"For nothing should be done without an end in view." -Marcus Aurelius
Imagine having an aim to your life so meaningful and suited to your desires and strengths that every experience feels pointed and purposeful. Imagine being so dedicated to that aim that you know instantly when something isn’t in line with it, and you exit accordingly.
The opposite isn't so hard to imagine either. You regularly find yourself exhausted and unamused; your focus rarely extends beyond that of the immediately gratifying. The inevitable unexpected damages your perspective, with unnecessary amounts of time spent wallowing and wondering. When you don't have an end goal, you fall prey to being jolted by circumstance. Your decisions are made for (or by) other people, you bounce around from thing to thing just hoping something clicks, essentially existing in a state of perpetual frustration or apathy.
I have entrepreneur and investor Tai Lopez to thank for introducing me to the two words that helped to powerfully focus my existence: end goals. The internalization of this term will reframe how you see everything and why you do anything. It's important to stress that the concept of an end goal isn't strictly for someone with lofty, career-oriented ambitions. It's for the homemaker just as much as it's for the business mogul. It's for the teenager, the taxi cab driver, the young adult and the retiree. No matter who or where you are in this life, clearly-defined end goals are essential.
If breathing is essential, end goals are what remind us why we do it.
There’s a few ways to define this idea, but we’ll go with the most poignant: an end goal is the overarching theme of your life and the ultimate desired result (or set of results). It is necessarily two-pronged, and we'll come back to why that's significant momentarily.
An end goal is that thing so powerful, so worthy, and so essential that the odds are no match for you when it comes to achieving it. It’s that thing that propels you in adversity, and grounds you in triumph. It’s that image you envision when you fast-forward to the end of your life, and it’s the reflection you crave when you look back on it. What do you want to be able to reflect on? Most of us don’t think of life that way—in reverse. Many refer to it as reverse-engineering—this idea of thinking of where you want to be in 10, 20, or 50 years, and working backwards from there. In other words, if I want to be a world-class pianist, nobel-prize winning scientist, or an Olympic athlete one day, what must I do today to get there? Simple concept, right?
Now let’s get deeper.
Lucky for many of us, an end goal doesn’t have to be so grand or so singular. An end goal isn’t [just] simply, I want to be or have XYZ. An end goal can be an abstract concept that’s woven throughout your pursuits—such as, leave an impact on the world in the most positive way possible—or a concrete one, such as the examples listed earlier.
But a powerful end goal is often both. Remember the definition we talked about: an end goal is the overarching theme of your life and the ultimate desired result (or set of results). Both. And. An end goal that’s merely abstract likely won’t keep you focused enough to stay driven amidst all circumstances, and an end goal that’s purely concrete will keep you focused, but you won’t always be inspired. If your end goal is to have a net worth of $10,000,000, there will inevitably be days where the pursuit becomes so challenging and meaningless that you question why you even wanted the $10M to begin with. However, if your end goal is to have a net worth of $10M so that you can build schools in impoverished areas globally, or so you can start a plethora of meaningful businesses, or so that no matter where you find yourself, you’re always free to give abundantly and generously, chances are you’ll stay both focused and motivated throughout. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see last post for pronunciation here) puts it excellently in Flow with this:
“…it is necessary to invest in goals that are so persuasive that they justify effort even when our resources are exhausted and when fate is merciless in refusing us a chance at having a comfortable life.”
When fate is merciless. Ouch. If it hasn’t to you already, fate will at some point be merciless. You’ll be broke. You’ll be alone. You’ll be betrayed. As a byproduct of living, misfortune to some degree is inevitable. What Csikszentmihalyi is saying here is that for lasting optimal experience, we must identify something so meaningful that when the world exclaims otherwise, we trudge forward even more fervently.
In The Obstacle Is The Way (a modern stoic staple), author Ryan Holiday depicts the impeccable fortitude of Abraham Lincoln, specifically chronicling the little-known darker side of his life—impoverished upbringing, battles with depression, loss after loss on his way to the presidency, etc.
