A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. – William Shedo

It was a beautiful midsummer morning on the porch at the local cafe, and I savored my coffee and blueberry muffin, while the outdoor ceiling fans turned idly overhead. But shortly, into the reverie intruded a young family on a breakfast outing. A young woman had clearly brought her kids, husband, and her parents out that morning for breakfast on a lovely day.

It seemed that this family must certainly hold the center of the bell curve — a 30-ish couple, parents of toddlers, and a 60-something couple clearly enjoying their role as relatively new grandparents. Watching this prototypical family while avoiding the flying food debris created by the toddlers revealed a lot about how our goals and actions change during our lives.

The children of course operate on entirely short term goals — like getting bits of muffin into their mouths and figuring out how to run around the table while still satisfying their hunger.

But the young parents certainly had developed a more complex set of goals. They wanted to have children, to make enough money to support them, to nurture them, and undoubtedly to see them grow into mature and independent adults on their own.

The grandparents gave me pause however, for I wondered if many of their most cherished life goals had been met already and how they felt about that. They’d obviously raised a lovely young woman, cared for her, provided for her education, and seen her produce offspring which clearly delighted them.

But were these people now satisfied with their life? Do they now hunger for something more? Having achieved a primary goal of all parents, are they now ready to rest and be satisfied. While I never asked them, my feeling is that they are not satisfied nor should they, or any of us, be. Humans have a hunger for the future and want to see it and participate in it.

Our ability to think in the future, to plan actions, and to set and achieve goals is what separates us from the apes after all. But it is not just figuring out how to avoid embarrassment at the hands of a 4-year-old or what to have for lunch. All of us yearn for higher purpose, for more abstract and even unobtainable goals.

Author Robert Heinlein said, “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” And indeed, experience has shown that, while we must live in the “now”, we must also have an eye on the future. Once we give up on our goals and dreams, we give up a portion of what makes us human…. and alive.