One of the most difficult things in life (perhaps the most), is trying to figure out what to do with it. To find some sort of reason behind it all. For some people, this might never be answered. Others turn to religion or something similar to tell them what to do. And some already have a reason.
They've found a Goal in Life.
It might be anything from just trying to have a good life to saving REALITY ITSELF! The one thing they all share though is a purpose to go through their lives to accomplish that goal.
The protagonist accomplishing it often constitutes the end of the story, usually in a Grand Finale.
Someone who forgets his Goal in Life has suffered Motive Decay. The Motivation Index has a few life long goals that a person's Goal in Life may be expressed through, although not all would qualify, especially if it's not specific enough or too short term. See the related Series Goal for the goal of the work in question, instead of an individual character's goal. Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life is for those whose Goal in Life is to find a Goal in Life. The Meaning of Life is for when a work actually defines what the Goal in Life in general is.
- Berserk: Griffith's goal in life — his "dream" — is to become the ruler of his own kingdom. One of his primary character traits is that he'll sacrifice anything to achieve that dream — and given Berserk's highly cynical bent, that leads him to do some truly horrific things.
- Following one's dreams is a major topic in the Lyrical Nanoha franchise. With the main characters' dream being to create a future where all children are free to dream without exception. Also, most villains have rather sympathetic goals but their methods always impose upon others' dreams—usually because of external circumstances preventing them from achieving their dreams more peacefully. The eponymous character's patent solution to clearing these obstacles? Firepower. Lots and lots of firepower.
- March Comes in Like a Lion plays with this concept immensely. In his back-story, Rei pushed himself hard in order to become a professional shogi player as early as possible. He succeeded by the time of the actual start of the story, and because of this, most believe he's already had his goal in life set and achieved since he was young. However, flashback chapters reveal ulterior motives in forcing himself to make such a significant lifestyle decision, and there are a few claims in both the narrative and dialogue that he does not even like the game itself as much as he probably should, despite his skills and scenes suggesting otherwise. His ambiguous feelings for the very game he's trying to build a livelihood on is one of the main focuses, leaving to question whether or not Rei has unconsciously developed, or will develop, a liking and sincere life goal in the game on his own terms despite his rather dubious initial intentions.
- Giorno Giovanna from Vento Aureo has his dream to become the Don of the Mafia, so he can make them Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters.
- The titular character Naruto dreams of becoming Hokage, the leader of the Hidden Leaf Village, and gaining the respect of his people after a childhood of neglect and loneliness. He becomes Hokage No.7
- Yukko has occasionally struggled with this in Nichijou. An entire sequence is dedicated to her pondering if, with her difficulties concerning studying, entering the workforce straight out of high school is preferable to college. When remembering her childhood dreams, Yukko recalls an essay where she declared she wanted to be a frilled lizard, which is not helpful to her now.
- All of the Straw Hat Pirates of One Piece are sailing together to fulfill their dreams.
- As he loudly proclaims many times in the series, Monkey D. Luffy's goal is to become the Pirate King.
- Roronoa Zoro seeks to be the world's greatest swordsman to fulfill a childhood promise.
- Nami wants to be the first to draw a map of the entire world.
- Usopp wants to become, in his words, a brave warrior of the seas.
- Sanji wants to discover the All Blue, a legendary body of water said to be home to every kind of fish in the world.
- Tony Tony Chopper wants to become a doctor capable of curing every disease in the world.
- Nico Robin wants to discover all of the poneglyphs and learn the truth of the Void Century.
- Franky wants to build and sail a ship strong enough to travel every corner of the world.
- Brook wants to reunite with his friend Laboon and deliver his former crew's last message to him.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: After ten episodes and several Groundhog Day Loops Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life, Madoka finally finds a Goal in Life, SAVING REALITY ITSELF! note . Since the universe is potentially without end, it's probably the ultimate job security.
- A major point in the second OVA of Sound of the Sky where Kanata asks just about every major character what their dreams and goals, all while attempting to figure out what her own is.
- Most characters in the cast of Asteroid in Love have one of these, to the point the characters that don't start to find it distressing.
- For Mira and Ao, it's their childhood promise of finding an asteroid.
- For Mari, to become an astronaut.
- For Moe, who is probably going to inherit the family bakery, to become the largest baker in the world.
- Marla in Retail has one goal in life: finally get out of Grumbel's and start her own business. However, things keep coming up that force her to delay her goals: the recession, getting pregnant, getting promoted to store manager (and the responsibility that comes with it). The longer she put it off, the more she wonders if she really wants to do it anymore. She eventually confesses to Val that her goal's no longer feasible: it's become too big a risk for her to leave Grumbel's since she has a mortgage, her family needs her health insurance, and she had to think of her daughter's future. When Grumbel's files for bankruptcy, she decides to get out of retail altogether and takes a job as an office manager.
- Erwin and Hange in Passionate Pragmatism want to maximize happiness for humanity.
- Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail deconstructs Goh's mission to chase after Mew by highlighting how this has driven a wedge between him and his Childhood Friend Chloe. When she finally confronts him, he declares that she doesn't have any right to criticize him because she doesn't have any goals or dreams of her own. She runs away from home, wishing for a world where there's no Pokémon or pressure to follow in her father's footsteps... and encounters the Infinity Train, which takes her on a journey to find herself.
- The heroes in Mystery Team just want to gain back the respect of the neighborhood... which they haven't had since they were seven.
- Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has set himself the life goal of insulting the universe. More specifically, he intends to insult every being in it - individually, personally, one at a time, and in alphabetical order. It's not much of a goal, as he'd be the first to admit, but he says it passes the time (which, being immortal, he has a lot of).
