Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ fingers attest to the importance of setting goals and how their achievement sometimes requires sacrifice. In an attempt to travel across the North Pole unsupported, his sledge fell through weak ice and had to be recovered by hand. The resultant extreme cold led to extreme frostbite and killed off the tissue at the ends of his fingers. What was left was blackened stubs that caused searing pain whenever they came into contact with anything.
His surgeon advised that the subsequent amputation took place after leaving sufficient time for partially damaged tissue to heal, allowing them to cut off only the dead tissue. Fiennes, however, is an impatient man, and after a few painful incidents catching the dead stubs on various objects, he decided to take a Black and Decker to the offending digits, removing them one by one in his garden shed.
Fiennes is the sort of man who does not let trivialities interfere with achieving his goals. In 2003, Fiennes suffered a heart attack. His heart was the ultimate pre-requisite to his next challenge, a series of daily marathons, over 7 days, and on 7 different continents. Surely putting further stress on an already damaged heart was not an option?
Fiennes completed the challenge 4 months later.
The first marathon was to take place on Antarctica, but was unfortunately jeopardised by weather conditions and a damaged Sea Otter plane. Not to be deterred, Fiennes changed the logistics of the challenge last minute, completing the South American marathon on the day of the bad news (completing the 26 miles in Patagonia as opposed to Santiago, as originally planned). This gave him the time to relocate the Antarctic leg to the Falklands the next day, and then allowed him to complete the rest of the challenge as originally planned.
Such obstacles are common place in any undertaking. Any good airline pilot will tell you that a jetliner is off course 95% of the time – the captains job is to make constant readjustments in order for the plane to reach it’s final destination. The beauty is that, with an end destination in mind, you can constantly make the best decision that will enable the plane to eventually get there.
Goal setting is the act of deciding your final destination. If an aeroplane took off without knowing where it was heading to, would it ever succeed in its voyage? Sounds daft, doesn’t it? Yet this is how the vast majority of people approach things in their life, and it is how the vast majority of students approach university.
Attendance at university is more often than not by default. People have no idea why they are there, and often end up there due to the educational conveyor belt that indoctrinates them to believe that they have to go to university. The question is, why are you going?
Like Sir Ranulph, you need to determine your end goal – what is your desired end result? This could be a career you want, experiences you want to have, or an educational result you want to strive for. Most people do not know what career they want – if this is you, set another type of goal – an educational, experiential or travel goal – something that you can strive towards whilst at university.
The act of setting a goal allows you to say for definite where your ideal destination is. If you know your end location, you are empowered to make decisions during daily life. For example, if you know that at the end of university you want a career in investment banking, you know that in first year it is extremely wise to seek out internship opportunities for that summer. If you haven’t spent time thinking about this and leave it until third year, you may miss out on the work experience and an opportunity to stand out from all the other applicants for that job.
With an end goal in mind, you can have a bash at designing the process. Sir Alex Ferguson most likely set his goal to win the premiership at the start of every season (David Moyes probably did the same…..). Merely stating your end goal doesn’t guarantee success, it is the process you employ to get there. Identifying the location he wanted his team to be at come the end of the season, Ferguson would have been able to identify the crucial fixtures throughout the season, when his squad needed to peak, when the pinch points and difficult times were likely to occur, when his squad needed to be at their best, and when easier times arose so he could rest players. Having an end location allowed him to design the process.
Setting an end goal for university allows you to design the process. What are the key landmarks you need to hit in first year, second year and third year? What are the key landmarks throughout first year that you need to achieve in order for you to achieve your main goal for first year? What do you need to be doing weekly to achieve these landmarks? Daily?
Reaching a goal requires working backwards from your final destination to your current location, and planning what needs to be done today in order to reach your goal at the end of the time given to achieve that goal. Speak to any professional sportsman and they will tell you that the process is most important – what you do on a daily basis will determine whether you will achieve what you set out to.
You need to know your destination first though.