Why Fire-Aim and Aim-Fire Both Miss the Target

Both ‘fire’ and ‘aim’ are necessary to hit the target.

Yet when it comes to goals, there is a lot of debate as to which comes first.

Shall I wait until my aim is perfect before I fire? Or shall I just shoot randomly and worry about what I’m shooting at later?

It depends on the target.

Think of how guns and cameras are actually used.

There are three main situations:

1. Practice.

The vast majority of shots are practice.

No one in the army, for example, would run off into battle without ever having fired a weapon because they didn’t have a good enough thing to aim at. They practice firing and aiming in different circumstances all the time.

The same is true for a good photographer. If he has never shot the camera before because he was waiting for the perfect shot, he is almost certain to miss the perfect shot when it shows up.

In practice, you do something just to do it, to get better at the process itself. You aim for small goals. You shoot at tin cans and take pictures of your shoes. You appreciate the growth and the small victories.

Most importantly, you fire and aim a lot, in a feedback loop, to get better at it. You let perfection go.

2. Close, fast targets.

These are the second most common.

In video games, these are the guys who pop out of the doors of the building you’re in. They are immediate threats. They are close. In this case, you don’t have time to aim. You point in their general direction and hold the trigger down because you are in a hurry to not die.

It’s like photographing a moving target – a running dog, a kid blowing out birthday candles, a bird momentarily perched on the porch. You certainly aim as best you can, but you’re in a hurry.

In this case, when you need to move now and your opportunity is likely to change soon, you have to fire now, adjusting your aim as you go. Act in the general direction of your goal, and refine on the move.

3. Distant, slow targets.

These are the rare shots that we often worry most about.

When the target is far away and holding still, you have time to take perfect aim. You slowly adjust your sights, nudging slightly up and left, holding your breath so your hands don’t quiver, and fire.
These are the snipers, and the photographers who have time to set up a tripod and seven zoom lenses to catch the elk herd two miles away in the sunset.

The target will be there for a while, and you won’t have many chances to hit it, so you aim carefully before taking action.

Life is full of myths about goals.

So it’s confusing to judge what kind of goal you’re shooting for.

The goals we worry most about – like raising good kids, being healthy in old age, having a happy marriage, and choosing a fulfilling career – these seem like distant goals. They are not.

Aiming, firing, and hitting a perfect life is more like firing the shot that will win the war or make you a rich and famous photographer. These are technically possible but absurdly rare.

In reality, hitting a major life goal takes a lot of small shots, small goals met over years.

Perhaps we should take a more holistic approach to aiming, firing, and hitting our goals.

The Practice Is the Target

It starts with practicing hitting small goals, just for fun. Then there is the art of shooting on the fly, and the zen of perfect aim. We all have our preference.

But it is the practice, the persistence, the little goals built up over the years that make success.

There is a reason we don’t call a photographer Someone-Good-At-Catching-Pictures. We don’t call a weapons expert or a gamer Someone-Good-At-Hitting-Stuff-With-Bullets. No, we appreciate them for being masters of the art itself, which has larger goals like beautiful images, safe nations, and adventures experienced.

It is mastery of the art of aiming and acting towards life’s goals itself that is the real target.

But the art itself exists in service of something much larger.

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