How Having Goals Can Hurt You

How Having Goals Can Hurt You


I’ve written several times now about living without goals. And not needing goals to be successful.

Stacking Benjamins wrote a wonderful post about how getting out of debt isn’t a goal. Debt is an obstacle getting in the way of you reaching your goals.

Your goal shouldn’t be to get out of debt. Your goal shouldn’t be to early retire. Your goal shouldn’t be to get X degree.

I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t experienced it.

Living to Prove Them Wrong

Because I was actively discouraged from going to college by my mother and stepfather, I made up my mind that I was going to prove them wrong. They told me numerous times that I would get knocked up and drop out of school. They said I would move back in a year because it was too hard. They said I wouldn’t be able to handle it. They said I wasn’t smart enough. They said I would fall in love and get married. They said a lot of things to keep me under their control in a hostile living environment.

I spent my four years of undergraduate remembering every hurtful thing they said. And every day I lived to “prove them wrong.” I was going to college to “prove them wrong.” I graduated just to “prove them wrong.”

And I did prove them wrong. I didn’t get knocked up. I didn’t drop out. I didn’t move back. I have a college degree.

Once I graduated, I stopped and asked myself, “what now?” I was only 21 and already achieved the only goal I had been focusing on. I proved them wrong…. and so what?

Did they care? Nope. Did it make me feel better? A little bit. But I had never stopped to think about what college would provide me. I never made goals past graduating. I didn’t have plans of what I actually wanted to do with that degree. I focused so long and hard on obtaining it. What was I supposed to do with it?

Tunnel Vision

There can be a tunnel vision with goals. It is important to stop away for a moment and ask yourself:
Why is this important?
Do I still want this?
What will this get me?
What will I do after this goal is reached?

Especially for long-term goals like debt repayment, schooling, and entrepreneurship. Your values change over the years. Your goals and priorities change over the years.

What Are My Student Loans Preventing Me From Doing?

When thinking about the student loan debt I still owe, I’ve been telling myself “I want to be debt free” for a while now. I will feel better. I will be able to say it. I am tired of ‘being in debt.’ But when I stop to think about what that debt is preventing me from doing… I can’t think of a thing. I could travel more but that’s not something I’m sad about now. I would have a big emergency fund, but again not a big deal. Luxuries. I am missing out on luxuries.

This helps to provide a release. I have my repayment plan in place (automatic withdrawals) so I don’t need to spend mental exhaustion worrying about my debt. It’s there but it’s not hurting me. I don’t need to let it hurt me. Instead I can focus on bigger things. Let the debt sit on the back burner. Because what will happen when I pay it off. I didn’t have a plan last time so I better get one now.

Let’s Reassess

Let’s take a minute to reassess goals you may have now. Generally, “getting rid of X” isn’t a good motivator which is why we often don’t do it. Instead you need to look at why you want to get rid of X. Whether it’s getting rid of debt, getting rid of clutter, getting rid of clothes that don’t fit, or getting rid of negative influences; without having a solid reason to focus on, you will never do these things.

Stop and think for a minute, how will you feel when these things are out of your life? Now, what will you be able to do in your life without them that you cannot currently do now?

Really take a minute to think about it and write it down. How will your life be different after you’ve gotten rid of these things? I could simplify my thought of “prove them wrong” to actually be “getting rid of negative influences.” I wish I had that chance to stop and think about what I could do with my life once those influences were gone.

Stop Using Negative Language

Thinking about “removing something” because you don’t like it or it makes you feel bad puts a lot of focus on that “something”. You are spending a lot of energy thinking about that “something.” Saying “I want to get rid of debt” puts so much energy onto the word “debt”. You are constantly thinking about debt and how you don’t want it. I was constantly thinking about my negative family and all the hurtful things they said. By saying “prove them wrong”, I was focusing on “them” rather than on me.

Change these negatives to a positive! Replace the word “remove” with “build”. Replace “get rid of” with “gain”. You don’t want to get rid of debt, you want to build a solid financial future. You want to build a cushy emergency fund. You want to gain travel experiences. You want to gain business opportunities.

