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There’s goal setters, and then there’s sensible people

Roses don’t grow in tunnels, so the risk is these tunnel-visioned goal setters never get to smell their sweet scent. They also get little or no practice in making decisions, dealing with unexpected change or confronting failure. Because, as all goal setters know, failure is not an option.

The problem is that in life there are precious few things as static and predictable as a tunnel. There are choices to be made, and options and possibilities open up to us all the time, if only we were attuned to them, and practised and courageous enough to grab them.

On my morning commute I see drivers piling into tunnels despite large warning signs telling them there has been a breakdown. These motorists are so focused on their goal of using the tunnel, they seemingly lack the curiosity, risk tolerance, and decision-making skill to find an alternative and possibly better route.

It had all looked so promising: Australia's Nathan Lyon after being hit for 6 by England's Ben Stokes on the fourth day of the 3rd Ashes Test cricket match at Headingley on Sunday.

It had all looked so promising: Australia’s Nathan Lyon after being hit for 6 by England’s Ben Stokes on the fourth day of the 3rd Ashes Test cricket match at Headingley on Sunday.Credit:AP

The reality of life is that many things end in failure – just ask the Australian cricket team about Headingley. Our bodies ultimately give out. We all will die at some point or other. Before we get to that ultimate failure, there will be many more along the way.

You have probably had at least a trivial “failure” today, whether it is the photocopier running out of toner, or an ingredient for dinner being unavailable in your supermarket.

Options and possibilities open up to us all the time, if only we were attuned to them, and practised and courageous enough to grab them.

Goal setting doesn’t accommodate this everyday experience. The reality is that we are constantly having to readjust our plans in the aftermath of failures both great and small. In fact the ability to adapt, including recognising when to abandon a plan, when to temporarily suspend a plan, when to bring forward our plans, when to revise them, or even copy a competitor’s plans – these are the critical decision-making skills that may be even more important than pursuing any particular goal.

Just don’t try telling this to the tunnel-visioned goal setters, they are too focused on their goals for the time being.

We can only hope that eventually life will happen to them while they are busy making other plans, and hopefully the lesson won’t be as brutal as Headingley 2019.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to opinion@jimbright.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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