Life Goals Part 1 of 3 — Why Ego-Driven Goals Won´t Make You Happy

Goals Are Good For You — Kind Of

Most people have bought into the popular notion that you need to have goals to ‘win’ at life. In my teens and tweens, my life goals used to be pretty straight forward:

  1. Finish school
  2. Finish university
  3. Climb the corporate ladder
  4. Become CEO
  5. Retire at 50 and live on a tropical island
  1. Grow revenue to support the three founders full time. Once we achieved that, we realized that we didn’t like working together, so I focused on
  2. buying out my co-founders and subsequently selling the company. This was followed by
  3. maximizing the earn-out and finally
  4. surviving the time in corporate until my contract was over. After that, I realized I wanted my company back and did everything in my power to
  5. buy back my own company. Sounds like bad fiction, but it really happened like this. ;-)

The Problem With Goals

And off we went. We restructured our company into a squad-based organization with three business units and nearly 50 people. The only issue was: We grew too fast and didn’t create the processes to reliably deliver excellence.

A Life-Changing Encounter

In Spring 2019, I met an old acquaintance of mine at an event. I was asked to give a talk about running a 100% remote company, and he was giving his talk right before mine. He is an executive coach and consultant and was literally giving the theoretical underpinnings of what I was about to talk next. I did not assume “science” had even caught up with what we were doing at the time. Inspired by the book “A Trillion Dollar Coach”, I asked him if he would coach me. That man’s name is Alexander Petrowsky.

What Should I Do With My Time On This Planet?

First, I dove headfirst into psychology. I found that the brain chemistry that motivates us to do things is still in cavemen mode:

  1. Dopamine gives us a small high whenever we do something cavemen needed to survive: Eat sugar, eat food, have sex.
  2. Serotonin gives us a small high whenever we position ourselves in a social hierarchy: Win a fight, gossip, get praise or put someone down.

A New Paradigm Of Goals

So what does that mean for our life aspirations? Instead of running after the next promotion or a bigger house, we should look at what we can do to improve the relationships we have with people. And that means to radically shift our focus from ego-driven goals and cheap pleasures to helping and connecting with others in a profound way. BTW: Jesus and the Buddha would approve. ;-)

  • The Buddhists tell us that the ego is an illusion, and enlightenment is actually finding out that the ‘Self’ doesn’t exist at all. Rather, we are all interconnected. Or as Dan Harris, author of the book and app 10% Happier, summarized it: The best self-help program was developed 2,500 years ago — a worldview that, oddly enough, held that there is actually no “self” to “help”.
  1. Stuff you can influence entirely — i.e. when you get up in the morning
  2. Stuff you can influence a bit — i.e. a promotion
  3. Stuff you cannot influence at all — i.e. the stock market

Quick Summary

To sum it up, we should focus our goals on:

  1. Input (our effort) instead of output (what we might achieve with it)
  2. Continuous improvement rather than a static set goal to achieve
  3. Helping and connecting with others instead of achieving something for our ego

Personal Book Recommendations


Ego is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles


Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth



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Hannes Kleist

Hannes Kleist


MBA, 10 years strategy at ProSiebenSat.1, 5 years app startup (exited), 5 years digital agency, now helping startups with sales