In Search for Compelling Goals

When I worked at an office, the most dreaded week of the year was when we had to take time off from our real jobs to write our “goals” that would be used later for our performance reviews.

The reason no one liked doing this was because we had to use business lingo. It wasn’t good enough to say “complete projects on time,” you had to say something to the effect of “utilize efficient procedures to exceed client needs with appropriate scope and timelines” or some other corporate phrasing designed to sound important.

We spent several hours each year coming up with goals only to put them away until review time when we spent several more hours evaluating our peers using the same corporate language suitable for our corporate goals.

As a result, goals became a hushed word. Dreaded as if they were something to be avoided, slightly irrelevant, or in place to remind you of the areas you need to improve.

In my knowledge about making goals “S.M.A.R.T.” I forgot how to make them matter. Goals aren’t meant to be something to write down and then set away.

Real goals are birthed from passion.

Real goals are something you want strongly enough that working for them is more appealing than taking a hot bath or a nap.

They start from a small glimmer of an idea and grow as long as you give yourself time to think about them.

When it occurred to me how much I wanted to write a book about blogging, something that would be in-depth and helpful, I was taking a shower. That idea would not let go, and I learned to stop telling myself that I needed to wait until my kids were bigger, and I finally started doing a little at a time.

In the middle of the night when I was looking for apartment listings, a small thought occurred to me: “I could look for an apartment in Italy.” That idea took hold, I talked Doug into it, and a few months later we did it.

Life -» Passion -» Goals -» Life

Want a different life? Here’s how to do it:

Those things you’ve been calling dreams? Start calling those your goals.

And those things that you’ve been calling goals? Those are more like New Year’s resolutions: good for your health, but not quite compelling enough. You need bigger goals, captivating ones, audacious goals. The kind you’ll have to take risks for.

Next you need to find other people to surround yourself who are willing to make and go after their own goals. If you don’t know anyone who fits this, then head to the library and start reading books like Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

Stop telling yourself why you can’t do something, and start asking more, “Why not?”

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Yes, Rachel! This is how Steve and I have lived our entire lives and I wouldn’t change a minute of it – the risks, the crazy doubts, the joys–it’s so much better than the alternative.

    And the way you wrote your book sounds just like the way I wrote mine (one little hour at a time!) Those hours add up!

    steadymom´s last post…Ethical Spending- The Case for Self-Sufficiency

  2. I SO love this post!! Yes, yes, yes!! I have been thinking these exact thoughts for the last week or so…setting my mind to turn thoughts and dreams into reality. I truly believe it can be done… And yes, YOU are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your dreams and goals with us…with ME!
    Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig´s last post…words and thoughts

  3. Excellent words! Somewhere along the way, to be “compelled” became an unhealthy drive for something. Instead, it brings balance and health as we go for what we’re meant to do rather than what someone else, “they”, expects of us. When we live for what really matters,as you say, the rest of life falls into place.
    Thanks once again, for a terrific post.
    MAUREEN´s last post…A NEW DAY

  4. Sadly I’m still in that phase where pretty much all goals are defeated by the desire for a nap. :) But I hope that soon the baby will sleep more, and I will be ready to tackle some of my plans/dreams!
    Jessicah´s last post…another really long post about baby names

  5. I’ve just finished a very long stint of caregiving. It was where I belonged and doing something I was uniquely qualified for, but it tended to make me feel all the desires of my heart were ON HOLD.

    BUT I discovered that while I couldn’t pursue things I was passionate about with head-long jumps, I could go a step at a time toward them.

    My season of caregiving has ended now and I am free again, timewise and I’m finding all those dreams and passions are still there….AND the baby steps I took really DID advance things. They also helped me retain a sense of self while serving another. Don’t be afraid to set BIG GOALS and go after them, even if it’s not quite at the rate of speed you had hoped!

  6. What an amazing post and I don’t just mean the simply amazing photographs!!! I think the thing that changes a dream into a goal is really a leap… a leap of faith, a leap of strength… a leap. Every time I have taken a leap it has paid off and a dream has become a reality. Every time I have sat back and thought: “It can’t be done” the dream has stayed just that, a dream. Thanks for the reminder, it is definitely time to take a few leaps!!!

