about law in my Political Science classes, which was my major, the less I liked it. Don't get me wrong, I loved that major. The political-philosophy classes were amazing and mind-transforming. The law classes, however, were awful. "Because the Legislature and Judiciary say so" was quite simply not an adequate answer for the questions that I had. So, I was working, suddenly, for something I realized I didn't want.
The second thing I learned was that "Christian principles" were more contested in the Christian community than I had thought. My Dad is a pastor and had been instrumental in my spiritual development. Suddenly I learned that not everybody, including those in our own movement, agreed with everyone else about what our principles are. I reached a point where I couldn't dismiss other opinions as being "non-Christian." This was coupled with my Dad being fired from a church into which he had invested vast amounts of time, treasure and talent. I was kind of disgusted with the "Christian" sub-culture at that time. So, how could I be a lawyer who stood up for Christian principles when I didn't agree with law and disagreed with other Christians about what Christian principles are?
As Jewel famously wrote, "Dreams last for so long, even after they're gone." The old dream's death throws got me through an entire major. I ended up with a double major in Political Science with a pre-law emphasis and Speech Communication.
It was in the second of these that I started to find my new direction, and in fact where I found my calling. That dream, that vision can be summed up in the title of my blog and webpage, The Rhetorical Quest. It is all about "coming to terms." My new vision is to be a person who seeks out and finds language in which I can articulate truth and reality and to share that language with others. It is a quest on which very old friends, like Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas help me to seek and where new possibilities are being explored by both myself and other questers every day.
The point is that while I was between visions, I floundered. My GPA dropped. Searching for something, for some vision, for some hope, for some plan I went places and did things that were not edifying. I was dying. Without a vision, the Bible tells us, people die (Prov. 29.18). I had no vision and was dying. Part of the reason I was dying is I had no reason to do anything. No vision meant no long term goals, which meant no short term goals, which meant no weekly goals, which meant no daily goals and every day was just spent existing.
The secret to goal setting.
Since that time, there have been setbacks. I can think of a couple major ones. When the Human Subjects Review Board lost my application in graduate school, that probably set me back by a year. When my contract was not renewed at Culver-Stockton College, that set me back, I'd say by two years. Even still, my dream is clear and from that I have created a set of long term and short term goals to bring it about. I am reaching my goals.
There are three secrets to goal setting. The first is don't bite off more than you can chew. Four years to get through high-school was reasonable. Two people with whom I graduated did it in three years. One or two years was not reasonable. My goal for graduate school was to get my PhD before I was 30, a goal I missed by 10 days. My current goal of getting tenure had to be adjusted. That goal was 40, but since I was derailed for a bit, I am now looking at tenure by the age of 42. That is reasonable. Any earlier than that, and I am looking for trouble.
The second is make sure your goals are YOUR goals, things you can mostly control. There are always things that happen beyond our control. I could get a million dollars in the mail tomorrow, and that might change some of my goals. I could also suddenly be struck with an awful disease that really messes me up for a while. Still, goals should be things that for the most part are under one's control. I cannot have a goal that my wife will lose weight or that my friend will come to Jesus. I can cook healthy food and share Jesus with my friend, however. Tenure here is based on a decision of a tenure committee, so it is kind of beyond my control, but I can compile over the next six or seven years evidence of service, research and teaching that would make it so that if they said no, they'd just be being mean.
Third, goals should push you. Going to work today is not one of my daily goals. I would do that anyway. What I accomplish today at work is part of my daily goals. I have goals for the next seven years and in order to accomplish them I will have to do more than just do my job and care for my family. I will have to cut out luxuries. I will have to teach summer classes and overloads. This is within my power to do. I also hope that I can get some corporate speaking engagements, but that is harder to guarantee. I will have to write like crazy. Every day I will need to get up and make a decision that will move me toward my daily goals.