Your journey

Genius Purpose Change diagram

Crushing your goals

You will find a near-endless stream of personal coaches, fitness instructors, and self-help gurus on social media imploring and teaching you to “crush your goals.” They want you to set your sights on some ambitious accomplishment and will yourself to it. The formula is pretty straightforward: set a goal, work hard, keep working hard, accomplish your goal, bask in your accomplishment for a moment or two, and repeat, forever. This path, they seem to insist, is the path to success and fulfillment. 

This mindset has seemingly become ubiquitous across Western cultures, even among change agents. We all are striving toward some goal: a more toned body, more income, a fancier job title, a bigger house, better relationships, a deeper meditation practice, or a bigger positive impact on the world. For many, our goals have become a primary structure of our lives and a core measure of progress, success, and even self-worth. When we accomplish something, we feel incredible. When we don’t, we feel defeated and empty.

While many label this approach as “goals-oriented,” we might also think of it as “destination-oriented.” Through it, we are driven primarily by arriving at the destination of our journey. Satisfaction and validation come only when we arrive.

Slaves to the external

This destination-oriented mindset of course has its merits. By setting and dedicating ourselves to goals, we more easily focus on and realize what’s most important to us. We offer our lives a narrative arc that keeps us on track and staves off stagnation, laziness, and aimlessness. Perhaps most potently, achieving our goals gives us a metaphorical (and perhaps literal) dopamine rush. The satisfaction of finally achieving an ambitious goal is incredibly alluring, almost like a drug, pushing us ever forward to new heights. Goals offer us not only focus and direction but forward momentum.

But this approach also has some fundamental flaws. 

First, there is always another goal to crush, another mountain to climb. We can become addicts chasing that next high, each success less satisfying than the last, each new goal merely an attempt to ward off feelings of inadequacy and emptiness. Our very identity and self-worth become deeply entangled in what we accomplish. And enough is never enough. The craving always comes back. 

Second, we almost always set goals that are at least partially, if not mostly, out of our control. We don’t actually decide whether we get that promotion. We don’t decide whether someone votes for us or whether the economy will offer our new venture strong headwinds. We don’t even really control whether we attain a new level of meditation or better relationships. Through a goal-setting mindset, we so often give away our power, either to the opinion of others or to chance.

Through our fixation on goals and destinations, in a sense, we become slaves – to our insatiable appetite for that next high, to external forces beyond our control, and to our need for something beyond us to validate our existence.

Journey-oriented

Earlier we contrasted purpose to profit as a motivator. As change agents, we eschew a sole focus on personal gain and instead prioritize service to the world. Our reason for acting shifts from being self-oriented to service-oriented.

We can also contrast purpose to goals as a validator. Our sense of fulfillment and worth comes from internal progress (i.e., meaningful steps forward in the direction of our values), rather than external success and achievement. Our sense of worth shifts from being destination-oriented to journey-oriented.

Most people today use external accomplishments to measure and attain a sense of personal success. Purpose-driven leaders invert this approach. They use a sense of internal progress toward their values to measure and attain their sense of social impact. They don’t measure their success at work, for example, by whether they get a promotion. They measure it by whether they showed up at work in a way they are proud of. Their own internal sense of integrity, dedication, and growth become their validation, meaning, and success. 

To be sure, goals can be and often are vital to this process. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone being particularly purposeful in practice without setting some goals. But the purpose-driven leader acknowledges goals as merely tools to help focus and align themselves. They are means, not ends. Achievement is but a byproduct of a fuller, deeper sense of success.

Through inverting the typical motivation-validation paradigm and becoming journey-oriented, purpose-driven change agents access a more sustainable, stable, and reliable sense of fulfillment and self-worth. They no longer rely on someone or something beyond their control. They control their own actions. They control how they feel about themselves.

Through that, they develop incredible resilience to the ebbs and flows of life. By choosing the rush and exhilaration of the quest over that of the arrival or the achievement, they fortify themselves in a way that others cannot. All of a sudden, the failures, wrong turns, and setbacks that are inevitable to any meaningful change effort, and yet so devastating to many,  become mere blips on their radar, lessons, opportunities to grow and course-correct.

Change is the destination, purpose is the journey

Most change agents more than anything seek tangible change in the world. We often desperately want to see a more prosperous, equitable, sustainable, and beautiful world for all. And we want to grow into the version of ourselves that can most help make that world a reality.

But through that, we often fall into the same trap as the goals-oriented leader. We measure our sense of worth by whether we personally are able to enact meaningful change. We judge the world and our society by whether it arrives at justice, sustainability, prosperity, etc.

We’ve used the metaphor of the hero’s journey to describe change agents’ relationship to change. The change agent is the hero. Their genius is the power that fuels them, helps them to traverse the terrain, and orient themselves to their true north. Change is the transformation that occurs within the hero and their world once they’ve succeeded. It is the intended destination of the journey.

Purpose is the journey itself. 

We are not on a journey to change. We are not on a quest for meaning. Our journey is the change. Our quest is the meaning. As Rainier Maria Rilke said in Letters To A Young Poet:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Embarking on our change journeys and living our purpose are profoundly meaningful and fulfilling experiences. They can be quite literally the adventure of our lifetime.

But they are also bittersweet. When embarking on our journey, it might at first appear that change is our destination. But this is ultimately an illusion. There is no destination. We never actually arrive. The change we most want for ourselves and the world will never fully come to be. Even if we are able to summit the highest mountain in sight, another will appear along the horizon. There will always be a higher, fuller expression of truth, justice, harmony with Earth, peace, and prosperity. There will always be new values to dream up and strive toward.

The only true fulfillment available to us does not come from arriving at our destination. Invariably, we will find any perceived destination of ours is simply a mirage. True fulfillment comes from answering the call, embarking on the path, and earnestly moving forward in the direction of our values. Through living the questions, through living the quest, we become our own masters, our own validation, our own meaning. 


This lesson is drawn from our training program Change 101. To access the full lesson, including images, diagrams, exercises, resources, and comments, join Change Community and enroll.

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