• Mary Anderson

Pros and Cons of Setting Goals

Mary Anderson is hiking the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail and writing a book about it.


By Mary Anderson

Goals can be a great motivator, but they can also blind us to daily life. A company might achieve a goal at the expense of its workers. Some achieve career goals by not spending quality time with their children. Out here on the trail the goal of finishing can cause a hiker to lose sight of the daily beauty or to push into a dangerous situation. Some long-distance hikers, focused on finishing, skip huge sections of trail and walk shorter paved-road walks just to say they walked from Mexico to Canada. I continually remind myself that although I do want to finish this trail, I also want to enjoy it. I bend down to smell the flowers. I pause to take in the views and scan the landscape for signs of animal life. I stop to meet new people along the trail.

When the bar is set too high or when unforeseen situations arise that cause one to give up short of the end goal, it's easy to beat yourself up, so I try to be especially kind to the hikers who quit around me. There is a mourning process involved in failing to meet a goal.

I also know that once a goal is reached there can be a brief period of elation before depression sets in. All those months before the goal was reached there was a set direction and focus to each day. The goal was there as a challenge waiting to be met. But what is left when the goal is reached and there is nothing more to strive for? It is common for long-distance hikers to have posthike depression.

I am trying to prepare for this. I want to head it off if possible. I have had the goal of getting my hiking triple crown for close to forty years. A lot of time and planning has gone into accomplishing it. In fact, knowing I wanted to do the CDT, the last of the three trails in the crown for me to finish, gave me a direction and something to live for after my husband walked out on me without a word that he was leaving. It will be especially tough for me because I will be returning home to face an ugly, unwanted divorce. I don’t want that to overshadow my accomplishment and pull me back into some deep, dark pit. I don’t have answers yet as to how I will prevent the posthike fall. But I am trying to hike each day, trusting that doing what I love and accomplishing my goal will bring me the strength and wisdom I need to move on to the next phase of my life.

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