  7. I have definitely taken a leap of faith, and I am not quite sure where it is going to lead me yet. I left a job that caused me to be burnt out and used up. I have been recuperating for 8 months now. WHile recuperating, I have been writing on my blog and I feel led to reach out to others who are pushing on still trying to be superwoman. I want to help them realize it is not necessary or worth it.
    I have written one ebook, and plan to do some other projects as well, maybe speaking, coaching or writing a book for print. My hope is to help others be ther best version of themselves!
    Love the pics! Looks like that yellow building could fall off any minute!
    Living the Balanced Life´s last post…WAHM interview- Emily Vanek

  8. I love this! I’ve been thinking a lot about goal setting vs to do list making lately. Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll be coming back to review as my goal making takes shape.

  9. Am I the only one who is utterly terrified of the architecture in those photos? Oh my goodness!

    I’m with you on this. I took those distant fanatasies of one day being an author and a speaker and turned them into my goals. Like you, I’m working toward them one baby step at a time. And I tell ya, it’s a lot more motivating than, “Utilizing all the calorie counting tools at my disposal, I will shed the unnecessary weight around my midsection and upper leg area.” ;)
    ET @ Titus2:3-5´s last post…Its too Easy to be Rude

  10. Wow. Lots to think about. I’m with Jessicah- dreams are deferred in favor of naps these days.

    I like hearing your and others’ goals, though. Very inspiring, and might get me off the couch a bit more.

    Maybe that will be my goal for tomorrow. Ha.
    Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry´s last post…Soliciting Ideas for April

  11. I have been doing just that of late. One of my goals is actually what you are doing now – live in another country. Italy is near the top of the list. My husband and I are plotting and planning for this to happen.
    paisleypenguin´s last post…Transitions

  12. When it comes time to leave this earth, what will we wish we had done differently? Done more of? It certainly won’t be a wish that we had spent more time at the office (for my husband). It would definitely involve the people we love, the things we love to spend our time on, all wrapped up in bringing more Glory to God through those choices. We are at a point where we are asking some big questions about future choices. It IS fun to think in “larger” terms. What if we . . . .?
    I Live in an Antbed´s last post…Traveling with the Herd

  13. This post majorly inspired me. You are living the life that has always been a “dream” of mine (Italy, writing, etc) and I definitely need to make it a goal instead. I have always fallen back on the practicalities of every day (chores, bills, debt, etc) as a reason to not pursue my dreams. I am going to change that and start working toward them! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Kelsey´s last post…Amazing childrens bookshelf idea

  14. Very inspiring! Thanks!
    Jenny W´s last post…A Few Easy Spring Crafts

  15. This has always been a challenge for me. I am a goal-oriented person by nature, but (due to mental health issues) cannot always reach the goals I set — I find myself revisiting and revising my goals as needed. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but a little can turn into a lot, and that’s where dreams can go awry. My current goals lean toward organizing our house and finding the creative niche that’s right for me — an I am learning painstakingly, as usual, that it takes diligence and commitment to make things come out the way I want them to.

    Also, I think it’s important (for me) to realize that just because one day doesn’t carry me closer to my goals, doesn’t mean the next won’t. It’s easy to throw up my hands and say “well this is impossible” on a bad day, when really, a bad day is just a bad day. Tomorrow is much more likely to be better if I give it a chance.
    jennifer´s last post…created

  16. You are so right! Sometimes I feel tired from work but when I think of a great topic for a blog post, I get new energy to write it right away! Also, when I just started with my blog in November last year, I spent hours and hours just fixing the design and writing my first posts. And I loved it! I went to bed after midnight several days in a row but I had energy like crazy. Wonderful how that works.

    By the way, I don’t know that book yet, but if it’s about all this, I am so buying it right now :)
    Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady´s last post…Good reads for March

  17. My friend Sarah in CO just sent this post to me via facebook. I read it and immediately decided we need to be blog buddies. In fact, can’t imagine how our paths have not crossed sooner. Do you know Gypsy Girl’s Guide? Sounds like you are one of our tribe!

    Nice to “meet” you.
    Rebecca in Switzerland´s last post…This 3 minute clip makes me so happy

  18. Yes, yes, yes!! This is exactly why I finally bit the bullet and bought my domain name! It’s why we chose orders to move to Sicily this summer! It’s why my husband joined the Army in the first place! Yes, yes, and yes again!

    Thank you so much for the reminder — so beautifully written and so timely. I feel very bogged down in the details and to-dos right now, between getting my blog fine-tuned and getting ready for the move. Thank you!!
    Damsel´s last post…Marinated Grilled Pork Chops

  19. This helped today! My husband and I are about to totally renovate/add onto our house. It has been our dream for ten years and since we will be doing 85% of the work with our own two hands, it will be a labor of love.

    Yesterday I was just so frustrated with everything – the permit process is taking too long, everything is so expensive – and I let the panic of what we are about to do overwhelm me.

