Goals vs Experiences

By Robert Massey, YYCCM Team Member

Let's talk goals vs experiences.

Backpacking off Spray Lakes Road in the Rockies.

Backpacking off Spray Lakes Road in the Rockies.

I'll be honest, goals have never been a driving factor in my life. I've never found them to be encouraging or enlightening or motivating. If I don't finish my goal it doesn't bother me. I understand this is unlike everybody else, but truthfully goals have never driven me. The one enlightening thing they do tell me, however, is the experiences that I want to have and the experiences I want to aim at.

I see goals as the end product of a lot of work. I don't see them as the point of doing a lot of work. Goals don’t drive me because they have no emotional impact. If I set a goal of climbing that mountain and I achieve that goal, to me that means that I have climbed the mountain, stood at the top, looked all around, see the beautiful view, and climbed back down. And when I'm down at the base, then I can stop and say to myself, ‘I've done it I have achieved that goal.’ But what about the experience of having climbed the mountain? Was I so focused on the goal that I forgot to appreciate the experience? Goals are about aiming at the end; experiences are aimed at the feeling of doing something. They are the emotional reason to act.

Think about it this way. You set a goal to make $1,000,000. So you put your head down, you go to work 80 hours a week, you invest well, you save money, and eventually, you have made a million dollars. But how does that million dollars change you? How does accomplishing that goal affect your life? How are you different? While you were making that money have you forgotten to go outside and experience other things that you wanted to do? Were you so focused on achieving that goal - on achieving your million dollars - that you have forgotten what life is really about? What experiences did you sacrifice to get there? And how does your soul feel today?

I had the fantastic experience of sitting in St. Mark’s Square in Venice at midnight shooting awesome photographs.

I had the fantastic experience of sitting in St. Mark’s Square in Venice at midnight shooting awesome photographs.

It's taken me 29 years to figure out the difference between goals and experiences. Goals are based in logic, based on an ending. Experiences are based on emotion, are based on a journey, they are based on how you want to feel.

I don't just want to finish a goal, I want to have the experience along the way. I know to some it sounds like splitting hairs, but to me, they are entirely different mindsets. An entirely different way of going about accomplishing something. I don’t want to look at a goal and not remember the experience of it because I was so focused on the finish.

I want to climb mountains, I want to see K2, I want to scuba dive in what's left of the Great Barrier Reef, I want to hike the Inca Trail, I want to travel across my great and vast country, I want to live in Paris and Rome and London, and I want to see so many of the world's great cities, oceans, forests, mountain ranges, and deserts and people. I want to experience all of this. This is not a checklist of my goals that I want to accomplish. This is not something for me to wave in somebody else's face saying, ‘look at what I've done.’ These are experiences that speak to me. These are things that I want to do for myself, to try and fulfill me and to live a life full of wonder, excitement and adventure.

Shooting on the ocean in Cinque Terre.

Shooting on the ocean in Cinque Terre.

Setting goals is a great place to start, but understanding the emotional context behind that goal is what will truly tell you about yourself. It is also what will help you to achieve those goals. Because it is not finishing that goal that is driving you, it is the expected emotional response behind that goal that is actually driving you.

This is about more than just life is a journey and you have to experience it. Because to me, it goes beyond that. Saying life is a journey is such a generalized idea that there is almost no emotional connection to it. It’s just a thing people say. It is too broad a statement for one person to easily connect to. But understanding what experiences you want to have will provide an emotional connection to your journey through life. This is about the journey. But it is about your journey. It’s about what you want to experience. What you want to experience will drive you through all the difficult and drudgery, through the painful and boring, because you have an emotional connection to something beyond that moment. You understand why you need to run that 5km, it’s so you can see K2 up close.

If I want to climb a mountain, I don't just want to get to the top and back down again. I want to see the trees along the way, I want to feel the wind rush against my face, and I want to smell the freshness of the forest around me. Life is about experiences, not about a collection of goals. It's not about a collection of things you have done and achievements to show to other people. I believe life isn't about showing off to other people. Life is best lived for yourself.