…I understand that it uses up a play to put the card on the stack to make it available for ANYONE to complete, but what if I’m just gaining it directly from my hand without playing it to the stack at all?
A: There really isn’t technically any difference between completing a Goal “from your hand” vs. “from the stack”. When you use a Goal “from your hand” it just means that YOU are the “anyone” who’s completing the Goal you just played. The only difference is that you didn’t put it into play with any time for anyone ELSE to win it except you. You still have to put it into play (i.e. play it) for it to be available for you to claim.
Basically, it always takes a play to use any card from your hand for anything.
We simply concluded that one doesn’t actually need to go through the motions of putting the Goal on the stack, just to pick it right back up it up again and put it in front of you. That said, some people do sort of symbolically wave the Goal towards the stack before claiming it.