The goal-oriented life

September 14, 2011 | 23 comments

It was my husband who first introduced me to the concept of goal orientation. Before I met him, that kind of thing was completely foreign to me. I lived my life drifting from one whim to the next, with only fleeting thoughts as to how my actions today would impact my life as a whole. Occasionally I might come up with some random idea about what I wanted in the future (e.g. to make a certain amount of money, or to have a certain title on my business card) but even then I didn’t take the time to reflect on whether this goal was truly the best thing I could do with the limited time I have here on earth.

I never sat down and put serious thought into questions like, What kind of person do I want to be? At the end of my life, what do I want to have accomplished?

When I first met my husband, I marveled at what he’d been able to accomplish in his life. He’d grown up poor, raised by a single mother who hadn’t had the opportunity to get an education beyond high school, and yet he ended up with degrees from Yale, Columbia and Stanford. On top of his degrees, he’d traveled the world, knew all sorts of fascinating people, and had a career he enjoyed. Though I may not have phrased it this way at the time, I wondered how he was able to live such a great story.

When I asked him about this, his answer was simple: It’s all about knowing the goal.

It seems that for some people, like my husband and his mother, goal orientation comes naturally. They’re always thinking about the big picture, making sure their actions right now are building towards their larger vision of what they want their lives to be like. For others of us…not so much. We tend to live down in the weeds, staring at the trees, never considering the forest. Darwin recently had a great post on this subject, in which he analogized living without goals to building a structure without an architect. He writes:

The house or office you are sitting in was built according to a plan and a purpose, a purpose from which it is now only able to deviate to a limited extent. My house cannot suddenly become an office tower, though it has an office in it. My office building would make a very poor house. But they are built knowingly, according to a plan. And yet, our lives seem often constructed to a purpose without the architect knowing that he is in constructing something with walls and doors — an edifice which will suit some ends well, and other poorly. Individual choices pile up unto some particular type of life, and once that life is built people sometimes find it is not, in fact, the kind of structure they want to live.

When we got married, my husband and I carefully considered what kind of life we wanted to live, and set goals accordingly. For me, it was a completely new way to live. Suddenly choices that once seemed difficult were crystal clear. An underlying sense of aimlessness was replaced with the feeling that my daily actions were adding up to something larger; like I was creating something great, one choice at a time.

Needless to say, our priorities have radically changed since our conversions, but I find that living a goal-oriented life is no less important now than it was then — in fact, I think it’s more important now. Having goals is always important for success, whether you define “success” as having a certain dollar amount in your bank account, or becoming a saint. Living a life dedicated to God requires no less focus and intentional effort than living a life dedicated to worldly achievements.

Today, our goals look something like this:

  1. Love and serve God to the very best of our abilities, and inspire our children to do the same
  2. Have a strong, happy marriage
  3. Have a close relationship with our children, so our family is their home base (i.e. so they’re not peer-oriented)
  4. Have enough financial stability so that our family can be comfortable
  5. Put down roots in one area so that we can build a sense of community with our extended family, our church, and our neighbors

…And so on. For an example of how this helps us in daily life:

A few weeks ago I had one of those moments when I felt like the walls were closing in on me, and I announced that I wanted a bigger house. Our house is less than 2, 000 sq. ft., and has three small bedrooms — pretty big by historical standards, but, compared to the suburban Texas standard of living, sometimes it feels pretty small with five kids. My husband and I sat down to discuss the possibility of getting a little more space. A more expensive house wasn’t exactly in the budget…but we could probably find some lender who would approve us for a loan…and he might be able to take on some extra work at the office to cover the increase in expenses.

In my old way of thinking, I would have wanted to do it. The whim of the moment led me to want a bigger house, so I would have pushed forward to make it happen. But when I considered this possibility in light of our family goals, it became clear that that would be a bad move: Having my husband be stuck at the office even more hours per week just to pay for a bigger house would go against priorities #2 and #3, and would probably negatively impact #1 as well. We decided against it, and the small sacrifice of staying in our current digs left me with that satisfying feeling — which is still relatively new to me — that this one action was building toward something bigger. Without goals, my individual choices were like stones tossed into a pond; now, it’s as if they’re stacked together purposefully, to build something beautiful.

Having clear goals for our family is invaluable in big life decisions, but helps in the little choices of daily life as well. It doesn’t mean that everything always works out perfectly, but it’s like having a family compass: We may get off track once in a while, but we always know where true north lies.


  1. Jared

    Great post Jennifer. I hear the Popcak’s on the radio and they call it a family mission statement. Good cheers.

  2. priest's wife

    This is very inspiring!

    We try to “begin with the end in mind” too- but it isn’t so easy….

  3. Gina

    I needed this! Thanks!

  4. Rachel

    I needed this thirteen years ago! Ah well, I probably wouldn’t have listened then. 🙂

  5. Jenny

    I’m going to skip over the great points you make about orienting your life and jump right to the point about the small house. It is true that by square footage that our houses are much bigger than they used to be; however, I am convinced they used to be designed much better. They got more bang for their space. The rooms were cut to be useable. Houses today are cut in such a way as to make it uncomfortable so you will move out and buy a bigger house. My aunt can fit many more people into her older 1000 sq ft house than I can fit in my five year old 1600 sq ft house.

