Reflections on goals

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

– Winston Churchill on May 13, 1940, in “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat”, his famous first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons

Goals are everywhere and of all time. Goals are important. Goals inspire and mobilize resources like no other. They propel people and businesses forward, forward to growth, improvement, and success or the opposite or any point in between. They give a sense of purpose, focus and ambition. Goals signify motion from point A to B. Motion is often viewed as superior to standing still, which is potentially similar to going backwards in a continuously moving environment. Goals differ in magnitude. Some goals are big, vague or abstract. Other goals are small or concrete. Some goals require a lot of time and effort while others are quick or effortless. Some goals require cooperation; other goals one can reach solo. Some goals face opposition or are controversial. Some goals are static and do not change whereas others change and transform. Some goals are close to point A while other goals are far away. Yet, in some cases, before reaching that particular kind of goal, other points or goals in-between require reaching or achieving. Sometimes we know what our goals are, sometimes we do not, sometimes we know in hindsight, sometimes we never know. Some goals we may reach without realizing we reached them or even had them. However, a goal is there to achieve something. A choice to act, realize or complete that point. Indeed, it is a triumph, an accomplishment, and an outcome in its purest form. It is a point where before and after are distinctly different.

As such, goals come in many forms, circumstances and disguises. See below table for a brief overview of several terms related to goals, with their meaning clarified through Oxford dictionary definitions.

Goal The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result: the destination of a journey or literary a point marking the end of a race Aspiration A hope or ambition of achieving something Motivation A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way
Aim *A purpose or intention; a desired outcome

*Verb – [With object] point or direct (a weapon or camera) at a target

*[No object] have the intention of achieving

Ambition *A strong desire to do or achieve something

*[Mass noun] desire and determination to achieve success

Reason *A cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event

*[Mass noun] good or obvious cause to do something

Purpose *The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists

*A person’s sense of resolve or determination

Success *The accomplishment of an aim or purpose

*Archaic the good or bad outcome of an undertaking






The way a thing turns out; a consequence

A thing that is caused or produced by something else; a consequence or outcome

The path to reaching goals and the achievement or non-achievement of goals has certain consequences. Some paths are bold and involve costs in various ways. Some costs are extremely high; in Churchill’s words “victory at all costs”. Some people are of the view that the costs are too high, such as in this case; a number of historians, while admiring Churchill’s determination, argue that “Churchill’s resolution was reckless and a colder, more calculating policy – a policy matched more realistically to England’s actual resources – would have yielded far better results.” (see Grimsley, 2012). This potential conflict is especially apparent when people, governments or businesses have one goal or multiple goals and somehow manage them. So goals and the associated path to reach them may unite and or divide at the same time.

Do people operate in this world without goals? I think some people do, some more so than others. Goals facilitate action for many, while goals may stifle others. The goal-setting literature acknowledges that people who set goals feel less satisfied with their performance than people who do not set goals (see Heath et al., 1999). Perhaps this is traced back to expectations; if assessment of performance occurs based on previously held expectations then there is potentially a discrepancy, which is non-existent for people who hold no expectations. Do people achieve things without goals? Can achievement “just” happen? In other words, are goals a requisite for achievement? And can some achievements also be viewed as retrospective goals? What do you think?


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