Once a long time ago I took a drive with a friend of mine. We started in Los Angeles, and our only goal was to make it to some city in New Jersey within a certain amount of time. I think it was something like five days. That’s about three thousand miles over five or six days, which is a lot of driving each day.
We had the route planned out, and our destination was clear enough, and the math was all figured out. Our basic plan was to wake up at six every morning, and start driving. We didnâ€™t even figure on mileage per day, we just figured if we drove for twelve hours a day, with a minimum of stopping, we’d make it in time.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Only there was one thing we neglected to take into consideration. While this small detail didn’t affect the overall outcome of the trip, it made it a little bit more troublesome than we’d anticipated.
I had a friend once that really enjoyed math, and so he majored in math in university. He never really knew what he was going to do, he only knew that he liked math. He ended up being a high school teacher, but for a while he was a bit worried. When he graduated, he started looking through the want ads, and going to job seminars, and even went as far as to sign himself up with a few headhunters.
The thing about a degree in math is that by itself, it’s not all the applicable to very many industries. If you studied some kind of applied math like statistics, or actuarial science, you can do pretty well for yourself. I remember even reading several years ago about some huge ranking a major newspaper did on different jobs, using all kinds of factors like salary, working conditions, opportunities for advancement, etc. And an Actuary was ranked number one.
But my friend didn’t study any applications, just basic math theory. I think they called it foundations. Most people who focused on that aspect of math usually went on to get their PhD’s or something. Which was why my friend was a bit worried.
He figured just by doing something that he liked, that would be enough. Luckily, he really enjoys his teaching job, and he graduated when there was a severe shortage of math teachers in the public schools, so he could pretty much choose any school he wanted. But had he majored in something like history, or art or something, he wouldn’t have been nearly as lucky.
My other friend was much more specific. He studied a specific branch of electrical engineering. And when he was only halfway through university he already had talked to several different companies, and knew exactly what kind of people they hired, and what kinds of extra curricular backgrounds they liked for their fresh graduates. Needless to say, he was much more focused, and when he graduated he already had several offers lined up. And they were all for quite a bit of money. That must have been a pretty good feeling at graduation ceremony.
I went to this seminar once on goal setting. It was one of those local things they have every now and then down at the learning annex. This guy was saying that there are two kinds of goals. There are directional goals, and milestone goals. He said the directional goals are like walking toward the horizon. You will always walk in the same direction, but no matter how far you go, the horizon will always be a fixed location way off in front of you.
So long as you pick a point off in the distance, you’ll keep walking in the same direction. But if you only have a directional goal, it’s easy to get discourage, as you will never seem to make any progress. It’s tough to stay focused through will power alone.
On the other hand, there are milestone goals. Like if you pick something specific, and you know exactly what will happen when you achieve. Not only will you have something solid to look forward to, but you’ll also have evidence that you’ll collect along the way.
But if you only have a bunch of milestone goals, you could very well end up walking in a circle, so to speak. Each time you achieve your goal, you could pick another one, but if may take you back toward where you started. It’s easy to fall into a trap of oscillating back and forth between two extremes.
The best is to have a combination of the two. When you choose a solid directional goal, and several milestone goals that are lined up in the same direction, it would be like walking toward the horizon, and achieving several significant goals every so often along. These will be enough to keep you motivated and keep you going, and the horizon will always be there beckoning you to keep going. If you keep this up, pretty soon you’ll be accomplishing some pretty fantastic stuff, as they will tend to increase in size along the way.
The easiest way is to pick something way off in the distance, and then work your way backwards until you have several small pieces of achievements laid out in front of you just waiting for to start walking along your path and scoop them up along the way.
The funny thing that happened to us on the way to New Jersey was we’d get to six or seven at night, and figure we’d done enough driving. So we decide to stop for the night, only to look on our map and find that the next town wasn’t for another hundred miles or so. And when you’ve been driving for twelve hours, and you’re about ready for a cheeseburger and a couple beers, and a soft bed, another hundred miles is a long way.
But at least it was a hundred miles in the right direction. I’d hate to imagine what it would be like to realize we made a mistake and had to turn back for a hundred miles. That would be devastating.
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