Let me take a contrary position:
I often hear people advise students not to worry about setting goals, not to compare themselves to anyone else, just to train day by day with good commitment and everything will take care of itself. I couldn't disagree more strongly! If one has any aspirations to attain a certain level of skill in an art like Aikido one must make sure that the training one is receiving and the effort one is putting in will lead one eventually to that level of skill.I often hear people advise students not to worry about setting goals, not to compare themselves to anyone else, just to train day by day with good commitment and everything will take care of itself. I couldn't disagree more strongly! If one has any aspirations to attain a certain level of skill in an art like Aikido one must make sure that the training one is receiving and the effort one is putting in will lead one eventually to that level of skill.
In my (limited) experience with Aikido, I've found that the more and more I get involved, the more my goals begin to taper off. Therefore, I believe that the highest echelon of Aikido practice is practice without goals, practice that is nothing more than practice. This terminology is derived from my study of religion, but can be directly applied to aikido.
When I first began Aikido, it was basically on a lark. A good friend at my job here on campus taught a (for credit) class, and basically, time became free in my schedule and I signed up. I never even had the experience of "wow, that is so cool... I really really want to do that." I don't even remember my first class. But now, I've taken that friend's place, and Aikido is basically eating my life alive (and I love it!) I made no conscious decision, just happened.
It seems that there is no way to control the path that Aikido takes you on. You'd just better be ready to hold on tight for the ride. Aikido naturally becomes part of your life through constant practice, that's how it works, there's nothing you need to do to integrate it into your life, except practice, practice, practice. If you're doing aikido with the intention to become the best, you'll only be focused on how to attain your goals in Aikido, rather than on Aikido. On the mat, Aikido is always there, regardless of how you practice. In other words, all practice is good practice; the first-day student is doing Aikido just as much as the 6th dan.
However, I understand that it is very important for some people to practice with a goal in mind. There's nothing wrong with the desire to be better than you are. Training in this way is good, but I think the best way to train is to truly "lose yourself on the mat." The tree of aikido feeds itself. Becoming the root is not your decision, it naturally happens as a product of training.
Furthermore, if you make some decision to make aikido an important part of your life, you're neglecting the fact that whether you like it or not, your life will change. Aikido may be the most important thing in your life when you make that decision, but what about a year from now? What about ten? What are the odds that your life can support an aikido career indefinitely? So if you want to be a root, be a root, but don't get too attached to your root-ness. Maybe someday it will fade too. So stop worrying about your rank, your place in the aikido hierarchy, or your future as the next Steven Seagal/Saotome Shihan sent by the gods to bring aikido to the masses. Leave that crap, your shoes, and your ego at the edge of the mat and just train.
I'm done, open the floodgates.