“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)


I’m travelling this week, so while I’m away, I’m re-posting two popular blogs from the past. I hope you like the reboots. I expect to have the next original post on Friday, June 8.

It’s possible that you’re unfamiliar with the name Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Though highly unlikely you haven’t heard of Saint-Exupery’s classic novella entitled, The Little Prince. This novella, written in 1943, has been translated into more than 250 languages from its original French, and still sells more than 2 million copies EACH YEAR. It’s one of the most widely read, most celebrated, and best-loved books ever published.

The book tells the story of a boy who meets and befriends a pilot who had crashed in the desert. The boy had lived on an asteroid and was on a journey to various planets. The essential meaning of the story has been debated for more than 70 years. But it makes for delightful reading nonetheless and life principles abound in the story.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born into an aristocratic family in France in 1900. He took his first airplane ride when he was 12, and was hooked. During his compulsory military service in 1922, he began to fly planes. His adventures as a pilot would serve as the backdrop and inspiration for his literary works.

Like The Little Prince, Saint-Exupery’s death was mysterious. He took off July 31, 1944 on a reconnaissance mission over France during the Second World War. His plane never returned. And though the remains of the plane and some personal effects were discovered in 2000, his body was never found.

A plausible explanation for the crash was offered in 2005 when a former German pilot named Rippert claimed to have shot down Saint-Exupery’s plane. Turns out he was a huge fan who had idolized the author and had devoured his books on flying as a child. At the time he feared he may have shot down his aviator turned author hero and was distraught. Though he never spoke of it publicly until 2005.

But though Rippert’s account is possible, some doubt its credibility. So just as in the case of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart’s plane only 6 years earlier—we may never know what actually happened.

Let’s take a look at Saint-Exupery’s quotation.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. 

If you’ve read my blog for long, you’ve noticed that I write frequently about planning. And about the discipline required to implement one’s plan. This may be to the annoyance of some. After all, what’s wrong with dreaming? What’s the harm in having a goal without actually reaching it? Why all the fuss? Why be so hard on those who dream a lot but don’t accomplish so much?

Well, it’s not like we must choose between the value of having goals and the value of reaching them. But it’s helpful to see the two in their proper perspective. Saint-Exupery’s quotation is a reminder that there’s a world of difference between GOAL SETTING and GOAL REACHING.

A goal is reached through a PLAN FOR REACHING IT. Without a PLAN, a goal is really no more than a wish. Or as Napoleon Hill observed:

goal is a dream with a deadline.

A deadline is more or less the equivalent of a PLAN in Saint-Exupery’s quotation. In other words, if we want to get somewhere, we must have a plan for doing so. Otherwise we’re either going to stay where we are, or we’re going to end up in some place we didn’t plan on ending up in.

This reminds me of the enlightening discussion in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

This exchange reminds us that the purpose of a goal is to clarify the destination. The reason we set goals is because we have desire to get to a particular place. The place we end up is important to us. If not, then there’s no purpose for the goal at all. It’s rarely been said with greater clarity and simplicity than by Stephen Covey in his phenomenally successful book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The second habit is:

Begin with the end in mind.

To begin with the end in mind means that we set a clearly defined goal we want to reach. We think through and preferably write down a target we want to hit. The goal is specific. The goal is measurable. The goal is realistic. The goal has a deadline. Clearly articulating the goal will help provide the focus and the energy and the direction we need to reach it.

Of course, we can just settle for a WISH. We can be content with a DREAM. We can be satisfied with HOPE. But hope is not a strategy. Nor is a wish.  Nor is a dream. We can always wait until next week or next month or next year to follow through on our desires. But for most people, ONE of these days eventually morphs into NONE of these days.

You can profoundly reduce this possibility through a CLEARLY ARTICULATED GOAL. Followed by a gradual, systematic, step-by-step PLAN for reaching your goal. Very few people who achieve success of any significance do so without 3 things:

  • A Desire
  • A Goal
  • A Plan

So go ahead. Set a goal that reflects something you’d like to do. Some destination you want to reach. Make a step-by-step plan for getting there. Then tackle each step as you get to it. If you have setbacks along the way—no worries.

If you fail, that’s okay. We usually learn more from our failures than from our successes anyway. I’m not suggesting that you make failure your goal so you can learn from it. I’m suggesting that you make success your aim and learn in spite of the setbacks along the way.

Even if you must suffer two steps back for every three steps forward—you’ll still be making progress. Learn from your mistakes and failures along the way. Let them be your coach and guide on the journey. Failures and setbacks are wonderful teachers. Then remind yourself of the goal and get back on the road.

Reaching your goal need not be a straight line with no deviation. It can be a zigzagged journey. It can be a bit wobbly at times. That’s okay. The point is that you have a desire. That you have a goal. And that you have a plan. When you have these, you’re well on your way to reaching your destination.

Mr. Saint-Exupery was right. A goal without a plan is just a wish. Nothing wrong with wishes. Nothing wrong with desires. Nothing wrong with dreams. But if your hope is to FULFILL THEM—then you’ll need a plan. Why not start today?

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Copyright © 2018 by Samuel Rodenhizer
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