Last week, I wrote a piece for Psychology Today exploring how resilient leaders can rotate between their goals effectively. In it, I reflected on how often I see people striving to focus single-mindedly on achieving one, macro goal yet feeling frustrated and worn in the process.
The challenge with single-minded goals is that most of our lives are not equipped to service them. We fill multiple roles, often in our life and the lives of those around us. We transition through these roles actively and inactively throughout the day, and in most of these roles we have goals. There is just no space for one, all-consuming aim.
So the question becomes why do we work so hard or, more often, feel so much pressure to maintain single-minded focus on any one goal?
First, I believe it is because our culture looks upon those rare individuals who are single-minded in their focus with a kind of reverence. People like Steve Jobs are famous for their determined and uncompromising approach to achieving goals. John Forbes Nash, the Nobel-prize winning mathematician who was the subject of the book A Beautiful Mind, is another classic example of the lauded, singlaly-focused individual. You can likely call to mind athletes, artists, and others who have a reputation (if not fame) that also fits this pattern.
Second, we may also feel the pull toward single-minded goal achievement because we see successful organizations using this strategy. BMW, Uber, Apple, and Oxfam are all renowned for their commitment to one, often simply-stated goal. I call this a superordinate goal (i.e. "ending childhood poverty," or "reshape personal technology). In organizations, we see that the clearer the mission, the better chances you have of achieving unified results.
Both of these macro-goal influences are pretty inspiring. But both of them are exceptions to how most of us live and work. For example, when we look at individuals with superordinate goals we see they they tend to eschew filling multiple roles in their life. The wear only a few hats, and avoid or pay support staff to handle the other hats.
Similarly, an organization can focus on superordinate goals because to do so takes considerable time, resources, and varied skill sets just to attempt let alone achieve.
The frameworks that make these two groups able to be so focused is uncommon, but that is OK because most people rarely live lives with a single goal or mission. We live lives of varied roles and varied goals. And while it may be tempting to order it all into a singular purpose with a singular outcome, we must not give in to the pressure to do so.
Truly, I find life is experienced more richly when we eat, breathe, and sleep the evolving tapestry of our many roles and goals. I am sure you do as well.