    Since my current goal is a physical one, I try to close my eyes and see it finished, to see me and my family living in the home we built. It is so real in my head.

  20. I don’t know how you do it Rachel. Distill something to it’s essence and share in less than 750 words (?) what would take me three posts to dance around, in and through.

    We’ve moved forward some Dreams into Goals in a couple areas of our life and as you know, are making huge changes because of it. It’s so exciting (and scary) and a LOT of hard work all at the same time. But some days I still choose the hot bath (smile).

    • It’s been fun watching (er, living vicariously through) you and Rachel as each of you negotiates your relocation.Goals accomplished! You are two very focused women who live what you write about and bring a lot of authenticity to the table. I so appreciate the both of you (sipping on green smoothie in your honor, Renee).

  21. Love this advice and it couldn’t be more timely!!
    Bonita´s last post…The Pivotal Point

  22. So needed this today! Thanks. I agree w/ Renee @ FIMBY- wonderful writing.

    PS Yes that architecture is scary amazing! Three stories held up by “sticks”!

  23. I completely get the aversion to goals in the workplace! I was laid off from my job a couple years ago…and as I’m trying to hold it together and leave with dignity, I run into my crummy manager in the bathroom, and she’s trying to be nice and consoling. And as I’m looking at her and not listening to whatever B.S. she was saying, the timing of everything just occurred to me and I just look at her and say ‘Well, at least I don’t have to deal with writing goals this year! Enjoy the hours of wasted time and energy!’ I walked out with the biggest smile on my face, for me, unemployment was more welcome than the goal-writing season. I like the idea of reclaiming goals as dreams.

  24. this post reminded me of the fact that I am living my dream. Thank you.

  25. I started my own blog recently for this very reason. All those things that nag at me and won’t let go…I made a list and i am getting them done, one by one. This was inspiring and reminded me what I am working towards. thanks!

  26. Boy oh boysie did I need to hear this! Grazie!
    Juliet´s last post…Red Herrings

  27. Rachel,

    The message of this post will stay with me for a long, long time.

    I am in a phase of life where it seems that I am just struggling to get through the day. (I have three kids, one of whom is a busy, busy toddler; a part-time job; a house to run and a husband who sometimes works 80 hour weeks.) For a while, it seemed that accomplishing any goals (besides just staying afloat) was an impossibility.

    But then I realized just how much I could accomplish by doing a teeny, tiny bit each day. Here’s a good example: my preschooler is starting kindergarten next year, and she is frustrated that she can’t read yet. She wants to be like her big brother, and struggles to read street signs and product labels and simple books. When my son was younger, I had the luxury of time to read with him for hours each week. But now, I am lucky to be able to get through a whole book of Pinkalicious or Harold and thhe Purple Crayon before my preschooler goes to bed. How could I possibly find the time to help her learn to read?

    And then it hit me: I didn’t have a spare hour to teach her phonics, but I could find two minutes to post a flash card on the fridge. And that’s how we began our “word-a-day” system. It didn’t seem like much at first, but I realized this morning that we had made it halfway through the box!

    It’s amazing what you can do in just a few spare minutes a day (like cleaning out an entire back room!).

    Thank you, Rachel, for the regular doses of life wisdom:)

  28. Audacious goals. I love that. Yesterday I was invited/pushed to do something outside my comfort zone, but probably within my abilities. Actually doing it will unquestionably be an audacious goal. What a great way to sum up something that seems too hard, but could in the end be fabulous.

  29. It’s kind of odd in this culture we’ve developed of wanting everything right now that it has become “cool” or, at the very least, common to defer our highest goals and ambitions.

    Personally, after a long time agonizing over what I’m supposed to want to do and what I actually want to do, I came to the same conclusion: we only make goals happen that we are passionate about. Once I realized this I examined what I’m really passionate about (writing and singing) and I’ve formed my long term goals around those things. Everything else I’m able to say, “Oh, that’s nice” but I’m not compelled to try to do it anymore. It’s a wonderful, freeing feeling.
    jennie´s last post…-right now- in true soulemama style

  30. You are so right! When I was working in an office, I hated creating goals that were acceptable but not what I really wanted. Now, I live my goals. I set goals that I enjoy. Big or small, doesn’t matter!
    Prerna´s last post…How Often Do You Weigh Yourself And a Giveaway from Eat Smart Scales

  31. Denise C. says:

    Love this post! I’ve been running for over a year now, and have done 2 5ks (3 miles), registered for a 10k (6.1 miles), and know I want to do a half marathon (13.1 miles), it makes me nervous to think about running that much with other people, as long as I finish that is all that matters. I registered for it. There is no turning back now. :)

  32. I’m definitely going to be meditating on this post for awhile. Things have been so busy for me lately that I’ve gotten discouraged about destroying my own momentum with an important goal I have. I still need to make time for it, even if I don’t have as many hours to spend as I did before!
    Kristen@PrettySweet´s last post…Tea Party Season!

