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Setting Goals and Fulfilling Dreams with Heart

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert A. Hunter
July 18, 2022

As students, educators, public officials, administrators or professionals in any field, it’s always an opportune time, whether we’ve moved beyond our formal education years or not, to review, reconsider and perhaps reset our goals.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream,” wrote C.S. Lewis.

A friend of mine, a colleague and very successful chemistry professor, told me of his junior high school teacher who assigned students to write their own obituaries.

“We hardly knew what an obituary was, and we were startled to have an assignment like that at such a young age,” he remembered. “But we did it, and for me it was one of the best homework assignments of my entire K-12 experience. It helped me figure out what I really wanted to do.”

He went on to continue his education with enthusiasm and earn his doctoral degree. As a chemistry professor, he has involved his students in significant projects, many of which have led to success and financial rewards.

Students describe him as someone who puts his heart into helping them reach their goals.

From his story, I developed a similar assignment for my university students. They are required to write an obituary for their imagined death at age 100. At the conclusion of each semester, my students’ evaluations tell me it was one of the best assignments they’ve had in their college experience.

“This helped me think thoroughly about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” is a common comment in their evaluations.

Another respected friend of mine who served as a university president, and then went on to become CEO of a major management corporation, told me that as a high school student, he was challenged by a beloved mentor to write his life goals along with a step-by-step plan for attaining them. So, he developed a list of 100 major goals he wanted to accomplish during his life. They were significant quests, such as writing a symphony, serving as president of a major corporation, serving as president of a university, etc.

My association with him was predominantly while he was university president. I saw him about two weeks after his final retirement. He had worked way into his 70s. He had lived a very well-rounded life, and it was easy to see that he had put his heart into everything he had done.

During a social occasion with him and his wife—the last conversation I had with him—I asked about his goals.

“I’ve accomplished almost all of them,” he said.

“So now what are you going to do?” I asked.

He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a fresh list of goals to complete during the final years of his life. While doing that, his wife tapped him on the arm and said, “I have a list for you, too.”

Success requires heart and planning. That’s the magic we create for ourselves.

Rodgers and Hammerstein encouraged us to “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ‘til you find your dream.”

At a recent workshop, hosted by the nonprofit group “Bridges out of Poverty,” the instructors told of their work with inmates in the state prison system. They assigned prisoners to write a story of their future in terms of where they wanted to go in life after incarceration.

The next step was for prisoners to create a plan for how they could develop that dream while still incarcerated. Bridges out of Poverty officers intend to ask state officials for the assistance inmates need (training, addiction-recovery meetings, etc.) to get started on those goals.

The instructors spoke of the “sparkle in the eyes” of inmates who set attainable goals, which brought them hope.

The rest of us—whatever our progression or circumstances in life—may follow the model of writing a personal obituary, the results of which will solidify our dreams for a successful life.

It’s simple. It starts with writing our future story, starting from where we are, and then listing the things we need to do to make it a reality. The list of dreams and the to-do list to attain them should be posted prominently and reviewed regularly. This will serve as a nudge to identify impairments, pare away negative habits and replace them with positive actions.

Confucius declared, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

So, the magical pathway to fulfilling dreams entails setting goals, making a plan and wholeheartedly working that plan.

As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”


Author: Robert A. Hunter is a longtime leader in Utah political and nonprofit arenas. He currently serves as public policy advisor to United Way of Northern Utah and teaches Leadership and Political Life at Weber State University. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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