07/10/2014 11:35 am ET Updated Sep 09, 2014

Why Goals Are Landmarks Meant to Be Passed, Not Reached

Yuji Sakai via Getty Images

It's probably fair to say that the majority of folks have some sort of goal, or list of goals, that they'd like to achieve one day. Whether its a career goal, a goal at home, or some personal goal that involves a hobby or task, goals are a great way to define an end point -- something to shoot for that somehow defines completion and success. But what happens if you reach that goal? What happens next? Do you just hang up your hat and call it good? Goals in and of themselves have the downside of not defining what happens afterwards, which is why there is benefit in not reaching your goal, but in breaking and surpassing it.

Goals are a way to understand where we are going, where we came from, and which direction to head toward. Humans dislike the idea of aimless movement, which feels wasted and useless. Like reading a map, we look for two things -- where we are now, and where we want to go. We then connect the two dots with a path that guides our direction. Once we get to where we're going, the map gets tossed back into the glove box. But in life, our destination doesn't define the end of a trip, only a stop over. What then? Typically, we continue on until we find the need to set another goal.

What if you set a goal for yourself to surpass your actual goal? What if your goal were to "drive by" a goal on the way to a bigger and better goal? When we read maps, we tend to do this already; while driving, we will look for key signs that we're on the right path. An address, a store, a park, or maybe a cross street -- each of these can be considered goals, albeit really small ones.

The point is simply this -- instead of setting a main goal for yourself, why not use that goal as a "landmark" for bigger and better goals? That goal of "Make $80k a year by the time I'm 30" should be more like "Make $80k a year by 30, so that I can make $100k by the time I'm 35." By this paradigm, you ultimately have no real end point. You simply skip from one goal to the next in succession, the whole time looking back at whether you hit those goals and what adjustments you had to make.

Take some time to look at your personal "map." Where are you now on your journey? Where did you really start? Don't use graduation as your answer -- it's way more detailed than that. What general direction do you want to head? And most importantly, do you have interim goals selected, to guide you and help you move forward?

Goals should be points along a path that guide you through life, and not destinations where you just stop and look around, wondering what's next. Reconsider your meaning of goals.

... because if you don't, you might one day find yourself lost, with no new destination in mind...