  33. Love this! I’ve lived my life this way, too, largely. And just recently I took a little life inventory and noticed that when I didn’t live this way – when I took the safe route, or followed security instead of passion – I was never happy with the results. I invariably found myself in a “dead” life. I’m in the midst of holding a dream in my hands right now, and nurturing it through all the fearful “what-if” thoughts and worries, so I can turn it into a goal which I can then turn into my reality. Passion is the key. Yes!
    Maggie @ Maggie’s Nest´s last post…It’s Okay to Get Mad – and 3 Ways to Do Something About It

  34. Great post! Your encouragement comes at a good time as we are having a bit of a life makeover – simplifying, downsizing, and focusing on things that matter to our family. Somewhere in the middle of that I started selling crafts, but not with any real mission. My stumbling block is less the 4 little ones and more about being disorganized. But as we have gotten rid of more stuff, I have felt free to pursue my ideas. I appreciate your perspective on living life.
    melanie´s last post…Q&ampA with Geraldine Brooks &amp a Giveaway

  35. WOW! I would love to know more about how your husband went about actually leaving the workforce. I would love to take a year off and travel with my family in our camper, but am also petrified. How do I re-enter the workforce? Is he worried about that? I guess they say that the first step is always the hardest. You have inspired me!

  36. The most powerful words in my life are, “I wonder if I can…?” Last year at this time I answered my “I wonder if I can run a 10k?”, and I’m about to do it again. I’m not even slightly athletic, and had never even been able to run a mile without stopping. But I went to a 10k, thought it looked really cool, and I knew I’d never be able to do it, so I decided to try. I would dream about it, literally, at night in my sleep, and I just kept imagining what it would be like until eventually I actually did it!

    Dreams are powerful, powerful things. “It started out as a feeling, which then turned into a hope. Which then turned into a quiet thought, which then turned into a quiet word. And then that word grew louder and louder until it was a battle cry!” Another quotation: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Think you CAN!

    Thank you for this post!! You rock!
    KaseyQ´s last post…Recycled Magazine Paper Bracelet

  37. Thanks for the inspiration but there are so many road blocks in this world. After spending all day chasing my dream of being a Montessori teacher all over the internet, I still have no idea how it’s possible when we live so far from the teaching centers and can barely afford to eat.
    Frances´s last post…Sweet Cabbage

  38. Awesome post! I have four children and am at home with them. Common sense would tell me that I have my hands full. But, I decided recently to take the plunge and do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – learn a second language! I jumped in with both feet, and even though I’m only three months into it, I am so glad I went for it. It’s hard work, but so rewarding. I’m glad I chose to do it now and jumped right in!

    Great post!

  39. Wow..thats a bit spooky.
    I just wrote an email to a group of fantastic,liked-minded, young people who are running their own business,
    I love this idea and I have been dreaming of ways to do it here in Bunbury.
    My blog is my first port of call if anyone one wants information on where to go in my area but you are so right about turning those dreams into passions.
    Persistence + passion = Goal (also metaphorically, kicking the goal. The attempts you try getting that ball in between the posts, the more likely you are to succeed).
    Your website is an inspiration to me and also after reading the book, ‘ Do Hard Things A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations’, by Alex Harris (Author), Brett Harris (Author) (edit contributors), I can be that person that strives and does hard things to reach their goals, even at the age of 41.
    Tracy´s last post…Gwen Stefani – Cool

  40. I left a job in the New Year, where we were, beaten with sticks, not literally, for failing to comply with and adhere to performance objectives and as much paperwork as a business could give its managers. I was sadly the surplus of a merger and the new business didn’t want anyone from the stronger more adaptable bit of the business. Those that spoke out and challenged were systematically put through the wringer and eventually I got to the point where I didn’t care anymore. Writing my resignation letter was the most releasing thing that I had done in almost 2 years. I simply did nothing but work, and everything that I loved doing went by the by in order to try and keep a head of the game.

    I started my job in January working for my old boss, who had left the company about a year before me, and see lots of familiar faces as former colleagues have joined my new employer. It is truly the best thing I could have done. This week I had my objective setting meeting and could not absorb the fact that the objectives set were SMART and were were labelled as smart whereas previously they had been apparently SMART and I had not chance of succeeding.

