February 25th, 2004

Aim High

“Aim at the sun – you may not hit it, but you’ll hit something higher than if you aim at ground level.”

You’ve heard quotes like this before. They are supposed to inspire us on to greater things.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m severely lacking in the setting goals department, but I have a real problem with quotes like this. Let’s examine it, shall we?

First, “aim at the sun.” Never mind the actual scientific evidence that says you should not look directly at the sun. It will damage your eyes. No question. You can’t aim at something without looking at it.

Second, “you may not hit it.” Um, you won’t. Guaranteed. Use a bow and arrow, a pistol, a rifle, or an ICBM – you aren’t going to hit the sun. Ain’t gonna happen.

Third, depending on what time of day it is, aiming at the sun can have different effects. Aim at the sun at sunrise and it’s basically the same as aiming at something at ground level, which the quote specifically implies is a negative thing. Aim at the sun at noon on a summer day and you’re going to have a whole ‘nother set of problems pretty quick. I always picture a bow and arrow when people talk about aiming. I don’t know why, I just do. Have you ever shot an arrow straight up in the air? Even a target-tipped arrow becomes deadly on the return trip. Aim at the sun at noon on a summer day and you’re asking for an arrow through your head or through the engine block on your ’91 Cavalier. Not pretty either way.

Those are the analogy problems I see. If you’re going to use a picture to inspire people, the picture ought to fit the situation. Sure, I understand the sentiment: your arrow will describe a parabola on its trip, and a higher starting angle means a higher ending place, generally, and yadda yadda yadda.

Here’s the biggest problem I have with the quote: it’s suggesting that it’s good practice to set unattainable goals. Keep this in mind: you will not hit the sun. Ever. If you set goals that you will not hit ever, how depressing is that? Yes, goals should be set higher than our current level. That’s what makes them goals. If I’m sitting on one end of the couch and I make the other end of the couch my goal, well, that doesn’t really fit. But how about something in-between the other end of the couch and the sun? What about that bird sitting on the telephone wire? How about the weathervane on top of the barn? What about the broad side of the barn itself? (Some folks need to start somewhere…)

I’ve had it as my goal to update my site on a regular basis. I didn’t specifically sit down and say “6 times a week” or anything, I just said “regularly.” That’s an example of a bad goal. Goals ought to be measurable. I should set down a number. But setting the goal at “I will update every hour on the hour” is just as bad a goal, I think. I’ll need to sleep at some point, and work needs to be done. It’s just not feasible.

Many times people equate “realistic” with “pessimistic.” The glass can be half-empty, half-full, or at 50% of its capacity. I object to lessons that are limited to two choices when more are available. At what point does “you can do it if you try” meet up with “know your limitations”? I can update more often if I tried, but I know I can’t update every hour. Nor would you want me to.

Set attainable goals, is all I’m saying. Yes, set them higher than where you are currently, but make them something you can attain with work.

And if you’re going to aim at the sun, then, please, for me, wear some really good shades.

Leave a Reply