On the Importance of Knowing What You Want to Accomplish

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus

My friend Rachel had a lofty goal in mind. I knew her in high school and her goal was to receive a diving scholarship from the University of Nebraska. All through her high school years, this desire motivated her in significant ways.

It inspired her to wake up early in the morning and hit the gym. It inspired her everyday after school as she hit the pool over and over again. It affected her eating habits, choosing to eat healthy salads and water rather than cheeseburgers and soda (like the rest of us). She would often go to bed early so that she could rise early in the morning to get started the next day. She would lie in bed rehearsing dives in her mind and she would wake up thinking about them. In a very real way, her goal of making the college diving team affected nearly every aspect of her life.

That was, until the spring semester of her senior year. You see, after the conclusion of the Nebraska high school diving season and the State competition, she was unfortunately notified that she would not be receiving the diving scholarship she desperately desired. She had poured her heart and her soul into realizing that goal, but it had vanished. Needless to say, Rachel was heart-broken.

And her life changed dramatically overnight! Once she came to grasp that it was not meant to be, her life changed radically. Suddenly, she began spending more time with her friends – not only after school, but also staying out later and later. She started ordering cheeseburgers and soda instead of salads and water (which made us feel better about ourselves, by the way). She began sleeping in on weekends instead of hitting the gym at 6 in the morning. It was almost as if she had a completely different life before and after the birth and death of her goal.

The truth is that goals move us and goals shape us. What we most desire to accomplish (or become) affects our lives in very important ways. It impacts what we think about. And it changes the way we spend our time, our money, and our energy. In short, it brings definition to the lives that we live.

What then, with the one life that you have to live, do you most desire to accomplish?

It is my contention that few people desire riches and possessions above everything else. In fact, when asked the question above, rare is the man or woman who responds by saying, “I just want to own as much stuff as possible.”

Instead, most heart responses will center on significance, relationships, impact, happiness, love, or faith. And the more often we intentionally remind ourselves of our heart’s deepest desires, the more often our lives will align with that pursuit… and the more likely we are to actually accomplish them.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

Follow on TwitterLike on Facebook


  1. says

    I like this story. I think it is very important to not only set goals, but to set parameters. Narrowing focus and only taking on goals that can be pursued fully and with excellence. I doubt Rachel, during that time, was also trying to become an amazing guitar player. She wouldn’t be able to devote to both goals effectively.

  2. says

    I understand the point you are making, but I feel unresolved with Rachel’s story. Did I not get it? What does one do then when we can’t realize our goals?

    • says

      The story was told to simply illustrate the point that the pursuit (or abandonment) of goals greatly impacts the way we live our lives. And as a result, it is important to intentionally acknowledge what is most important to us so that our lives will be invested accordingly.

      Surely, in the story above, Rachel’s goal of diving was abandoned because of an outside pressure. But that doesn’t mean that our goals need to be. It may also be beneficial to hear what Rachel is pursuing these days… but alas, I have since lost touch.

  3. says

    What if we really treated our family and our personal growth/happiness with the same determination and focus as that? That is what matters. That is the goal. Beautiful point! Great post, thanks!

    … I showed up in Nebraska for college. Turned down a job in Arizona after college and regret it every year at this time :)

  4. says

    A depressing story, yes, but I agree with your point – our goals shape our immediate and everyday actions in life. I, for example, have a short term and a long term goal; short term, to PR in this year’s Boston Marathon. Long term; to be a mom. My everyday actions are affected by both of these goals, although I find that my short term goal often takes precidence over my long term goal. Perhaps it’s time to refocus, or to accomplish my short term goal and make the baby making happen :P

    Once again, lovely post.

  5. says

    What this is telling me is that you may strive hard to reach goals that may or may not be met. You should be sure that the journey and work is as fulfilling as the end result because even if you did not achieve the desired result you still enjoyed the working towards your goal.. I believe it was only because it was her way to get a scholarship, so when that didn’t happen she was able to move on with life. She was extremely focused and didn’t see anything but that goal… Some of us are very goal oriented, some of us are not. You have to weigh what you are willing to sacrifice and if it is worth it. You may reach it but it may not make you happy. When goals have meaning and purpose and are usually unselfish, they seem to be the most satisfying.

  6. Fiona says

    Love it!

    A great reminder to focus fully on what you want from life!!!

    I’m always surprised by my greatest desires, because they’re not terribly lofty or deemed significant by society. I love those gentle but important aspects of relationships, supporting people and keeping life simple enough to fully enjoy. Beautiful post thanks :)

  7. Dennis says

    It seems to me that you shouldn’t base so many aspects of your daily life on a goal that is ultimately outside of your control. Rachel can’t control the scholarship board. She can become the best diver she can be, but she can’t make them choose her. You can’t make an employer hire you, a publisher like your book, or that dream girl fall in love with you. Big life defining goals should be internal. Make yourself the best person you can be, someone you can be truly happy with. Then you can hope the other things work out, but don’t rely on them for your happiness or fulfillment.

    At least that’s my interpretation, but I certainly struggle with it myself.

  8. Nicole says

    I sincerely hope Rachel is still enjoying diving, eating salad and the occasional cheeseburger. Her capacity to focus and her self discipline hopefully helped her towards other things she enjoyed doing in life.
    But to the point, knowing clearly what you want from life is critical to living your best life. Rachel can say she gave her best regardless of the scholarship outcome. In my world, I love my family to bits and pieces – I knew I wanted success in the field of “my family’ over and above everything else even before I had my own family (now consisting of me, lovely husband and two gorgeous daughters). So knowing that helped shaped almost every decision we have ever made as a family – not material gain or other surface attractions, but our journey and goal of success as a loving, close family unit. Minimalism and simplicity have been huge factors in our success. We could always do better but I can see clearly how knowing and having this goal has made a huge difference in our lives compared to muddling along without a real central belief as to what we should be doing.

  9. says

    Great post! Our goals DO define us. So do our lack of goals. The reason? What we focus on most determines the direction of our life.

    On a side note, is that what our friend “Focus Man” from LIFE 98 would tell us? :)

  10. Ken says

    Creepy and meaningless story if you ask me. I stopped reading at the part about staying out late with friends and getting cheeseburgers.

  11. Jon says

    Hi from Australia. I have embraced minimalism in my life and yes it is hard to stay the course. I have daughters and they have most definitely not embraced minimalism. What I am learning is that the precepts of minimalism begin from within. By example I hope to bring to minimalism in time. That it genuinely makes me feel good is what sustains me with it and Im finding that it matters not if others dont embrace it. Great website, glad I found it.

Sites That Link to this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *