How Can You Be Goal-Oriented If You Prefer to Fly by the Seat of Your Pants?

Why having goals mean you can’t have chance encounters with opportunity

I was recently did a podcast appearance where the host asked me a challenging question I had never really contemplated before when I was talking about setting meaningful goals. He asked if all the setting and focusing on goals removed any opportunity for serendipity to bring new opportunities and paths into my life.


I had never thought about this at all. One of the reasons is that I tend to be a planner, while some people prefer to be less structured or planned out. What struck me wasn’t whether I left any room for chance in my life, which I do, but whether my message would inherently not resonate for or be accepted by the non-planners out there.

This isn’t about not selling a book to someone who doesn’t like to plan, but rather whether that person needs help in overcoming their greatest challenges, and my approach would not be able to help them because of this seeming focus on planning.

Why do I think you can have it both ways?

My response was that being goal-oriented and leaving no room for serendipity are not the same. I think, by extension, that you can be a non-planner and still be goal-oriented.

Goals are about having your eye on where you want to get some aspect of your life to. It’s the point you are going to work toward and measure yourself against. And, yes, you generally have some plan of action to achieve that goal that would get pretty specific.

Serendipity in the structured world of marathon training

But being specific with a plan does not mean you have to be rigid. The most specific goal-focused plan I’ve had was tied to my first marathon that spelled out every action every day for five months.

Did I stick to it word for word, minute by minute? No.

Why not? Simple–life happened.

I got injured, the weather didn’t cooperate, a couple of important family events came up, work demands arose, etc., etc., etc.

Did I achieve my goal of being able to run a marathon despite all that? Yes. And I learned a ton through the deviations from my plan, some of which I wrote about.

And the marathon itself, which I had planned out pretty meticulously with pacing by mile all programmed into my watch to beep at me if I was too fast or too slow, also had to get thrown out the window because I got sick the day before the race. And that seemingly bad bit of luck lead me to meet a really inspiring person on the course who I never would have met if I wasn’t walking, contemplating whether I needed to go to the medical tent and drop out of the race.

You always find love when you aren’t looking for it

More impactful deviation from “the plan” was how I met my wife. I had my adult life all mapped out when I went to business school. Since I was going somewhere pretty rural, that plan excluded any progress on the “meet an amazing woman, get married, start a family” part of the plan, which was not “scheduled” to begin until after I graduated and had a stable job.

The moment I saw her was such a strong moment of serendipity, that things changed (for the better, of course!).

How do pursue a goal and allow for chance?

The key to still being successful is that deviation from the plan should not be the same as quitting. Goals and plans need reevaluation as situations change.  Amazon’s Bettina Stix talks about how trying to build a product you will launch five years from now is a recipe for failure. Everything will be different by the time you launch, so you need flexibility in the macro picture  while focusing specificity at the micro level.

This is a big part of Do a Day, actually. When we focus our efforts and energy on today, we only get specific about what we’re doing right now. If you try too rigidly to keep yourself to some long-term plan, you’re overly-focused on tomorrow.

And tomorrow may never come, or at least not as you imagine. So you throw away today, and all its serendipitous moments, for some false sense of tomorrow.

So whether you’re a planner or not, you can be 100% goal-focused and work hard to achieve whatever major accomplishment you have decided to tackle. And you can deviate and shift from whatever plan you have along the way.


This article is inspired by my book, Do a Day, available in print, ebook and audiobook at or at your favorite book sellers.

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Bryan Falchuk

Bryan Falchuk is a best-selling author, speaker and life coach. He has faced major adversities and learned how to overcome and achieve. From obesity to running marathons, from career struggles to success as a C-level executive, from watching illness threaten his family to finding lasting health, he has been through many lessons he used to develop his unique approach to inspiring others to succeed. Bryan's work has been featured in several top publications like Inc. Magazine, The LA Times, Chicago Tribune and more. He has spoken at multiple TEDx events, and has been a featured guest on over 100 podcasts and radio shows.