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Is family the 'end' and everything else the 'means'?
We frequently mistake plans for goals. We go after things but dont ask ourselves why we want those things or what they will lead to. We frequently mistake the means for the ends, and the result can be emptiness and frustration. - photo by Linda and Richard Eyre
When our children were small and we were trying to teach them how to set simple goals, it was hard at first for them to differentiate between a "goal" and the "plan" to reach that goal.

We would say, What is your goal for tennis this summer? They would say, To practice for a half-hour every day.

That, we would explain, is a plan, not a goal. We told them that they would be more motivated to consistently execute that plan if it was clearly aligned with a goal they were trying to reach, such as getting good enough to rally 20 balls in a row or winning one set against their brother.

We taught them to ask the question why about anything they were doing. For example, why are you practicing? To get good enough to win a set. Practicing every day is the means to the end."

It turns out that we adults also frequently mistake plans for goals. We go after things but dont ask ourselves why we want those things or what they will lead to. We frequently mistake the means and the ends.

If someone is working 14-hour days, the question is why. What does that lead to? If the answer is a bigger house or a newer car, the question again is why. To what end is that the means? If the answer is so that my family can be safer and more comfortable, we may now be getting closer to the real end. But it also brings up the question of whether excessive work hours take something away from the family your time that they need more than the bigger house or newer car.

The point is that we all need to ask the question why more often, and we need to be sure that the answer is never because everyone else is doing it or because Im good at it or because I get status and recognition for it. There needs to be a deeper reason than that.

What is the real goal? What is the real end?

In our work with families around the world, we find so many bright and capable young parents who are not asking those questions. They are great at analyzing everything else, but they are not analyzing why they are doing what they are doing or what their short-term goals are leading them to in the long run.

But here is the hopeful thing: When they do ask the why questions, or when we pin them down on what their long-term goals are or what the ultimate end is for all their efforts at the means, they invariably come to family. And in doing that kind of thinking, they frequently end up re-evaluating their priorities for the day-to-day and realizing that they need to be sure their means are consistent with the desired ends.

Following are some examples of "why" questions that can be applied to a variety of scenarios:

Why do you work? To support my family.

Why do you invest? To have the means to support my kids.

Why do you exercise? So that I will stay healthy.

Why do you want to be healthy? So I can care for my family.

Why do you read? Because I enjoy it and want to be informed. Why? Because the happier I am and the more I know, the better parent I can be.

Why do you spend so much time on social media? Because I want to stay in touch. Why? Because I might get a good idea for my family.

Why do you go to fast food restaurants so much? Because we are so busy with so many lessons and teams and activities. Why? Because we want to expose our kids to everything.

Why do you spend so much time worrying about how you look or how your house looks? Because I want to set a good example and image for my kids.

Why do you spend so much time with your friends? Because I need an outlet and need to get out of the house. Why? So I dont get so cross with the kids.

Why are you getting a divorce? Because we want to protect our children from all of our conflicts.

Asking the "why" question and trying to separate goals from plans and ends from means can help us more realistically and more idealistically evaluate our lives. And if some of our answers seem like a stretch, perhaps it is because they are.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the end of family and relationships. And if the means of what we do each day are hard to connect to that end, it may be time for some re-evaluating, rethinking and reprioritizing.

Because as Socrates said, The unexamined life is not worth living.
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