- And Another Thing... eventually explains why he's really doing it: Eventually he'll insult someone who has the power to finally kill him.
- Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: Grant's goal of life is to build dams.
- The Vorlon and Shadow Questions in Babylon 5 are all about this. The Vorlons ask "Who are you?" to understand what someone already has and what parts of their past and present define their present outlook (and thus how they can 'nurture you' to their liking). The Shadows ask "What do you want?" as a way to understand someone's future ambitions, motivations, and goals (and thus how they can "help you along").
- Angel's one is to protect Buffy as she assumes the Slayer mantle and, later, to fulfill the Shanshu Prophecy and become human. Angel sometimes deviates from this, for various reasons, among them a belief that his mission is being clouded by self-interest. By the fifth season of Angel, his faith wavers to the point of dismissing the Prophecy entirely. In the series finale, Angel is forced to literally sign away his chances in the human sweepstakes, nullifying the prophecy with a signature in blood. In the comic continuation, the Senior Partners finally give him a glimpse of the Shanshu Prophecy: Himself standing in an apocalyptic wasteland, grinning like a maniac. Now, Angel's goal is to keep improving the world in spite of the Prophecy; with luck, the future can be altered. (Unless the Partners were just dicking with him again.)
- Oz's goal is to perfect the diminished ninth! "You could lose a finger."
- Sougo Tokiwa from Kamen Rider Zi-O is a pretty bizarre version of this trope. He aspires to become a king, which is a pretty dumb goal in this day and age. To his delight, he discovers that he fulfills his dream...by becoming an Evil Overlord ruling over a desolate post-apocalypse world known as Oma Zi-O. His reaction? To declare that he will become the greatest, kindest demon king of all. This desire has waxed and waned with Character Development, but he has never wavered from his path to become king. And he's the protagonist.
- In My Name Is Earl, Earl's goal (and the focus of the series) is to make amends for every bad thing he has done in his life.
- Mocked in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Carey asks Lance, whose total personality is based on being the lifeguard, what his goal in life is. He wants to grow a dorsal fin and gills.
- Hyeon's goal in Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues is to become a famous rock star and get the hell out of Oldport. This influences much of his personality, as anything that isn't directly related to said goal is treated as tertiary.
- Graz'zt of Dungeons & Dragons fame has, understandably, countless goals in his immortal, infernal life. His true Goal in Life drives all other goals and all other plans, including his eternal war against Demogorgon and Orcus for the role of Prince of Demons and his plan to absorb a Material Plane world into the Abyss. This goal is to unite all the Lower Planes (not just the Abyss) to create a near-impossible army of fiends that he would lead to tear down the Upper Planes into multiversal dust in the most glorious blood bath ever to grace reality. Which is quite badass, if you think about it.
- Exalted: This is built into the game mechanic itself with Motivation, which gives you extra dice to roll if you do an action that will get you closer to its fulfillment. Motivation must be grand. Sample Motivation includes: becoming the Empress of Creation, killing every Dragon-blooded, shagging all Celestial exalts...
- In case you don't have a Goal in Life, you can always turn to the Yozis, they will give you a sufficiently grand Urge that you must follow. They will even give you the power to do the job! Sample Urge: GO FUCKING KILL LYTEK.
- In Majikoi! Love Me Seriously! it's a central plot point in Wanko's route. Seeing her working so hard for the sake of her goal inspires Yamato to revive his own childhood dream of becoming a man capable of moving Japan itself, i.e. the Prime Minister. In the epilogue ten years later, he's shown to have worked his way up to becoming a city council member. Momoyo's route features the same idea, but with slightly different motivations.
- Can You Spare a Quarter?: Graham has been missing something in his life before the encounter. He eventually realizes that having someone to care for is what he was missing, and Jamie happily accepts that function.
- In Worm, Taylor's purpose is helping people. As the story goes on she has to choose if and how much she wants to balance it with friendship, family, the public's perception of her, and the morality of her methods. There's a reason the tagline of the serial is "Doing the wrong things for the right reasons."
- Mr. Bickles from The Fairly OddParents has a different "dream" in every episode he's in.
- A few of the mane six in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have goals in life:
- Rarity's is to be one of the top fashion designers in Equestria. It's being accomplished, slowly, throughout the show with her opening a boutique in Canterlot being the most recent step in that direction.
- Rainbow Dash's is to become a Wonderbolt (The Equestrian equivalent of the Blue Angels). Right now she's an auxillary Wonderbolt, one step away from reaching her goal in life.
- Fluttershy's is only revealed in season seven: to create an animal sanctuary. She accomplishes this in the episode where we learn of it, after some hard knocks.
- The Simpsons: Homer Simpson has had frequent "lifelong dreams" parodying the concept (such as rushing onto the field during a baseball game), the played straight-est version being when he revealed he's always wanted to own the Dallas Cowboys. He gets started on the road towards Cowboy ownership buy (a) buying Tom Landry's Cool Hat from a collectible store and (b) being given the Denver Broncos by a Super Villain he briefly worked for. Homer wasn't happy about (b), though, since the Broncos were the laughing stock of the NFL at the time, a far cry from the then-dominant Cowboys. Every time, Marge points out Homer already had a lifelong dream, which he has already achieved.
- Most of humanity, both on species-wise and individual levels, has lifelong goals. It may involve trying to expand their world, do as much good to the world, find the answers to life, build a huge freaking tower for building a huge freaking tower's sake. Or just getting drunk and having sex.