The Many Struggles Of A Goal-Oriented Person

Inspired By: Resident Evil 2 (2019)

Are we beings who solely exist to complete the tasks set before us?

It seems that the world keeps running because people can reliably and consistently complete assignments. Clearly, the steady completion of tasks is important. People need money, so they get jobs. People need housing, so houses get built. People need to eat, so they prepare food.

What does it mean to set a goal that has no material value? Is it still a goal (albeit a pointless one)?

Is it even possible to engage in an activity if a person has no intended goal in mind?

I’ve always been interested in personality tests, as I’m sure most people are. If you can figure out how you work, then you probably have a better chance of being successful. Or happy. Or whatever it is you want to do. Enneagram, DISC, “Which Disney character are you?” (I got Kristoff, by the way, which I was pretty happy with), etc. Unfortunately, I always seem to get different answers.

Do I like being by myself or surrounded by people? It depends on how I’m feeling that day.

Am I the life of the party or do I just sit in the corner? It depends on who’s at the party.

When delivering criticism, am I blunt or do I sugar-coat things? It depends on who I’m talking to, and how they might take what I’m saying.

Most personality tests will boil down to some core components. First, you are either people-oriented or goal-oriented. Second, you are either an introvert or an extrovert.

After spending far too long thinking about these things, I came up with one certainty. I am very much a goal-oriented person (and I’m most likely an introvert). How did I figure it out? Put simply, whenever I had to make a decision about anything, I realized that I would implicitly ask a question. “What’s the result of doing X or Y?”. In other words, what is the goal, and what is the outcome? Why should I do that thing? It seems odd to me that anyone would think any other way. However, there is this very strange thing about being human. You only have one brain that you can analyze. I cannot go into another human being and analyze their thoughts (although I’m sure that would solve a whole lot of conflicts in the world).

In Resident Evil 2 (let’s call it Resi 2 from now on), you follow two characters, one man named Leon Kennedy, and one woman named Claire Redfield. Leon is reporting to the Racoon City Police Department because he’s starting his career as a police officer. Jill, on the other hand, is looking for her brother, Chris. They find each other in a gas station just outside of town and realize they have landed in the middle of an apocalypse (of the zombie variety). They will need each other’s help to survive the night.

The original Resi 2 came out many years ago. But lately, game remakes have been very popular. It seems every game that has ever been a hit is now either getting a fresh coat of paint (graphics upgrade) or an entire re-imagining (like the Final Fantasy VII Remake).

I remember gaming when I was younger. I had a PlayStation in my room. I had a bean bag chair. I would play for hours and hours. I remember finishing Zelda: Ocarina of Time in just three days. I finished the original Final Fantasy VII in under a week. But that was when I had far fewer responsibilities. It was at a time when I would regularly set goals that had no tangible benefit. Now, life has given me many responsibilities ( let’s call them mandatory goals). And when you have these mandatory goals, it leaves little room for anything else.

These days, if a goal isn’t thrust onto me, it’s very challenging for me to decide on what things I want to accomplish. If the completion of a goal has no tangible benefit, is it still worth pursuing?

The startling thing is that we see these kinds of goals being set and accomplished all the time. Speedrunners spend hundreds or thousands of hours trying to get the best completion time on a video game. People binge entire TV series in a single weekend. And probably most baffling, people do irrational things like climb Mount Everest, where there is no prize, and the risk of death is very real. I use the word irrational appropriately. There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost.

It’s interesting the way the brain works. Most of the time if I set a non-mandatory goal for myself, I give up on it very quickly once I realize it requires actual hard work. I’ve played Everquest on and off for years. Every time I start playing it, I set a goal to hit the max level in the game. This requires hundreds of hours (probably thousands). And undoubtedly, every time, I play for a week, and then I start questioning it. Why did I actually want to hit the max level? What does it actually, truly accomplish?

As I was playing Resi 2, I started going through the same mental exercises. Why am I playing this? What material value does it have?

Actually, I almost quit playing. But then something really odd happened. I discovered the in-game map which provided a view of the entire police station. Every room that was visited had certain icons scattered around it, and each was a specific color (either red or blue). In Resi 2, the game will automatically mark when you’ve visited a room. It will also track if you’ve discovered or looted every item in that room. There was something inside me that found it very satisfying to slowly watch the map change colors from red (still something left to do) to blue (the room has been discovered and all items have been found). And it became the main reason I kept on playing the game.

There is a good, bad, and ugly truth about being a goal-oriented person. The good is that a goal-oriented person probably completes quite a bit of work, and feels good about the work they accomplish. The bad is that this kind of person will sometimes put the completion of the work over another person’s needs. Then there’s the ugly – we become so obsessed with the goal that we lose focus on everything else.

I’ve seen this ugliness many times in myself, especially when I’m at work. When I’m working on an assignment, I feel pretty good about it as long as I think I’m making steady progress. However, if someone wants to talk about something else, it’s extremely difficult for me to stop thinking about the assignment and focus on that thing. And, even worse, if I start to feel that I haven’t made progress in a while, I tend to get into a funky mood. I can feel my demeanor shifting rapidly. Rather than participate in meetings, I’m standoffish. Rather than be cordial, I’m eager to finish conversations and get back to my task. This feeling only goes away when I solve the problem, and then, without fail, I feel on top of the world (until the next thing goes wrong of course).

Setting and completing goals is part of life. Most “productivity experts” will tell you that being very deliberate about your goals is the number one way to become successful. I’m not qualified enough to say anything different. But if you find yourself becoming so obsessed with a goal that you’re willing to allow your relationships to suffer, then it might be time to re-evaluate what really matters to you, and what real success looks like.

Stop and smell the roses once in a while, won’t you?

Game On.

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