12/19/2014 04:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Keeping Our Eyes on the Ball: When (And Where) Expectations Meet Goals


The goal in baseball is clear: to score a home run. In real life, keeping our goal in sight and mind may be more complex than tracking a baseball in the air. We can get distracted, waylaid and discouraged before we're able to swing a bat, hit the ball and score the run.

Mr. W. for example, felt isolated after the death of his wife. For years, he had dreamed about writing his life story. Expecting to meet people to encourage him, he joined a writing group. In the beginning, he found the group to be supportive. But when one member suggested he change the focus of his essay, he felt criticized and angrily withdrew from the circle. Instead of seeking out another venue to pursue his goal, he allowed anger and hopelessness to overcome him, acting as if he'd been defeated, tackled and knocked to the ground,

Although he blamed others, perceiving the obstacle to be outside himself, he was responsible for keeping his eye on the ball, the goal of writing his story. Had he kept his aim in mind, he might have reconsidered his decision to withdraw from his writing group.

Often, life doesn't conform to our expectations and instead throws us curves, conflicting messages that alternate between encouragement and discouragement.

Another example is found in the recent film The Imitation Game, the story of Alan Turing, the mathematician considered the father of the modern computer. An outlier who evokes criticism, misunderstanding and abuse from people throughout his life, from schoolmates to military officials, he persists in his objective to break the German code of "Enigma," save lives, and put an end to WW II.

Another real life example is Ms. B. Employed at a clinic she received appreciation for years until the administration changed. Although her work performance remained beyond reproach, no one seemed to care. Instead of feeling disheartened and quitting, she reframed her expectations. Her goal was not to be appreciated, but to do a good job and earn a salary.

Conclusion: We do well to define our ambition in order to gain the clarity of a baseball player who keeps his eye on the ball and home plate as his goal.