"Lincoln's personal challenges had been so intense that he came to believe they were destined for him in some way, and that the depression, especially, was a unique experience that prepared him for greater things. He learned to endure all this, articulate it, and find benefit and meaning from it."
This is the perspective that an end goal grants someone. Abraham Lincoln had an end goal. Now, I don't know what it was word-for-word, but I'd imagine it was something along the lines of, "Affect the landscape of the nation by becoming President of the United States." And that, he did.
Worthy end goals reframe both our past and our present, giving us the ability to positively anticipate the future and act accordingly. Now, imagine an Abraham Lincoln who couldn't do these things? If you have a base knowledge of American history and Lincoln's accomplishments, this isn't a version of him you want to imagine. Implications abound.
Another example of someone whose life is a byproduct of an unconquerable end goal-oriented mindset is Oprah. Before your eyes roll at the blatant obviousness here, let's take a second and remember (or learn for the first time, maybe) who Oprah was before she was, Oprah. Born into rural poverty, Oprah suffered through years of sexual abuse by male relatives, ran away from home at age 13, was impregnated at 14 (ultimately losing the child in infancy), and endured constant marginalization from peers well into her professional career.
The Oprah we now know is a billionaire media mogul and philanthropist, using her gifts of connection and empathy to affect the world. This wasn't an accident. Oprah knew where she wanted to go, and the odds were no match for her.
Fortunately, we all happen to share a key trait with Abraham Lincoln and Oprah: we're humans. As such, we’re born with an incredible force of will—a painstaking ability to persevere in the most overwhelming circumstances. This manifests itself both in just simply staying alive (think of our primitive ancestors), and in living a life where you completely thrive. And everywhere in between. If you have difficulty believing in the innateness of perseverance, read any story of a Holocaust or POW survivor. It doesn't take much research to support the idea that our bodies were built to survive. And a step further even, to conquer.
“…so also can the rational creature turn every hindrance into material for itself, and employ it on whatever purpose it has engaged upon.” -Marcus Aurelius
So, if survival is already a natural instinct, how much stronger does one's will become when paired with a worthy goal toward which to channel that survival? We become unstoppable. We don't have to live lives to such scale as Lincoln's and Oprah's, but in our own right, in our own way, in our own corner, we do become unstoppable. It goes without saying that end goals aren't achieved by merely just having them. It takes the right actions and the right opportunities. But without the end goal initially present, the "right" or "wrong" things will be hard to distinguish.
But it's about the journey, the self-help gurus exclaim! Not the destination! If this were completely true, we wouldn't get so angry when a really good movie or TV show ends horribly. [Enter- How I Met Your Mother *grumbles*] We want a good (read: meaningful) ending! One in which the journey is honored, not unraveled. How devastating that we wouldn't desire the same of our lives with equal or more fervency. Even if you don't have the fortune of living long enough to realize that good ending, aim, at the very least, to die while in the pursuit of it. For that is still a story worth telling. World changers throughout history have epitomized this.
Let's bring this home.
Please hear me rightly: you and your pursuit need-not be prolific. Your end goal is as valuable and meaningful as you decide it is. Be it simple, complex, something that changes the world or just yourself and those around you, the fact that you've established an end goal is what gives it significance. It means that you've decided that there is something that will propel you through until that last breath.
Raise children who are equipped to be influencers. Help to build self-sustaining communities across the nation. Create content that matters. These are simple examples of what an end goal could look like; the decisions you make post-end goal establishment are then seen in light of how it impacts this. Stoic philosopher Seneca may have put it best in this quote from his book, Letters From A Stoic:
"As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at which point you stop. Stop wherever you will—only make sure that you round it off with a good ending."
So there we have it. The philosophy of end goals is the pursuit of a good ending—your good ending. And a good ending, in turn, breeds a good life.