Why I Don’t Need To Set Goals

By Linda Escalera Price

I HATE goals. I know, I’ve mentioned this before. But I really do. So I don’t set them.

Here’s my rationale.

  1. I don’t need goals to give me direction – I know where I’m headed.
  2. I don’t need goals to get things accomplished – I know what things I want to get done.
  3. If I use goals to motivate me and I miss a goal, I won’t have any motivation.
  4. I have no idea how to set a realistic goal.

I think in metaphors. So the more I worked at convincing myself I was right – I don’t know how to create goals and I don’t need them anyway – the more metaphors I created. As I explored those metaphors so I could write this post and explain why I don’t NEED goals, it suddenly hit me:

I set goals every single day without thinking about it.

  1. I’m going for a walk (or goal-setting for direction.)

This is not my brother, but you get the idea.

During a crisis in his life, my brother took a walk. A four-hour walk in one direction including crossing a state line. He called me from a bar (pre-cell phone days) to tell me he didn’t know where he was or how to get home. I told him to have the bartender call him a cab. I’ve never done that. (Walked for 4 hours in one direction, I mean. I have had a bartender call a cab.) When I go for a walk, I make a deliberate choice to go. I put on shoes appropriate for the terrain, I dress according to the weather. I decide which path I’m going to take with a goal of returning home without a cab. So I not only give myself some direction, I prepare for what I think lies ahead. Have I taken a shorter route that I originally planned because of weather? Sure. Having goals doesn’t mean you don’t adapt to changing circumstances. But it gives you a basic plan.


  1. I’m going to the grocery store (or goal-setting to accomplish something specific.)

I make grocery lists. I don’t always put everything I need on the list. I usually don’t remember to take the list with me. But I’ve never walked into a grocery store because I had half and hour to kill. Yes, I have left the store with 2 bags full of groceries and gotten home without the specific item I came in for. But I usually can accomplish whatever task drove me to the store in the first place – for example, I make dinner, even if it’s not exactly the dinner I had planned. And even if I’ve managed to put everything I need on the list and I have the list in my hot little hand, Publix can be out of what I need. So I adapt and I choose what that adaptation looks like – buy a different brand or a different item or stop by Harris Teeter on the way home or make a completely different meal. But without an idea of what I’m trying to do in the first place, a trip to the store is a waste of time. Having a goal enables me to stay focused instead of wandering.


  1. I’m late for lunch (or missing a goal.)


    No cement mixer today.

I never run late. Never. (Which is why my post is usually the last one of the month.) The other day I was meeting someone for a working lunch with a time sensitive issue. So I left my house extra early. And made it exactly 200 feet before I got stuck in construction traffic. Workers were pouring foundations for new townhouses – their cement trucks creating a complete roadblock. They told me to take “the back way out.” My street ends in a cul-de-sac. It was clear I was going to miss lunch. That didn’t make me go home and give up. I called my colleague and we adapted. Our goal was to finish everything that afternoon – even though we missed the timetable, we didn’t give up on the job.


  1. I’m planning a trip to Machu Picchu in 2017 (or setting realistic goals.)

NGS Picture Id:2201249

For the past year I have been dealing with a lot of difficult things in my life – one crisis after another. My eyes were focused on my feet as I took baby steps across rocky terrain. And then someone told me “Find something to reward yourself when this is all over. That’s your focus when things get really tough.” I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. So that is my new focal point. But it’s a pricey trip. And I need to be in a place where I can leave for a week or more – and be unreachable. (I seriously hope there is no cell phone coverage on The Inca Trail.) If I tried to go on that trip this February, I’d be setting myself up for failure, and I would be sorely disappointed. The trip is not going to happen tomorrow, and it’s not going to happen this summer. Next year is very doable. But the planning needs to begin now. If I wait until this time next year to begin planning to in February, I’d never get to Peru. (Not to mention it’s the rainiest month at Machu Picchu so I wouldn’t want to go then anyway.) Am I picking an exact date right now? No. I want to be a little more flexible than that. But the planning has started.

So it’s clear we all set goals everyday about mundane things. (Okay, Machu Picchu isn’t mundane, but I’m making a point!) And we all adapt when we need to. Why do we think we aren’t capable of doing it in regards to our writing? Are you writing and writing and writing your way across a state line but never finishing the screenplay or never submitting the poem? Are you writing and writing and writing aimlessly with no idea of what you want to accomplish, no idea of what the arc of your novel is? Are you writing and writing and writing focused on a goal, but walk away from your computer or pen and paper if you don’t quite reach it? Are you writing and writing and writing but finding yourself disappointed over and over and over again because you haven’t found an agent who wants to represent someone who has only written two short stories.

I don’t know about you, but my writing is more valuable – even if it’s only valuable to me – than a trip to the grocery store or a walk in the woods or working lunch. It’s more important to me than getting to Machu Picchu. If I’m going to take it more seriously that picking up milk, I need to let go of my bugaboo about goals. My writing not only needs goals – it deserves them. So does yours.

Here are a few of mine:

  1. The Chain – several of my blogmates have written on this before. I’ve hung a calendar on my fridge and each day I write I make an X on the day. The goal is to not break the chain.
  1. Submission Month – A few years ago when my novelists friends did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) I did a submission month where I submitted a script a day for 30 days. I’ve penciled in September but I might move it forward.
  1. Have Somebody Knows My Name ready for Submission Month.
  1. Creating more goals as the year goes by. Goal-setting shouldn’t be restricted to January.

How about you????




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