In Defense of “Meaningless” Goals
The value of living free of metrics and pursuing things for the sake of it.
Dad and I were driving to the gym and talking about how to solve the world’s problems as usual. He’s an opinionated man with a strong personality, which is unsurprising given his past. He spent 37 years as a Navy SEAL, and traveled to nearly 100 countries in diplomatic roles and saw the world’s many messes. We pivoted into aging and fitness, which is increasingly relevant as I march through my early 40s.
He looked off in thought and casually said, “I wonder if I could get through Hell Week now.” I looked at him and wondered, not for the first time, if he might be crazy. He was grey haired and deep into his 60s, with both hips replaced. Meanwhile, Hell Week includes 5.5 days of constant exercise, shouting, gunfire, cold water, and less than 4 hours of total sleep. The most athletic men in the country are weeded out at this bottleneck. And perhaps this is the difference between people like us and people like him. We do things because we have to. They do things to see if they can.
Grand and voluntary acts, with no objective utility or dollar value can seem so unproductive in this hyper-competitive, KPI-infused corporate world, where everything is drawn out and measured in varying shades of green and red. Our HR director lectured us on making our department goals SMART ( (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, And Time Bound). And so what about the universe of goals that serve no tangible purpose? That make people wonder, “That seems so pointless. Why?”
Extracting value from the arbitrary
Catherine Price, author of The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive, argues that pointless goals trick our minds into pursuing things we love. A goal becomes a self-imposed source of motivation and challenge to our integrity.
When I first began writing, I instantly fell in love with it. I bolted for my keyboard every day after work. During lunch, I said to a fellow finance friend, “My goal is to write three short posts a day for one year.” He turned to me and scrunched his eyes up and said, “Yeah, but why?” Which I understood. I wasn’t being paid. I could have used those hours to…