Does Being Goal-Driven Actually Drive Us Crazy?

BenningtonContributed by Emily Bennington

If you’re on this site, I’m going to assume you’re driven. Me too. But as driven women, we tend to get wrapped up in things we want but don’t yet have.

The dream job… the higher salary… the better body… you name it.

So when we want something, but don’t have it – what are we supposed to do? Ah, yes. Set goals. Write it down. Check the box. Congratulate yourself if you get it done… and beat yourself up if you don’t.

This is the path of us girls who have business books on our desks and self-help books by our beds, i.e. remarkably accomplished on the outside but plagued by a nagging discontent that’s like an itch we can’t scratch.

So what happens next?

Ah, yes. We go to the business books, all of which tell us to “create a plan and work harder.” Plus we go to the self-help books, which tell us to “be grateful for what you already have. Keep a gratitude journal and things will look better in the morning.” Both of these things are helpful… but not 100% satisfying.

I’ve forged a new path. One where I’m as focused on who I want to become as what I want to do. Like most people, I’ve learned first-hand that using goals alone as the blueprint for how life is supposed to turn out is, well, dangerous. They rarely unfold according to our grand plans – or our timeline – and as a result we get incredibly frustrated and discouraged.

Goals are healthy. We need them or we’ll all be drifting navel gazers. But the problem with goals is that they constantly keep us focused on a future outcome. When your ability to feel successful is wrapped in goals, you inevitably spend the bulk of your time trying to be somewhere other than where you are right now. And even when you achieve the goals you set, then what? You just set more goals, and so the cycle is designed to ensure that you are never satisfied.

That methodology is flawed.

And it took me 35 years but I finally said, “To hell with it. I’m not going to focus on what I don’t have, but I’m certainly not going to stagnate in one place either.” I found a new way – I was introduced to a new way by Ben Franklin who used to measure his success through what he called his “13 Virtues.” The point isn’t so much what his virtues were, but the fact that Franklin decided in the first place that success was about living as his “best” self all the time.

Rather than focusing on all the things he wanted to achieve someday he focused on the qualities he wanted to embody everyday and the actions he needed to take to underscore them. Franklin didn’t allow a focus on virtues to steal his ambition; he just understood that the best use of his time was to focus on the only thing he could control – his own behaviors.

If there’s one thing we all know for sure, it’s that – when it comes to goals – nothing ever works out like you think it will. Maybe, as in my case, that loooong-planned move to New York City never happened, maybe you work forever to get a job only to discover you hate it, or maybe – surprise! – you’re pregnant…again.

Whatever life throws at you, if you keep the focus on what you want, you will never be satisfied. But if you keep the focus on who you are, you’ll be better equipped to accept whatever path you’re on even (perhaps especially) if it doesn’t fit the mold of what you had planned.

Emily Bennington specializes in two distinct forms of career transition: college students entering the workforce and women leaders entering executive management. She is the author of Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination and the coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job, a book she wrote with her first boss and mentor Skip Lineberg. Emily has been featured in business press ranging from CNN, ABC, and Fox to the Wall Street Journal and New York Post. She is also a contributing writer for and a featured blogger for Forbes Woman. Emily can be reached online at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at