The Target Is Not The Goal

Lessons from the story of a Zen master and his student

Olabanji Stephen
2 min readMar 6, 2021

This is a story in a book called ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Prof. Eugene Herrigel published in 1948 about his experience studying Kyudo (a form of Japanese archery).

It’s the kind of story I call ‘deep’.

In the book, a student comes to a Zen master who is also an archer and says ‘I want to learn archery’, and the master goes, ‘okay, let’s learn’, so, they draw a target on a little piece of paper, stick it to a tree, then, they make a little bow and arrow out of a twig, hand it to the student and he starts shooting the twigs but he’s missing…

Master: What is your goal?

Student: To hit the bullseye right in the middle

Master: So you’re telling me, your goal is to shoot a twig into a piece of paper

Student: Yeah, isn’t that what we are doing?

Master: No, it’s not, that is your target. The goal is to be calm enough so that you can hit your target.

First, this version of the story was told by Jay Shetty while interviewing Big Sean in ‘on purpose’ (Jay’s podcast) and it speaks volumes because we often confuse the goal with the target.

The target is what we do but the goal is who we become.

The target is to record a hundred podcasts but the goal is to be the person that is consistent at helping others learn and be better.

The target is to win the International design award but the goal is to become the person that solves problems with design.

The target is to lose 5 pounds every week but the goal is the discipline, the nourishment, and becoming a healthier person.

The target involves the act but the goal is who we become and what we learn in the act whether we hit the target or not.

When we understand that, we will invest ourselves more in the practice and see it as a process, enjoying every bit of it because it makes us better, because we learn valuable lessons.



Olabanji Stephen

I see the world differently and attempt to interpret it in ways that inspire genius