What, REALLY, is your goal in life and in business?

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Last year, I was studying some books for my MBA class when my son approached me.

“Dad, ” he said, “why are you studying this? I thought you had your exam last week”

“Yes, ” I replied, “We had our exam last week.”

“Then, why are you still studying? “, he asked incredulously as if he could not believe what he heard.

“I studied because the subject is important, and what it is teaching us is important knowledge for the business. I was busy and did not have time to study before the exam, so I am studying after the exam”, I patiently explained to him.

“But dad, the exam is finished. ” , he kept on, still not quite believing why anybody would be so dense as not to see his point.

I saw his point, but he did not see mine. After all, he has been brought up with the notion that you do your homework because your teacher assigned you to, or you study because you want to get good grades and get a degree. Many times, there seems to be nobody to remind us in a matter-of-fact way the goal of studying is because you want to learn.

I remember way back in college when I set out my task to be the smartest person in class. The way to do it, I convinced myself, was to read one hundred pages a day. So I decided to keep a list everyday. I would record and document how many pages I read, and make sure it was at least a hundred pages.

The objective of reading that hundred pages a day became obsessive that instead of focusing on expanding my knowledge, I was more focused on the quantity of pages read. The subgoal, originally conceived to achieve the original goal became a goal on its own, and the main goal was forgotten. Even when I was tired, or the book was not interesting or particularly enlightening, I made sure I would keep that hundred pages. I read so much that I really did not have much time to reflect what I was reading. Worse, I did not even care whether what I was focused too much on reading was particularly worth reading at all. I was hitting my sub goal, but it did not get me nearer to my stated goal of becoming smarter.

This fundamental rethinking of goals is important… in business and in life.

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