What I’m Pondering – End Goals vs. Means Goals

Have you ever reached a big goal and not felt as satisfied as you thought you would?

Well, you’re not alone. This is extremely common because humans love short-term goals, and it’s easy to get caught up in them. A lot of times, the goals we strive for are only a means to reaching the goals we are really after. When you ask someone what they want out of life, the typical responses are happiness and purpose. These real end goals are feelings-based, coming from the inside; they express how you want to see yourself when you look in your “internal” mirror.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

End goals are what we are really after. Means goals are simply small steps along the way, and you don’t want to get distracted by setting the wrong means goals. You must continuously ask yourself if your goals will get you to your desired destination. I like to think about determining end goals using an old Japanese business practice called the 5 Whys. The original purpose was to find the root cause of a business problem, but the concept can be used here as well. The process involves looking at a problem (or goal in our case) and asking yourself, “Why?” Each answer then becomes the basis for the next “Why?” question.

“I should be suspicious of what I want.”

Let’s run through a quick exercise to see whether one of your goals is a means goal or an end goal. The exercise involves running through your goal and honestly asking yourself “Why” is this my goal? So, think about a goal you set for yourself.

For example, I really wanted to go backpacking in China:

Why China? I wanted to stay at a Shaolin Monastery to learn Kung Fu.

Why a Shaolin Monastery? I wanted an authentic martial arts experience.

Why did I want an authentic martial arts experience? Because I love adventure. Adventure – THIS is an end goal. This is something that, if not incorporated into my life, I will not feel fulfilled.

Means goals can also be broken off into different tangents to find multiple end goals. Let’s start back at why I wanted to go to a Shaolin Monastery. Why did I feel pulled to a Chinese Monastery to train Kung Fu, instead of say, a Korean Dojang to learn Taekwondo? Well, I wanted to go somewhere remote. Why did I want to seclude myself? I wanted peace and quiet. Why did I want peace and quiet? I wanted time to think without any outside influences. Why did I want to rid myself of outside influences? I felt (getting closer!) frequently uncomfortable working in the corporate world. Why did I feel uncomfortable? Because I felt that I wasn’t helping people who actually need help. Bingo.

Through this exercise, I explicitly identified two of my core values. I derive personal fulfillment from adventure and having a direct, positive impact on people. Now, a key word here is personal. These are simply my personal goals, which may widely differ from yours, and rightfully so! Anyway, now that I know two of my end goals, I can start creating plenty of means goals with the purpose of fulfilling those end goals. For example, I could travel the world 🙂 or start a consumer-facing company, or start volunteering, etc.

Now, you may be worried about one thing after reading this far. You may be asking yourself, “Wait, so my goal shouldn’t be to buy that Lamborghini I’ve always wanted??” That is 100% not what I’m saying! Buying material things can definitely be means goals, and there is nothing wrong with them. All that matters is that they fit within your end goals and that you are honest with yourself.

Do you want that Lamborghini because one of your end goals is thrill, and you love every second of driving fast through beautiful rolling hills? Or, do you want that Lamborghini because it boosts your ego when you drive through downtown? I’m not a psychologist, but I believe those would lead to very different levels of overall well-being.

This also fits right in with the exercise we previously used for finding your Ikigai. Your end goals dictate your life mission, passion, profession, and vocation. If you missed it, you can find this exercise in the article on Finding Your Life Purpose!

What are some of your end goals? How will you reach them? Let me know in the comments below!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top