    So, while I have been getting in to the swing of things with my new job I have been re-looking at some projects that I started back in 2008 with a fresh set of eyes and can see ways of developing them further.
    Julie´s last post…Carnival Of Genealogy 104- When is a car not a car!

  41. I’ve been wanting to read that Donald Miller book!
    Amy Sullivan´s last post…Whats on Your TV

  42. Speaking of an audacious goal, how about those folks who decided to build their homes so that they extend into the aitbeyond a stone bridge abutment and are only held up by wooden beams?! (such as those in your second photo.) What a fitting photo to include with your inspiring post.
    Rachel´s last post…Sunlight and Maple Syrup

    • Those aren’t homes, I should have mentioned that’s the Ponte Vecchio. It’s an old bridge over the Arno river with shops that have been there hundreds of years.

  43. love Don Miller’s book!

    goals are so important…they allowed us to pay off our house just 5 years into our mortgage…to close a successful but very stressful business and instead move on to a business that we both love and enjoy.

    great post!
    jodi @ back40life´s last post…Construction on the Brain

  44. Thank you Rachel, this is the exact post I needed to jumpstart my dreams!

    Italy looks beautiful!
    Sharon´s last post…March Challenge- How am I doing

  45. Great post. And is that Ponte Vecchio?

    Another wonderful book is Visioneering by Andy Stanley. He talks about God-given goals, and how to propel the vision He’s given you. What encouragement it was to read that some of these long-held and deep-seated desires my husband and I share might just be in line with what God’s going to be doing in the world. I’m not just talking about the “Lose 10 pounds” goal we all have, but writing a book, being able to be a stay-at-home-mom, or one day owning a farm and B&B…could be things that have an eternal impact.
    Kait Palmer´s last post…First Etsy Listing!

  46. Beth West says:

    I just ordered the Don Miller book from the library and am looking forward to reading it.

    Sometimes it can take a long time to find out what our big dreams even are. I would have been so skeptical if anyone had told me 15 years ago that I would become a painter, yet at 42 and as a mom of 8 children, that is exactly what I decided to do. And now 2 years later, my goal/dream is to become a REAL painter. It helps so very much that I have older children who can and will help me with the little ones so that I can study twice a week with a master painter and work several hours a day on my art when I don’t go to class. I could not have worked this intensely on developing my skills when I had mostly very young children.

    All of which is to say, if you are in a season of life where you don’t know what your big dreams are, or you are too exhausted and preoccupied to take steady action on them, keep looking ahead and be ready to be surprised.

  47. Three years ago, I dropped everything to move to the US to pursue a career that is virtually non-existent in the Philippines. It was a dream writ large. Two months ago, I was again seized by that same electrifying wondrous ecstasy that propelled me halfway across the world. So here I am again, saving up every penny I can to enter culinary school and to take time off to write the book on food history that I have always wanted to write. Yesterday I was feeling so despondent that I will never get to reach these goals, but your post has reminded of the power of passion, and how it has worked such wonders in my own life. Thank you ;)

  48. Thanks. That’s just what I neeeded to hear (and understand). I am ready to make those goals now. Might even carry through with a New Year’s resolution or two.
    Barbara@BabyBloggingBoomer´s last post…I got a new haircut What do you think

  49. This one resonates! Write for one hour here, one hour there. Visit with friends, watch boys play at the river, view a movie – all with handwork in hand. It may not add up to heaps, but it’s more than if it wasn’t!

  50. Yes! Love this post… THANKS :)
    angelvalerie´s last post…living in the past…

  51. Recently a number of people I know wrote out a list of things they want to do before they reach their next milestone age. So many of their “goals” were similar to things I want to do. As I read through their lists, I realized how many of those items simply required them “doing it.” There was no financial or physical need that held them back. They just hadn’t done it yet. God showed me that there are many things in my life I view as “dreams” and the only thing holding me back is me. I’m done…now I’m taking life by the horns and going for it. :) Thank you for confirming this in me through your writing.
    Melissa Brotherton´s last post…God Made a Mistake

  52. Thanks for this post — I never thought about the idea that dreams do sound fluffy and far away, whereas goals are concrete and achievable.
    Laura´s last post…Underneath the Transient Labels

  53. Thanks for this. Perfect timing and just what I needed to hear today :)

  54. I keep coming back to this post and rereading it every few weeks. Those wheels in my head are slowly turning towards making some goals worth having, but they aren’t there yet.