A goal represents something a person attempts to achieve. Once a goal is achieved, new goals need to be set. Sometimes follow up (next set of) goals are well delineated, sometimes they are not, sometimes pursuit of well delineated follow up goals turns out to be counter productive.
Whenever a football (soccer) club wins a championship, the goal for the next year seems automatic — win the championship again.
But is this knee jerk “follow up” goal really as automatic in sense of best practice as it seems?
Suppose the soccer club in question had come sixth, third, second, then first over four successive seasons. Effort required for improvement on performance for three successive seasons quite is draining. Having now won the championship it conceivably may be better for ownership and coaches to tell the players “we do not have to win the championship next season, but we sure as hell are going to try our damn best to do so” than set target of winning back-to-back championships. If the new champions (soccer players) do not get to enjoy their success, do not feel like they are not under pressure to repeat, it is unlikely a repeat will materialize. Sometimes in order to achieve a repeat of a championship, ownership and coaches bring in new pieces which disrupt existing camaraderie on a championship team. The disruption of team camaraderie makes it more difficult for a championship team to repeat as champions. In the quest for what seems the natural follow up goal, a championship team can end up totally losing its way over the course of several seasons. In the characterization of back-to-back wins as benchmark for success, non-achievement of a repeat win can induce loss of team confidence.
Paucity of repeat championships in team sports is telling. In the Premier League — the most competitive of all soccer leagues — over the course of 25 years, only Manchester United and Chelsea have managed the feat. In the National Football League of the United States only three teams have accomplished the feat over the course of the last 25 years.
The problem with goals is they sometimes lead to pressure which destroys things, things that can be more important than the follow up goal. Things like team camaraderie or confidence.
Take aspirations. An aspiration is something by which a person seeks to be defined. Achievement of goals does not necessarily transform into something — essence — by which a person is defined.
Consider for example Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, two soccer players who won multiple championships with Premier League Club Arsenal. Bergkamp won three Premier League Championships, Thierry two. Neither of these two players are remembered first and foremost for winning of championships. Rather, they are remembered as two great strikers who worked together and complemented each other as part of Arsenal Coach — Arsene Wenger’s — new style of soccer. They are remembered first and foremost as epitomes of great strikers, not as soccer players who won championships. Bergkamp’s scoring statistics while at Arsenal aren’t great — 87 goals in 315 games, yet every soccer enthusiast or historian knows he was key to Arsenal’s and even more importantly, Thierry’s success. Bergkamp and Thierry refused to see each other as competitors, resulting in greatness for each of the two strikers and Thierry’s impressive 174 goals out of 254 games. Thierry is an advocate of Bergkamp’s soccer greatness. There are strikers in soccer who have won just as many or more championships than these two soccer players who will not be remembered in the same breadth. Oh, and by the way Bergkamp just was sacked as Assistant Coach of Ajax Football Club. Yes, you read that right, sacked as Assistant Coach. You either appoint a Bergkamp ‘Coach’ or wait until you can appoint him Coach. You do not appoint a Bergkamp Assistant Coach, Period.
Aspirations define, goals achieved tend to be forgotten.
There likely are people who will disagree with me, I believe, however, that the New England Patriots, one of the most successful football (NFL) teams in the United States represent the dichotomy between goal orientation and aspiration. No matter how much they win, the New England Patriots do not seem to generate any kind of team essence. Tom Brady may have won more football championships than Peyton Manning, yet Manning seems more representative of the Quarterback position than Brady. Brady has more wins, Manning seems more representative. While Peyton still was with the Indianapolis Colts, the Colts had team character, not so much the New England Patriots. You watched the Colts not just because they were good and expected to win but because the team seemed to represent a cause, a story, an aspiration.
When we aspire, we seek to master something, to be defined by something. When we set goals, achievement of goals does not necessarily lead to being known for a particular thing, does not necessarily imply development of essence. The Philadelphia Eagles never won an NFL Championship under Andy Reid, the man who coached the team from 1999 to 2012. Regardless, Andy Reid is widely remembered as epitome of an NFL Coach, a status some of his peers who have won championships are not accorded.
We are not defined by goals we achieve, we are defined by who we are and become in pursuit of aspirations.
I end with this thought. The United States of America has had many Presidents — 45 at this point in time. Some are remembered as good, some not so good. All achieved the goal of becoming President, yet each is defined by who they are perceived to have been or become in course of their Presidency. History always focuses more on who they were in course of their Presidency than what they achieved in course of their Presidency.
Aspirations define and swamp out achievement of goals in so far as ethos of our humanity are concerned.