Don’t focus on reaching your goals

Rebecca Morgan goal quote
Photo: Rebecca Morgan at The Alcázar of Seville, Spain


Traditional advice is to set stretch goals, a tad beyond what you believe you can achieve, then celebrate when you’ve achieved them.

I have a different perspective. Don’t focus on if you achieve them. Set audacious goals and look at who you have to become in order to achieve what you previously thought was not possible. Then celebrate your new habits, attitude or wisdom garnered from stretching way beyond what you thought was possible, even if you didn’t make the goal.

A gal pal shared that her shy, 7-year-old daughter was setting out to sell Girl Scout cookies in her neighborhood. She asked her daughter how many she thought she could sell. “Eight boxes” was the response. My friend felt her daughter was shooting a bit low, and said, “How about trying to sell 16 boxes?” The little girl shook her head that she’d try.

Off she went to knock on neighbors’ doors. Soon she burst back into the house, “Mommy, I’ve sold 22 boxes!” She had to overcome her shyness and she accomplished way beyond she originally thought. She’s now sold 160 boxes!

Many years ago, late on Sunday night at the end of a 3-day intense personal-growth weekend, we were asked to share how many guests we’d be bringing to the graduation night 2 days hence. A few of the 150 in attendance raised their hands and we heard, “One, ” “Three” “Five” or a rare “Ten” — at which point there was much cheering and applause for someone so willing to commit to a large number aloud. I thought, “If I got my best friend, her husband and my mother, I could get 3, so maybe I should say 5.” Then something came over me. I saw that it wasn’t about actually achieving bringing the number of guests you’d publicly declared, but more about the growth it would involve to go way beyond what I thought was possible.

I stood and declared “One hundred.” I don’t remember, but I’m imagining there were gasps.

The next morning I arose early to see how close I could get to 100. I found I had to alter the invitation from just “please come” or “I’d appreciate your being there” to “It would mean a lot to me if you were there” then expounding on why this person was important to me and what the weekend learning’s had meant to me. I dialed and dialed and had conversations with people I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I sincerely told them what had transpired for me that weekend and invited them to share the celebration.

By the end of the second day, the last person confirmed minutes before I left for the celebration. I had 22 people show up.

My lesson was that most of us aim low — I certainly know I did. There’s a lot of cultural pressure to achieve what one has publicly promised. And we celebrate achieving even modest goals as if they were huge stretches. There’s typically no acknowledgement for not achieving goals, even when what was accomplished went way beyond the initial safe goal. Safe goals save face; stretch goals help you achieve a bit more, but audacious goals create shifts in who you are.

In my calls, I had to dig deep and share from a place I hadn’t before with many of my contacts. I saw how our relationship then deepened not only in that conversation, but forever. I liked the shift as we were being less superficial and more intimate in sharing things that truly mattered.

So see if you can shift to celebrating who you’ve become when you make an outrageous, unreasonable, “unachievable” goal. You may find you not only like the person who emerges as you make every attempt to accomplish what you set out, but that your relationships improve — plus you’ll most like achieve more.