Monday, March 2, 2009

Pipe Dreams vs. Goals

Every so often my brain kicks into overdrive as I evaluate where I was, where I am, and where I am heading. This is where I have been this week. For many years I have kept an ongoing list of things to do before I die, and things I have already accomplished. These lists are sometimes in my head, but often written down in little notebooks that end up all over my house. I love to plan. I love to think strategically about how I will get from where I am to where I want to be. I keep 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year plans in the back of my head. These are my goals. I work towards them. I make progress, and I fall back, and I readjust my goals to real life. For the most part, I know where I am and where I want to be, and what it will take to get there.

There are goals for every aspect of my life (marriage, kids, education, career, finances, etc.). These goals include giving my children the best possible education and opportunities for the future that I can, but do not stop with my children, or my husband. It saddens me to think back at when I was so wrapped up with raising kids that I could not see past the toddler stage. But honestly, there was a time in my life when my only priority was making sure dinner was on the table and diapers were changed. Maybe it is because I am getting older and my kids are getting older, but as much as I want to devote to raising intelligent, productive kids into productive adults, that is not all. At the end of the day there has to be something left of me in order to draw the energy to keep going. One of the ways that I try to balance "me" in my attempt to not forget who I am or why I am here, is setting goals. It is so easy for me to get lost in the day to day activities of life.

But, before I could set goals and work to accomplish them, I had to understand the difference between a goal and a pipe dream. I know a lot of people with pipe dreams. I had a lot of them, for many years. For me a pipe dream is like a wish on a star. It is something that would be really nice, and I would like to get there, but it is either 1) not realistic, or 2) I talk about it but don't bother to make the effort to accomplish it. On the flip side, goals are 1) measured by a set of priorities, and 2) something I actively work towards.

Goals are different for everyone. If I ask 100 different people what their highest goals in life are, I would wager I'd get 100 different answers (that is not a scientific statistic, just my opinion). I would also guess that many people would confuse day to day tasks with life goals. When I look at individuals and how they invest their resources, their goals and the value they place on their priorities shine through.

Over the years, I think I have gotten better at determining the difference between my own pipe dreams and life goals. I don't want to be one of those people who looks back a hundred years from now and realize I squandered the time I had. Of all the resources at my disposal, some are for now and some are to be developed for future use. These resources include but are not limited to: time, money, education (formal and life lessons), relationships, inspiration and creativity.

So how do I measure my goals to make sure they are realistic and worth working towards? First and foremost I have to set those priorities. The one true measure of any goal or priority in my life is whether or not it will glorify God. Everything I do in this life, I want for His glory instead of my own. This focus will automatically eliminate a lot of pipe dreams that just aren't worth my time and energy thinking about. This also eliminates my need to make others happy or be what someone else determines I should be. I cannot be responsible for anyone else's happiness. Besides, happiness is fickle, it comes and goes depending on the environment and situation at the time. Life is full of ups and downs and spending precious resources trying to be up all the time or keep others up is just a huge waste of my time and energy. There is a better alternative to happiness, it is called peace, and it can only come from the God who created us. John 14:27 (NIV) states "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." This kind of peace holds firm int he middle of a storm. This is the peace that promises spring after a long harsh winter. This is peace that comes from surrender to something greater and bigger than oneself.

So, after setting goals that I can realistically accomplish, I have the responsibility to work towards them. Remember part 2 of the goals? If I don't actively work towards it, it is only a pipe dream. Settling for the status quo just isn't me. Just because things have been done a certain way in the past doesn't mean that I have to continue to do them that way. If the current path and daily tasks aren't moving me towards a specific goal, it is time to 1) re-evaluate if the goal is still worthwhile, and if so 2) change the daily tasks onto a path that leads to the goal. This is where I tend to get stuck and extremely frustrated. I see where I am, how far away from the goal I am, get frustrated, and the lazy side of my brain whispers that I have to give up on my goals. Wake up call, little voice. If the goal is still worthwhile, I change the tasks, and I can still achieve the goal.

Many times over the years I've changed my timetable of what I think I should have already accomplished. But, I am making progress. There are a lot of things that I have already completed, and many more still to be done. So this week I have spent evaluating where I was, where I am, and where I want to be.

