SMART vs. VAPID Goals

I was listening to the Art of Manliness Podcast #204: How To Be Miserable and got inspired.

Not to try to be miserable – guest Dr. Randy Paterson’s advice is to find ways that you are already making yourself miserable, and stop doing those things. At least, not do them as much.

After all, there is no magic pill or psychological technique that can take anyone from “black dog gnawing on my soul” to “move over, Pollyanna!” in one giant leap. On the other hand, it is possible to make small, incremental changes to make tomorrow suck 2% less than today. String enough of those days together and… suddenly, life may not be awesome but it can be a lot better than it was before.

One of the ways to make yourself miserable is to set VAPID goals. Paterson created VAPID as the opposite of SMART goals. If SMART goals are

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time-defined

then VAPID goals are

  • Vague
  • Amorphous
  • Pie in the sky
  • Irrelevant
  • Delayed

I know I’ve set VAPID goals for myself before. Paterson is right, they are a great way to be miserable. I recommend avoiding them.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport is two things:

1. A thorough debunking of the “passion” hypothesis (“follow your passion”, “do what you love the money will follow”).

2. An alternative approach summed up by the title, which Newport calls the “craftsman” hypothesis.

This is a simple but powerful change of perspective.

As Mike Rowe says, “just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.”

Newport’s advice is instead to first, stop sucking at what you do. Then you may have a passion worth following.

As someone who has struggled with the question of mission and meaningful work, I wish I had found this book ten or even twenty years ago.