Sometime during my junior year of high school, a school guidance counsellor unceremoniously delivered the news that I must decide what to do after graduation. Like most 17 year olds, beyond the vague notion that I should probably go to college or university, I had little idea what I wanted to do in the next six months, let alone in the rest of my life.
Walking the school halls one day, I noticed a flyer stuck on one of the bulletin boards advertising a program at an Ottawa college that would teach you how to become a video game developer. I liked video games, and I was already an aspiring programmer, so I figured it was a perfect fit. I spent weeks crafting a portfolio, applied to the program, and to the surprise of 17 year old me, I was accepted.
Filled with purpose and hope for my future, I set a goal firmly in my mind: what I wanted more than anything was to work for a “triple A” video game studio, and I set my sights on Ubisoft Montreal. At last, I thought, I know what to do with my life ― become a game developer at Ubisoft!
After graduating the game development program at Algonquin College, I held several different programming jobs in Ottawa before finally packing up and moving to Montreal on a whim. A month later, I received a call from Ubisoft for an interview. Before I knew it, eight years after I first dreamed to work for an AAA studio, I had achieved my goal!
Working at Ubisoft was everything I had imagined it would be ― it was great! Yet, slowly I became dissatisfied with my new job, and soon, with my life. Something wasn’t right.
If you have ever achieved a big multi-year goal, you might know the feeling; a sense of loss of belonging, a lack of purpose, uncertainty about the future. It was depressing, and I lost sleep for months, ruminating about my purpose in life.
Lying awake in bed one night, feeling discontented, it suddenly dawned on me: the moment I became a developer at Ubisoft, it was both the fulfillment of, and the death of, my greatest goal. With no major objective left to move towards, I was left steering rudderless through life with no sense of direction.
I don’t work at Ubisoft anymore, in fact I left the video game industry entirely, opting to become a web developer instead. But my adventure as a game developer taught me that when looking towards the future, its better to pick a direction, not a destination.
A goal, no matter how big, is a fixed destination. Goals are powerful: they give us something concrete to work towards, and to measure progress against. I use goals in my daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly planning. But in the big picture ― looking at our entire lives ― goals are the wrong tool.
At the highest level of planning, you need something that has a clearly defined focus, yet is impossible to fully achieve. Something that has no definite end, always leaving the door open for further progress. This is the essence of a direction.
With my goal of working at Ubisoft fulfilled, I was distressed by the feeling that I had hit a dead end. Looking back now, that goal should have only been one stop in my journey, and not the final destination. I could have aspired to be a well-known and influential figure in the game development industry, or to be a successful game development entrepreneur. In doing so, the gates would have been wide open for me to continue reaching further.
These days, I still have big goals that I work towards, but I treat them as stops on the journey, instead of as final destinations. It’s easy to get tunnel vision towards a goal that you deeply desire, but it’s important to see beyond the finish line, and always ask “what next?”
Maybe it’s time to sit down and think about where you are really going. Is it a direction or a destination? What will you do once you get there? And maybe when you look beyond the end goal you will realize, as I did, that this isn’t the path you wanted all along.
Header Photo: Ascending Huntington Ravine with the Montreal Alpine Club, Mount Washington, New Hampshire, Early 2019