I didn’t want to prove my negative family wrong, I wanted to gain an education. I wanted to build a solid foundation for my future. I wanted to gain independence. I wanted to build a strong life for myself and my own family down the line.

Start thinking long-term about what you want out of life. Think about what is preventing you from doing things. And what things are you being prevented from doing. Focus on positive words like growing, gaining, building, or learning. Give less energy to the words that bring negative feelings like debt, work, “them”, or clutter.


13 Replies to “How Having Goals Can Hurt You”

  1. Wow, I’m sorry you grew up in such a negative household. That’s awesome that you were able to prove them wrong WHILE creating a better, independent life :)

    Okay, so instead of getting out of debt, I want to gain more experiences in the form of travel and culinary delights (so basically eating out more). I want to build wealth and reach financial independence so I can work on projects I’m passionate about. I want to own every dollar I make.

    1. I want to own every dollar I make.

      That’s a great way to look at it! It’s your money, without debt, you get to actually keep it.

  2. OMG – My dad said the exact same things as your so-called parents. And like you I had no idea what I would do after I got that degree. I guess I thought that piece of paper would allow me to live happily-ever-after. In addition to student loans I was also penniless when I graduated, making that first year a real struggle. It all worked out in the end and I can guarantee I would be much worse off financially if I never went to college. My debt is all paid off, but I’m pretty much at a loss as to what is next. I’m using my blog to help me figure it out.

    1. I am sorry you also had to deal with negative & berating comments like that from your father. I’m pretty sure I also thought that once I had my degree, life would be perfect with rainbows. Well, it has been compared to my childhood. But it still left me pretty directionless. I definitely would be worse off if I didn’t attend college – definitely no regrets there. Using your blog to write out your thoughts on life is a great tool for figuring things out!

  3. That sucks about your family life. You have accomplished so much for moving past that mindset. My goals are to be financially secure so I can travel the world, be generous with friends, family, and strangers, have more adventurous experiences and feel safe. I can totally see how having one straight goal can shoot you in the foot — once that goal is accomplished, you think , ‘now what?’.

    1. You highlight two really good goals: being generous and feeling safe. I do think one aspect of being in debt is you could lose focus of others because you spend a lot of time in a “woe is me i’m in debt” bubble and you actually can’t afford to give to charities. I volunteer a lot because I don’t have the money to donate but I would love to be able to comfortably do both!

  4. I grew up in a pretty negative household as well. My sisters tend to be some of the most negative people I know.
    Interestingly, I think most people would say that I’m one of the most positive people they know!

    Has my positivity affected my views on how to become a millionaire? Absolutely! I’m must better off financially then not only my sisters, but also many of my peers, colleagues and friends.

    Being excited about having financial goals (with many hurdles along the way) is helping me achieve amazing outcomes!

  5. Hey, I know the guy who wrote that post! :-)

    Your post makes me feel lucky that I had parents who encouraged me to “go faster.” In fact, my main issue with my parents is that–through no fault of their own–they didn’t have a clue how to help me get there. While my friends were getting homework help I had to do my best alone….just because they didn’t know how to do the work. And college? They loved that I was going, but had no clue how to help me choose a major or focus on better employers.

    Thanks for the mention and for the sharing your story. I love that you’re focusing on the goals and not the hurdles…..

    1. As an adult, I can see that perhaps my mother & stepfather were insecure in their shortcomings and only wanted me to follow a life path that they could relate to. I know my mother felt, “If it’s good enough for me, why isn’t it good enough for you?” It’s great that your parents supported you emotionally even if they didn’t know how to support you otherwise!

  6. What a terrible thing to say to your child! :( I can see where you’d want to “prove them wrong.” This was a great post though, and I can see your point. I think about what you said when it comes to work. I keep thinking about how I want to get out of my current situation, but I need to know exactly what it is I don’t like about it so I don’t fall into the same trap. Hard to do sometimes though….hard to pinpoint.

    1. It really is especially because it’s not always one single thing. But usually a combination of internal and external factors. It’s difficult to sort out what is affecting what and to prevent that in the future. Take some time to really think about it!

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