When the world is chaotic and everything’s uncertain, it’s easy to lose focus on our end goals. End goals define results that we’re unwilling to compromise, and center on what we want to achieve. Means goals, in contrast, center on how we want to achieve something. For example, if I want to spend more quality time with my family (end goal), my means goals might be changing my work hours or being creative with my schedule.
Often, we confuse means goals with end goals. We choose college majors, career paths, and life paths as if they were ends in themselves, when in reality they’re a means to an end. In times of ambiguity we tend to focus more on the means than on the ends, because the future is hard to see and we are busy reacting in the moment, versus responding based on what we want.
Despite the uncertainty of this moment, it’s a good time to consider our end goals and the means of achieving them. End goals should be infused with meaning and purpose. When they are, they provide the energy needed to move forward. And we will need that energy, because in life we will sometimes fail. The path to our end goals is rarely a straight line.
My little brother wanted to find a job that provided for him and his family. It was also important to him to like what he did and be good at it. He thought going to college was the answer . . . and he lasted three weeks. Yet, twenty years and a few jobs later he is in a position he is exceptionally good at and is providing for his family. His end goal is being met by a different means than going to college.
Because life is full of twists and turns, we should grip our end goals tightly and the means loosely. Many people have had to pivot dramatically during the last few months. Maybe your 2020 business plan was turned upside down overnight — which can feel dire. But keep in mind, is your goal to have that particular plan, or is your goal something more? Like serve your customers or have an impact in the community? There may be multiple paths to reach the end you want. Means are not carved into stone –they are fluid and flexible. In times like these, when many of us are experiencing setbacks – focusing on the end goals also allows us to find a different path.
While we shouldn’t focus solely focus on our end goals, it is helpful to take some time to think about what we really want. Ask yourself:
1. What do I want that I am unwilling to compromise?
2. If I can only accomplish one thing, what would be worth my time, energy, and effort?
3. What gives me a sense of meaning? What gives me a sense of purpose?
4. What impact do I want to make personally and professionally?
Ultimately, pause to reflect on the connection between your end goals — your purpose and your vision — as well as the individual choices that you’re making in the moment and over time.
Do your choices align with who you want to be and the impact you want to have? Do your means match your ends?