  6. Eva

    I have a slightly different take on this, but I do agree with the tenant of living with purpose. I choose to live with certain values at the forefront of out familys life; understuding, love, tolerance, etc. The decisions that I make have to fall within the context of these values, or we must strongly question their implications.
    Similar to yours, I realize, but with a little more flexibility. Although I can probably afford more flexibility than you, with only 3 children!


  7. Emily D.

    This is a FANTASTIC post, Jen. Thanks so much for it! This really addresses what I need to do in my life. I’m almost 30, and single, so I don’t have a lot of the things to worry about/ponder like you do, but at the same time, I want my life to have a purpose beyond “get up, go to work, come home, sleep, repeat.” Having a life statement/mission statement like this really helps clarify what’s important. Thank you!

  8. Carolyn

    I enjoyed this post. It gave me some food for thought for my own life. I like the idea of creating big goals and viewing one’s decisions and choices – even the small ones – in light of that. Sometimes I am not happy with the state of things in certain aspects of my life, I thunk this could help lead me to some improvements. 🙂

  9. Michael

    Great model here, Jennifer. I think the real story is the way you and your husband have evaluated and communicated about goals together.

  10. Angela Santana

    Very helpful post, Jennifer…my fiance and I are looking forward to living out our goals together.

  11. Elizabeth @ Coppertop Kitchen

    This is so comforting to me. I totally agree, and everything you said just lifted me up and encouraged me to continue trying to make solid daily decisions, even when they feel relatively unimportant. I love the idea of thinking of each decision as an opportunity to lay another brick as we build a happy, purposeful marriage and life. Thanks!

  12. Jim Chandler

    I like the goals so much I stole them. 🙂


    Loved it! Really needed it too. My boyfriend and I are still in the phase of defining our goals, both individually (at least for me) and definitely as a couple. I can only hope for easier decision-making one day!

  14. Kimberlie

    When I saw your post about Donald Miller’s book the other day, I immediately requested it from the library and then I read it in two days once I had it in my hands. I couldn’t put it down. Your post and the book spoke to thoughts that were already stirring in my heart and mind. I feel as though I, and now to a certain extent, my husband too, have always just kind of “fallen” through life. No real goals. No real plan other than to have a family. But now that I have that family, I realize that, to use Mr. Miller’s words “we aren’t living the best story.” I can not wait to see what happens with our family once my husband reads the book and we come up with some real goals, to bring real meaning to our lives.

    • Kimberlie

      I also plan to read the book again along with my husband.

  15. Lisa

    As I do believe your husband when he said, “It’s all about knowing the goal”, I also think that God was playing a part in how effectively he reached those goals. I think God, many times,will bestow great, if not greater, gifts upon those less fortunate. It is very likely that God, over time, was preparing your husband in a special way for something great. It’s up to us to set those goals, but also up to us to thank God for the gift of fortitude and all of the other great gifts that help us to reach those goals. Don’t you think?

  16. Judy

    This is SUCH a timely post for me as my husband and I were JUST discussing “goal-oriented-thinking” yesterday! I sort of have one “big picture goal” (i.e. Get myself and everyone in my family to heaven) but my husband is like yours…sets a “goal” for each and every endeavor that passes through his brain cells. He mentioned that he was “behind schedule” on his renovation work in our basement..this struck me as odd…and I inquired, “What does that mean? Are you saying you have a schedule when working in your own basement on your own free time without pay or employ being involved?” He replied, “Of course, you MUST set goals or you will never accomplish much”.
    I’m glad that you recent “goal setting” came in handy when trying to decide whether or not to upgrade in home space. Yay, for you!

  17. vivace

    Our neighbors raised five children in a three bedroom house, achieving goals 1,2,3, 4 and 5. AND, then much to their surprise, God gave them a very big house to finish raising children 3,4, and 5.

    The six of us shared one bathroom in a rather large old home.
    The closeness seems to help with #3. Which is the most bang for the buck.
    How deep is the love.

  18. 'Becca

    Would you mind telling us at some point how you’ve decided to divide your children among bedrooms, given that you have 4 girls and 1 boy? I’m always curious how people decide to use their space.

    Jenny has a good point about the arrangement of square footage in old and new houses. It’s also true, though, that within eras there were some very good and some very bad layouts. Many houses from the 1920s have tiny kitchens with lots of awkwardly-placed doors, for example.

    • sara m

      Yep. My house is 75 years old and has a rather small, though not exactly tiny, kitchen with awkwardly placed and extremely narrow doors. It’s too small to let all three kids play in there while I’m cooking and I can’t see them from there either. We’re learning to cook fast.

      I think my house was well laid-out for the purposes of the time, but people live a bit differently now. For example, there is no place in my living room where a TV doesn’t look stupid. The space just wasn’t designed with that in mind. This might have been a contributing factor in our giving up television a few years ago.

  19. Phyllis Haynes

    He mentioned that he was “behind schedule” on his renovation work in our basement..this struck me as odd…and I inquired, “What does that mean? It is true that by square footage that our houses are much bigger than they used to be; however, I am convinced they used to be designed much better. I like the goals so much I stole them. My aunt can fit many more people into her older 1000 sq ft house than I can fit in my five year old 1600 sq ft house.

  20. Harriett Navarro

    I needed this thirteen years ago! It is very likely that God, over time, was preparing your husband in a special way for something great.

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