Beyond Goal-Setting: The Hidden Cost of Ambition

Friday, June 30, 2023

As ambitious people, we want to achieve outstanding things in life. We have all sorts of big goals, but we don’t often stop to reflect on the cost of every goal we set. We daydream about the rewards at the end of the road, but we don’t always consider the pain and sacrifice required.

We must ask ourselves: What are we willing to give up, in service of the life we want?

We can’t become the person we want to be if we remain who we currently are. Our former selves need to die in service of who we will become.

Looking Up To Successful People

When we set our goals, it’s natural to look up to successful people and try to replicate their habits and lifestyles. We tend to believe they must be doing something we aren’t.

However, this is backwards, successful people avoid things we don’t avoid, and they give up things that most people don’t dare to give up. Success is about subtraction, it’s about sacrifice.

Cause and Effect

Everything we do is subject to simple cause and effect, so let’s get nerdy for a second… Newton’s Third Law of Motion says the following… For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For instance, if you push a wall, you’ll feel a force pushing back with equal intensity.

Similarly, the rocket pushing down on the ground is matched by an equal and opposite force that lifts the rocket into the sky.

But what does this have to do with our goals?

An outstanding life comes with an equal and opposite force of outstanding stress and hardship. We can’t have one without the other.

The question is: are we willing to pay the price for the life we want?

The Price of Every Goal

Nothing can be achieved in life without sacrifice. The more ambitious the goal, the greater the required sacrifice. For instance, if we want to become wealthy and successful, we have to be willing to sacrifice in equal measure.

Sacrifice means giving up something we value in exchange for something we now value even more.

We need to take a look at our lives and decide what must go away in service of our goals.

If we want to achieve an extraordinary life, we must also make extraordinary sacrifices. We need to give up things that average people with average ambitions usually wouldn’t let go off.

“Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.” - Alexis Carrel.

We are the end result that we are carving, but we are also the artists responsible for creating the final result. This is a lot of responsibility to carry. We suffer the consequences of our actions, but we are also responsible for our success.

Future Goals vs Our Current Life

We can’t always have it all. We either have to sacrifice other things in our lives to achieve the goal, or we’ll have to give up the goal to keep the other things in our lives instead.

“If we don’t sacrifice for what we want, what we want becomes the sacrifice.” - Julie Thorn

Where To Start?

The easiest place to start is by cutting off things we know are bad for us. For instance, giving up alcohol is an easy decision. It adds virtually no benefit to our lives, while leaving us with a lot of negatives.

Eliminating bad habits is the starting point, since it’s easier to decide to cut them out of our lives. This is why quitting alcohol is such a quick win. ​If you’re interested, I wrote more about it here.​

Sometimes We Need To Go Further

Cutting bad habits is Stage One, but if our goals are truly ambitious, it doesn’t stop there. Often, we are called to sacrifice even good things in order to achieve something greater.

We might have two things fighting for our attention; let’s say we are passionate about painting, but we also have a separate business that requires our time and energy.

If we want to achieve financial freedom at a young age, it would be wise to let go of our painting hobby for now so that we can further improve our business.

Temporary And Partial Sacrifices

Not every sacrifice has to be permanent, and not every sacrifice has to be absolute.

For instance, we could simply reduce the amount of time we spend on a hobby. Instead of the previous 50/50 split between our business and our hobby, we could have a 90/10 split favoring our business.

We could also temporarily pause our hobby and reintroduce it back into our lives when the timing is better.

There are many ways to go about it, but the more ambitious the goal, the more sacrifice is required of us.

How Do We Make Sure We’ve Set the Right Goal

Once we understand that every goal has a cost, we need to learn how to set goals better.

Often, we decide what to pursue based only on the rewards and benefits. While this is natural, a better way to commit to something long-term is to consider the pain and costs associated with that goal.

Here are some important questions to consider:

  • How much am I willing to suffer for this goal?
  • What type of pain am I willing to endure to achieve it?
  • What types of problems am I willing to overcome on a daily basis in service of this goal?

Let Fulfillment Guide You

Every goal we set comes with a cost. We often get carried away by the excitement of achievement, and we tend to forget about the long-term implications of choosing a certain path.

When we choose a goal, we must consider the long-term lifestyle we are getting into. We need to be able and willing to overcome the low points that will inevitably come with anything we set out to do.

For example, let’s say Max wants to become a programmer. He needs to understand what his day-to-day life would be like in the long term. Otherwise, he might put in all of that work only to realize that he doesn’t want to spend endless hours troubleshooting code.

He might be able to power through at first, but when he reaches a low point, will he be able to overcome the frustration?

Perhaps programming isn’t the right path for Max. He might be better suited for something like web design, where he can use more of his creativity to build his projects. Taking that route might help him overcome the low points, as he can power through them thanks to the extra fulfillment he gets from it.

That’s why it’s important to analyze the pain that comes with everything we do, instead of only focusing on the rewards. This way, we can truly commit to the long-term implications of sticking with our goals.

Go Ahead With This Newfound Clarity

So go ahead, choose a goal, and measure it in direct proportion to your willingness to sacrifice. The bigger the sacrifice, the more room for your ambition.

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