I’m terrible with setting goals (or more accurately, at staying focused on goals I’ve set). While I used to view this weakness with great frustration, I’ve since developed a different view. Most of us have been taught the value of clearly charted paths and goals. We’ve heard stories of a bankrupt business person who sets lofty goals, refuses to waver, and finally realizes his/her dreams.
Yet this isn’t reality. Life and learning do not flow along clearly defined paths. Our needs change, circumstances change, and or skills change. Various common phrases catch the spirit of this learning/life in transition: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”, “Luck is what happens when prepardness meets opportunity”. Behind each statement is the notion of personal preparedness in response to the environment in which we exist. Learning, unlike the notion of goal setting, is an intermingling (a dance) with the dynamics of our personal and work environments. Goal setting says, this is what I will achieve. In essence, it says redefine your environment to meet your desires. Life may work that way sometimes. Usually, our learning is in response to the alterartions in our environment.
If goal setting is too restrictive, what is the option? I don’t have an ideal metaphor, but the concepts of principles/guidelines/frameworks have some merit. Rather than trying to force our way goals, the focus is on creating a structure that is aware of and responsive to the environment around. When I used to spend time training staff in the hospitality field, I found it very challenging to teach “principle thinking”. Staff preferred more rigid barriers. Yet the more specific the training, the less useful it is in other situations. If I teach a staff member steps to handling a guest who is upset with a misplaced reservation, I’ve provided a prescription to a problem, not a framework transferable to other situations. Similarly, goal setting is a personal learning task that functions best according to principles (instead of prescriptions). Some one who sets a goal and achieves it by sheer focus may overlook many other more valuable opportunities.