Posted: 28 Sep. 2020 6 min. read

What are your goals?

Discovering life and life goals

How many times has someone asked you "What are your goals"? I for sure, have lost count. I have heard it during interviews, as part of goal setting for performance management, and surprisingly even from strangers who tried to use this as an ice breaker.

I was lost when I started to face this question during my time at college and then during my professional career. Why? Because I did not have any goal.

At home, I grew up hearing "whatever you do, do it in the best possible way"; "be balanced in every situation life throws at you". My everyday prayer also used to be (and continues to be) "God, give me good buddhi (wisdom)". So, it was all abstract, nothing specific.

Once, when I asked my parents, they simply smiled at me—I don’t think they had a clue. I was fed up and then I asked my grandma, "What is your goal?". She smiled and pulled me closer to tell something so profound that it just opened my eyes! She said every human being born on earth has only two goals:

  1. Fulfil one's desires
  2. Dissolve self

I was shocked—she read my confusion and continued—the fact that we are born itself means there are desires waiting to be fulfilled. When one evolves through the process of life to realize self, and reaches a state where one is not able to differentiate between self and the universe, there the self is dissolved and then there are no more cycles of life and death.

I was relieved that I now had the ‘license’ to fulfil my desires. So, I asked her since fulfilling my desires was my goal, can I buy the yellow scooter that I saw the other day and beat up my brother since he always irritated me? To this, she said the desire has to be "right". What is "right"? Right is defined by ‘Dharma’ (now that’s for another day). That was not it, she said you need the "means" i.e. money, strength, power, to buy that scooter or fulfil desires in general. Those means need to be rightfully earned. So, the two goals now became four:

  1. Fulfill desires (Kama)
  2. Earn the means to fulfil desires (Artha)
  3. Live rightfully (Dharma), constantly check if your desires and means align with your “duty” and are "right" so that it does not disturb the harmony of society
  4. Dissolve self (Moksha)

This was so profound that from then on, I did not have to live with any guilt of buying that expensive car, indulging in that relaxing spa, leaving office early, choosing an important client meeting over attending my daughter's parent teacher meeting, or even paying for someone's education over taking an overseas vacation. It was simple—duty first and then, if it is right (now this varies with time, person and place) for me to do it, I can do it.

Then, I began to constantly do "Is this right?" test on everything I did—while managing a client escalation, nominating people for rewards, year-end discussions, responding to a difficult email, helping someone in need, responding to an agitated family member, commenting on someone, and the list goes on. You may argue that I am not always right. That’s fair…you should have guided me on what was the right thing to do because that was your duty (Dharma) as a colleague.

I don’t think I am any closer to dissolving myself, but I have managed to remain sane and guilt free.

I can't change the world but when people ask me to do goal setting or what my life goals were, I smile and translate them (in my mind) to be desire-setting and life-desires. 

So, what are your desires?

About the author

Anu Vemparala is a Leader at Deloitte Consulting India Private Limited. She leads the Advertising Marketing & Commerce offering within the Customer & Marketing portfolio. Having spent majority of her career at Deloitte, Anu helps clients transform themselves to be ready for a digital future. She’s an avid storyteller, aspiring to create a beautiful future for ourselves by connecting our rich past with the vibrant present.

The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of her current, former, or future employers or any organization with which she is associated.