I think my students are pretty good at seeing the big picture. When I ask my students about goals they usually have well thought-out responses: make Wind Ensemble, participate in a summer festival, attend graduate school, get a teaching job, etc... These are all great goals. The tricky thing with most of these goals, though, is that they are off in the distance. Most students' goals are a semester, year, or four years away from being met. There is nothing wrong with long-term goals, and in fact, I would say all musicians need to have a list of long-term goals. We all need direction in our lives. Where the issue lies with many students is how to translate long-term goals into present practices.
Even in my relatively short time at IUP, I have seen several students become increasingly discouraged as they progressed through their degree. They began their academic career with high hopes of ascending to the top of the studio, sitting principal in the Wind Ensemble, and winning the concerto competition. However, as each semester passed they realized that they were hardly any closer to meeting those goals. The problem for most, if not all, of these students is in translating their goals into an effective gameplan. They honestly desire to succeed in these ways, but they are either too ignorant to see the amount of work needed or they are lazy and distracted and would rather spend the afternoon playing video games than practicing.
You can think about goals as investments. Let's take, for instance, buying a car (which I know is an awful investment). Let's say you were bored over Christmas break because you didn't have a way to get around. You'd really like a car so that you can get away from home if you want. So, you decide that you'd really like to have a car by summer so that when you go home for break you can drive to a friends house if you really want to. The problem is, you are broke. What would you do? You wouldn't just sit around hoping to get a car in five months - you would get a job and you'd start saving. You would work day after day in order to meet the goal that you have. After a day's work, you might only take home $30-40. That doesn't make a dent in a down payment for a car. It might be easy to just quit. What's the point? But, if you quit, you certainly won't have a car. So, you trudge on. A weeks worth of work means you might make $150-200. Not bad, but still not anywhere near enough for a car. A month gets you to $600-800. Getting closer, but still, even though you have strung together 20+ days of work, you are a long way off from being able to buy a car. But, if you worked steadily, day by day, week by week, month by month you might have $3,000-$4,000 after five months of work. It might not be the prettiest car, but you can now get yourself a starter car to get around for the summer.
Practicing is a lot like saving up for your car. If you look at a day's work, it might seem like it's just not worth the time. In the case of the car, what's $30 when you need $3,000? In the case of music, you have so far to go to make Wind Ensemble, and in the hour you just spent you were only able to speed your etude up by 3 clicks. What's 3 clicks when you need to go 30? Well, just like the illustration of saving for a car, you have to be willing to put in sustained work over a period of time before significant progress is made. You have to be able to see that the microscopic improvement you made today is part of a larger picture. It IS worth your time if you feel strongly about your goals.
Goals are great. Goals, I would say, are even necessary. We probably won't even meet all of our goals, but by earnestly striving to meet our goals on a daily basis, we will have (at the very least) grown in our musicianship. I would encourage each of my students, as we begin the semester, to think about the goals that you have and resolve to work towards them on a daily basis. Your work may seem so small on a day-to-day basis, but when you step back at the end of the semester you will be amazed at how you have grown in your musicianship.