Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

Don't Cling Too Tightly to Your Goals. The Greatest Opportunities Are Often Unexpected. A goal can light our path forward, and that's useful for a while. But a goal is not a map. It cannot define your whole journey.

By Jason Feifer Edited by Frances Dodds

This story appears in the January 2022 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When you narrow your path, you limit your chances of finding what will make you happiest.

That's something I've learned personally — and witnessed happening to ­others—throughout my career. As we begin a new year and set new goals, it's a lesson worth reflecting on.

We must make room for the unexpected. We must set goals but be completely comfortable abandoning them. We must accept that the greatest opportunities may be the ones we weren't looking for, and maybe didn't even know existed.

I'll give you an example: This is the story of "Tom," a real friend whose name I'm changing.

Related: Creating Systems Is More Important Than Establishing Goals

Tom always wanted to work at one specific company. He set this goal at the beginning of his career because that company was full of widely recognized talented people, and it produced products he thought were genius. Joining that tribe became his definition of success. Every job he took was strategically selected to one day appeal to his dream job. He followed the company religiously; he got to know people who worked there.

One day, after many years of labor, his efforts paid off: He got the job.

And it was not what he expected.

It was gratifying in many ways, sure, but it was thankless in too many other ways. It paid poorly. The hours were awful. It was often creatively stifling. He stayed there for years, often deeply unhappy, because the idea of being there still gave him joy, even if the work did not. But eventually, he left. It was too much to take. He's held a series of impressive jobs since then—the guy is talented, after all—but he's been passionate about none of them. He still doesn't really know what he wants, because he spent his entire career plotting one course.

Related: Obstacles Are Opportunities: Use Them to Take Your Business to the Next Level

I meet a lot of people who are like this. I feel fortunate I'm not one of them, and I attribute that to what I did not know earlier in my career.

I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I'd never heard of Entrepreneur magazine. I had no idea people got paid to speak onstage, and I was generally ignorant of all the other stuff I do now that brings me joy.

So how did I get here? By exploring. I took jobs solely for the skills they'd teach me, even if I didn't really care about the companies. I went down many fruitless paths. I tried on a few identities. I started things that failed. I kept my options open. And that prepared me for the unexpected, which was the role I hold now and the career I'm building around it.

This doesn't make me special, but it does make me part of a lucky club. I meet so many entrepreneurs who laugh — laugh! — at the reality of what they're doing now. They say things like, "I never planned to run a soap company!" But that soap company pulls in millions and challenges them in all the right ways. They love that soap company. And they got there not through careful plotting but by indulging the unknown. (Ditto for many of my colleagues here at Entrepreneur, by the way. While delivering this magazine to you, many of them are also doing other wild and amazing projects.)

Related: This Is Why You Should Start Setting 'Unrealistic' Goals

This year, as you set goals, I encourage you to hold them loosely. I've always thought of goals as a useful thing to move toward, simply because movement itself is so important. A goal can light our path forward, and that's useful for a while. But a goal is not a map. It cannot define your whole journey. If you chart your course too tightly, you'll miss all the promising off-ramps in your periphery.

Prepare for what is ahead in 2022. It promises to be a big year. But as you do, prepare to indulge the unexpected as well. Because I promise you, the unexpected is where the ­payoff and the joy will really be.

Jason Feifer

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief

Jason Feifer is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine and host of the podcast Problem Solvers. Outside of Entrepreneur, he is the author of the book Build For Tomorrow, which helps readers find new opportunities in times of change, and co-hosts the podcast Help Wanted, where he helps solve listeners' work problems. He also writes a newsletter called One Thing Better, which each week gives you one better way to build a career or company you love.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Growing a Business

Want to Expand Your Market Overseas? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Global Logistics in 2024

With rising geopolitical tensions and changing market conditions it can be hard for businesses to navigate supply chain logistics even in a post-pandemic world. Here are three tips from the CEO of an international customs brokerage.

Social Media

How To Start a Youtube Channel: Step-by-Step Guide

YouTube can be a valuable way to grow your audience. If you're ready to create content, read more about starting a business YouTube Channel.

Business News

Elvis Presley's Granddaughter Fights Graceland Foreclosure, Calls Paperwork 'Forgeries'

The 13.8-acre estate was scheduled to be sold in a public foreclosure auction on Thursday. Presley's granddaughter and heir, Riley Keough, is fighting to save Graceland in court.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Kickstarter Is Opening Up Its Platform to Creators and Making Big Changes to Its Model — Here's What's New

The company noted it is moving beyond traditional crowdfunding and making it easier for businesses to raise more money.

Business News

Target Is Lowering Prices on Thousands of Items — Here's Where You Can Expect to Save

The news was announced ahead of Target's Q1 2024 earnings call, expected to occur Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST.