I’m going to describe three types of people. I call them average, elite, and ascendant. One of the differences between the three is how they approach goals and getting what they want.
The goal of goals
Average people don’t like concrete goals because there is a risk of failure. Average people tend to get what they want because what they want is, almost by definition, things they already believe themselves capable of getting. They prefer excuses and limitations as convenient reasons they can’t set big goals and go after big dreams.
Elite people love goals. Goals are visible and attract attention. They are driven by concrete goals that can be achieved with lots of work but which often mask deeper, underlying desires that are unobtainable. Elite people never really get what they want because whenever they achieve a new goal, they realize it wasn’t what they wanted and an empty frustration creeps right back.
The things elite people want are subjective – unequivocal recognition from others for being better than all rivals, being “great”, “wise”, and generally held in higher esteem than their peers. They use constant concrete goal setting as a way to notch items off their belt, hoping to level up to a place where these illusive perceptions become cemented for all time. They often achieve their material goals, but these never stack up high enough to take them where they think they want to go.
Ascendant people don’t really care much for goals one way or another. They play with them and experiment with them as tools to achieve various projects or develop habits, but they aren’t obsessed with concrete, material goals. Nor are they motivated by anyone else’s subjective assessment of their worth.
Ascendant people both get and don’t get what they want. They get it because what they want is progress, growth, meaning, challenge, and evolution. They want a journey that leads to another journey. They don’t get what they want because, well, they don’t want to. They want to chase the rabbit, not catch it. The chase isn’t something you can get, it’s something you can do. Ascendant people are directional, not locational. Life is a centered set, not a closed set. Everything either moves you toward or away from “up”; there is no “in” or “out”, there is only “toward”.
Ascendant people focus more on who they want to be than what they want to do or be titled. They create processes and habits and systems to move them closer, an inch at a time, to the kind of person they want to be, rather than focusing on specific end goals. They identify obstacles to progress and take action to overcome them. They test and refine processes, allowing the results to be a surprise. An example might be writing every day because the process moves you closer to the kind of person you want to be, vs. setting a goal to publish and sell X number of books. The daily practice tends to result in more powerful and unpredictable outcomes than predefined goals.
Ascendant people are not afraid of goals. Nor do they require them. They’re motivated by growth, and if goals can help, they’ll adopt some. They want to pursue more than obtain.
Isaac Morehouse is founder and CEO of Praxis. This is part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.