Failure is most often defined as not reaching one’s goals. The imperative to set goals is found in virtually every self-help/success book.
“A fellow must know where he wants to go, if he is going to get anywhere,” says Dr. William Menninger. “The people who go places and do things…know what they want and are willing to go an extra mile.”
There is some truth to that, of course. But there’s an even deeper truth that must be realized for goals to have any positive meaning or impact in our lives.
“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life,” says Mark Twain. “The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.”
Certainly, defining what we want — our goals — is fundamental to success. But even more fundamental is knowing not what we want, but why we want it.
Truly successful people understand their “why” before striving for any “what.”
Before we set goals, we must first develop a clear and authentic definition of success. Our worthy “whats” are determined by truthful “whys.”
Achieving inauthentic goals does not constitute success. In fact, it’s usually a more tragic failure than not achieving the right goals.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
What if our goals are misguided? What if they’re the product of parroting imposed social scripts, rather than writing our own?
What if, to paraphrase Stephen Covey, we climb our goal ladder only to find that we had leaned it against the wrong wall?
Are we pursuing material wealth because it’s truly part of our personal, authentic definition of success, or because the message that wealth equates success is drilled into our brains from birth?
Worthy goals can only be determined after we’ve defined success for us individually.
No one wants a drill; we want a hole, or what a drill can do for us. A goal is a drill. But what are your “holes”? What do you want your goals to do for you, or for the world?
For example, I have a goal to publish another book (drill). But what I really want is to help others exercise their power of choice more wisely — to think, dream, learn, do, and become more (hole).
In other words, the goal of publishing a book is secondary to my definition of a successful outcome. Goals are simply means to greater ends.
Our definition of success determines which goals are worthy of our purpose and which are misguided, inauthentic distractions. Any time we change our definition of success, the goals we pursue and how we achieve them also changes drastically.
All too often we feel like failures when we compare ourselves to others. But this feeling does not come because we haven’t achieved the same goals as other people. Rather, it comes because we’ve failed to define our own success and have bought into their definition.
Envy is the result of not being in tune with who we are, what God wants us to do and become, what we were born to accomplish.
For example, you may envy a young millionaire. But if you knew his wealth was earned at the expense of his family, would you really want to trade places with him? Does he really have what you want?
Envy dissolves when we define success for ourselves, as based on 1) an intimate relationship with and firm allegiance to God, and 2) an authentic understanding of our unique gifts, passions, values, and purpose.
Failure is not falling short of one’s goals. It is the result of pursuing the wrong goals for the wrong reasons.
Stephen Palmer is a writer and entrepreneur devoted to helping people conquer limitations, maximize their potential, and achieve true freedom.
He is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, the founder of Life Manifestos, and the author of Uncommon Sense: A Common Citizen’s Guide to Rebuilding America.
He co-authored the New York Times bestseller, Killing Sacred Cows: Overcoming the Financial Myths that are Destroying Your Prosperity. He is also the co-author of The Conscious Creator: Six Laws for Manifesting Your Masterpiece Life.
Stephen and his wife are raising their four children in southern Utah.