The tragic phenomenon of death from overworking is known as “karōshi” in Japanese. In this blog I will be addressing how the right goals can help you avoid such a fate. When wrong goals + harmful company culture = bad news

No one has a goal of dying from working too much.

But many people do have the goal of making it to the top of the ladder no matter what. And some companies foster a culture that values working extremely long hours, avoiding time off, working on vacation, bragging about it all, and then “punishing” those who don’t do the same. That kind of environmental pressure, coupled with strong internal motivation, can lead to death from overworking.

This is the most extreme outcome of bad goal setting, of course. Taken to less extreme limits, you can still see how deleterious it is to pursue the wrong goals. It can lead to major physical and mental health problems, continual dissatisfaction, and a life of feeling like you never lived up to your potential.

By pursing the right goals, however, you can finally share the best of yourself and your gifts with the world, and do what you were meant to do.

The question we ask ourselves in goal setting

This is the question we ask ourselves when we come up with our goals. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. The question is,

“What do I want?”

The problem with this question: I can almost guarantee you that what you think you want isn’t what you really want.

You think you want to be CEO of your company, but what you really want is a fat paycheck, or the respect of colleagues, or the love of your children, or to prove your detractors wrong, or the ability to help people through the company, or to carry on your family legacy, or to get your name in the history books. It could be any number of things. Rarely is the thing you say you want what you really want on a more fundamental level.

The question we need to ask instead

It’s a subtle shift from the question above. Just add two words.

“What meaningful outcome do I want?”

This gets to the heart of the matter above. Is it a meaningful outcome to be promoted and get a new title? No. Is it a meaningful outcome to grow the company, create 100 new jobs, and do more good in the world because you were given a job that allows you the opportunity to do that? Yes. That’s what I mean by meaningful outcome.

When you change the question from “What do I want?” to “What meaningful outcome do I want?” you’ll likely find that the nature of the answers change. They’re less likely to be based on ego (“I want to win that award”), revenge (“I want to prove my ex wrong”), or envy (“I want my neighbor to be jealous”). They’re more likely to be based on what your efforts can do for other people and the positive change you can make in the world.

I think the CHASE-LOSE PRIME applies here. While it’s really about team goals within the company, the fundamental truth applies to individual goal-setting; too. When we chase something, we often end up losing it. That’s how we know it was the wrong thing. We’re not meant to chase money, but the good things it can do; we’re not meant to chase status, but the opportunities it brings. And so on.

Living a life full of worthy goals

My heart breaks when I read about another young person’s life cut short due to overwork. There are so many things to live for, and business is not the be-all end-all. With the right goals to act as your North Star and keep you on track, you won’t be as easily trapped in a world where work is the only thing that matters.

I’ll be writing more about goals and turning visions into reality in the next few blog posts. I also cover this topic in more depth in my new book, Match in the Root Cellar, which will be out near the end of 2017. Stay tuned!