Question: Derek, I would like to get your thoughts on goals from the Tao perspective. I've been told that the Tao Te Ching teaches us to let go of goals and allow everything to proceed naturally. My problem is that I have always set and achieved goals all my life, so I'm not sure how to do without them. Can you give me some tips?
Answer: This may surprise you, but you do not need to give up any of your goals. What you've been told may sound like something from the Tao Te Ching, but if you actually study the text, you'll see that Lao Tzu has nothing against goals.
For instance, in chapter 63, Lao Tzu tells us that handling many small and simple tasks will, over time, add up to the completion of a huge, seemingly impossible task. The lesson here is all about achieving goals, not doing without them.
This becomes even clearer in chapter 64, where Lao Tzu talks about the journey of a thousand miles and the tower of nine levels. Reaching the destination of the jouney and completing the construction of the tower are both goals, and the best way to achieving them is a little bit at a time. Tao cultivators who really understand this are powerful individuals indeed, because to them no tasks are too big or too difficult. They have the ability to turn their dreams and grand visions into reality.
This idea that we have to let go of goals probably comes from a misunderstanding. In authentic teachings of the Tao, we learn that if we become too attached to a goal, we can trip over ourselves and sabotage our own progress. Therefore, it would be best for us to let go of any obsessions or expectations about the end result. We should direct our focus and awareness to the process at hand, so we can enjoy the journey in the present moment. This allows the task to proceed naturally to completion.
When we understand this teaching clearly, we can see that goals are very much part of the Tao, so there is no need to let go of them. We can use them skillfully for our benefit. We can also see that the Tao Te Ching is actually a manual for living life -- with clear instructions on how to achieve success. The Chinese have known this for centuries; we in the West are now beginning to figure it out for ourselves.