In high school, I read part of Aristotleâ€™s Nicomachean Ethics, which compares human attempts to achieve success, happiness, and goodness to an archer aiming an arrow at a target. According to Aristotle, exact, bullâ€™s eye perfection is nearly impossible to achieve; however, around the bullâ€™s eye, there exists a range of achievement that is realistically attainable for most people. Each of us, given the restraints of our particular set of circumstances, has the potential to bring our arrow into this range of what is considered success. And, the road to success is not a clear-cut or exclusive one with a specific time frame for every person. Each of us has the opportunity to achieve success in various areas of our lives by taking aim, to the best of our ability, at the bullâ€™s eye of what we want to achieve.
I always remembered Aristotleâ€™s simple, yet powerful illustration of how to aim toward success. However, through many years of teaching with young people at the university level and as a father, I have noticed that many young people are not prepared to use Aristotleâ€™s formula, because they have not defined life goals to work toward. Instead, in terms of Aristotleâ€™s allegory, they shoot arrows in random directions by first trying one thing and then another or pursuing an academic major without knowing where this area of study will take them or what they will do with it.
For this reason, I often engage my students in goal setting exercises. I ask them to picture themselves ten years in the future and imagine where they want to be and what they want their life to look like. Next, I ask them to consider the steps they will have to take, academically, professionally and personally, to achieve that ideal future status. With a bullâ€™s eye set, they are better able to determine the areas in which they need to strive to improve and the skills they need to develop in order to achieve their life goals and objectives.
Over the years, many former studentsâ€”and my son and daughter– have told me that this goal setting exercise was valuable and useful for them. And, in return, I have often thought back with gratitude to the teacher who long ago inspired me with Aristotleâ€™s ancient wisdom and provided me with a tool which has been beneficial to me, my family, and my students.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.