Am I exactly where I want to be? No, but I am moving in that direction.
Can I see where I want to be? Oh yes.
Is it realistic? I think so.
Will it satisfy everyone else around me? Nope, but oh well.
Will it honor and glorify God? I think so.
Will it contribute to raising these kiddos into intelligent, articulate, contributing members of society? I think so.
Is it worth investing my resources into it? Yes.
Am I stuck wishing on a star for a pipe dream, or waiting for someone else to do it for me? Not anymore.

This is me. I am still becoming. And if you made it to the end of this rediculously long, rambling post, congrats. I wish for you a clear set of your own goals and the energy to accomplish them.


Scott Lord said...

As the incredibly blessed husband of this amazing woman, I can vouch, first hand, to the dedication and determination Erika puts forth concerning goals. I have lived my life in the knowledge that I have been created by God with specific talents, opportunities and gifts that He has entrusted me to use for his glory.

Until I had the good fortune I marrying Erika, I live life one day at a time, using the lifelong goal of being a good steward of the gifts given to me by God. Many times I look back and realize that despite the good intentions, I missed the opportunity God laid before me.

The wisdom of goal setting and benchmarking it at 1,3 and 5 years helps put the goals in a more "immediate" light. Now I look upon the day to day with a new perspective, and I see the results.

An example is our children. My goal is very much like Erika's and for me, it meant breaking the mold of my family and being a God fearing man. I have prayed, studied and learned the lessons of how to be a God honoring father and husband. And, believe, I feel that education has just begun!

However, where is the benchmaks that say I am moving forward? Our desire to adopt truly provided a test of how well I am doing.

The fact that the Lord overcame criticism from work, financial obstacles and even political ones in order for Him to provide us with another of His creations. It is proof to me that I am on the right path. Without the goal setting strategy that Erika talks about, I would not have had a benchmark.

Now I spend most of my quiet time looking, analyzing and praying that today I make that difference that Christ's commands his disciples to do. I look at long term and short term goals and make sure they align with my ultimate life goal; that I will stand in front of my Savior and hear the words "come in, my good and faithful servant."

Misty M. said...

Erica, I am inspired and encouraged by your post. I usually stop by your blog to enjoy the tales of having a large family and adoption. Two things that I encourage and that interest me. This post on goals is helpful to me because I am beginning to feel the awakening of some new goals in my life and new priorities. I am happy to see that being who God wants you to be and putting Him first is key to your plans. That is how my husband and I hope to be also. Unfortunatly the 1, 5, and 10 year plan type thing is so far beyond my grasp right now. We are constantly struggling with my husbands career setbacks and financial strain. At this point in our lives it is very hard to see beyond today. We have faith though. God has seen us through and will continue to do so and that is about all we have right now. As far as our goals -We have two little children and a strong desire for more and a strong desire for homeschooling and I have been convicted more and more lately of the importance of my role as mother and wife and homemaker as the ultimate priority. I have a lot of talents and skills and love to help others and do my own thing, but more and more I am able to let that go and focus on the goals that matter to God and my family. It is nice to come across encouragement like yours. I do want to set goals and like you I do like to plan. I have quit that however because my plans aren't always God's plans and I am trying to keep myself from getting in the way of His leading. Maybe others don't have that trouble. I also have what might be called a "pipe dream" but I guess it boils down to whether or not I decide to put the work in that is needed. Maybe some day I will be able to do that without neglecting my other priorities and it will become a reality instead. Thank you for pointing out the distinction. I also am very sensitive to that question you wrote: Will it satisfy everyone around me? Right now my husband and I are wanting to give God the control over when or if we have another child. Because of our current job situation, this will be looked upon as a stupid decision and believe me, we didn't arrive at it lightly. However, we feel convicted about it and feel that God will be pleased that we are having faith in Him to decide what is best for us and that we will be blessed by this decision. I can only imagine the reaction that wil occur in not only family but church friends as well who have demonstrated time and again, couple after couple that "two is enough" and then there is the surgery to end the possibilities. Well, It is good to hear someone say, don't worry about others, set your goals and priorities, see that God is in it, and proceed.
Thank you, I will be praying for your daughter.