The late self-help expert Earl Nightingale once explained that there are two types of people: river people and goal people. Both types of people can experience personal fulfillment and success in life — read this article to learn how!

The late self-help expert Earl Nightingale once explained that there are two types of people: river people and goal people. Both types of people can experience personal fulfillment and success in life, although in different ways.

Goal People

Most of us are undoubtedly familiar with goal people. They are the individuals who write down their objectives and timetables for reaching them, and then focus on attaining them, one by one.

By laying out a roadmap of future achievements in front of them, goal people give their creative minds a clear set of stimuli to work on. Their subconscious minds can then get to work incubating ideas and insights that will help them to reach their goals.

To use a football analogy, goal people need an end zone or a set of (what else?) goal posts, upon which they can focus their creative energies.

River People

River people, on the other hand, don’t like to follow such a structured route to success. They are called river people because they are happiest and most fulfilled when they are wading in a rich “river” of interest — a subject or profession about which they are very passionate. While they may not have a concrete plan with measurable goals, river people are often successful because they are so passionate about their area of interest. This, in turn, helps them to recognize breakthrough opportunities that may not even be visible on the mental radar screens of the more narrowly focused goal people.

River people are explorers, continually seeking out learning opportunities and new experiences. For river people, joy comes from the journey, not from reaching the destination — exactly the opposite of goal people.

From the standpoint of creativity, river people are more likely to benefit from serendipity, because they tend to be more open to new ideas, points of view and insights than single-minded, focused goal people.

Recognizing both qualities in yourself

Most people are a combination of these two personality types. I know I am. In my full-time job, I am expected to be goal oriented. I have specific personal and departmental objectives for which I’m responsible.

At the same time, however, I get the most “juice” out of being an explorer, learning new skills, collecting information and writing about innovation and technology — and nurturing this growing Web site! So at different times, I embody characteristics of both a goal person and a river person. Likewise, most of you embody traits of both personality types at one time or another.

The important point is to recognize and nurture both aspects of your personality. Joyce Wycoff, in her new book, “A Year of Waking Up,” tells a story that illustrates this in a memorable way. When she reached the age of 50, she felt curiously unfulfilled. At the same time, a little, persistent voice inside her was urging her on to explore new activities and experiences. She answered that call, taking art classes, keeping a personal journal, writing poetry and pursuing other artistic endeavors. It has been a marvelous, exciting, enlightening journey ever since.

“This journey has made me wonder anew how much there is to ourselves that remains undiscovered,” she reflects. “Are we like a fractal (image) that, as we zoom in, reveals ever more patterns, each wonderful and beautiful?”

Indeed, there is so much to explore and so much to know that we ought to make time in our lives for both our goal and river personas. Both bring richness and fullness to our lives, like yin and yang sides of our personality.

If you’re predominantly a goal person, why not slow down and smell the roses, as our friend Joyce Wycoff did? Take an art class, just for the fun of it. Try reading different magazines. Talk to different people, or go to different seminars or classes outside of your core competencies, with the goal of opening yourself up to new experiences. I think you’ll be amazed at the richness these new inputs bring to your life.

If you’re predominantly a river person, you may want to try brainstorming a handful of goals for yourself, to give yourself a bit more focus and direction. For example, you may want to jot down lists of books you’d like to read, knowledge or skills you’d like to acquire or places you’d like to visit.

Finally, be on the lookout for new experiences and learning opportunities on a daily basis. You never know when they’re going to appear — the key is to recognize them when they do!