I come to you today as an expert on how to mess this up even after successfully attaining my goals.
This post isn’t going to be about how to set SMART goals. Though I think you should.
It’s not going to be about taking action immediately upon setting a goal. Though I think you should.
It’s not even going to be about speaking about your goals as if you’ve already attained them. But you should probably do that too.
Today is going to be questioning your goals like a child and not stopping until you can’t answer anymore.
I’ve been a goal setter for a long time. I used different techniques to go from answering phones in a front office to being a director at a tech company. I attribute much of that journey to the goals I set.
As I reflect back on the path, I realize it was much longer than it could have been because I didn’t answer the most childlike question during the process.
For many income or money ends up making it on our list of goals. I’m no exception here.
When I turned 15, my parents expected me to pay for all my ‘wants’ myself (at least that’s how I remember it).
At 15 I could easily get a job at McDonalds or some other chain (and I did).
So if I could work, why would they pay?
To be fair – at the time I hated this philosophy. But I actually thank them today for standing their ground on it because in many ways it taught valuable lessons about valuing money and time.
They covered the needs. But drew a very distinct line about what was a need and what was a want.
You want a car to drive to school your senior year? They helped me get one, but not pay for it. And cars need insurance. That’s on me.
You want a phone? Good luck with that. This was the late 90’s.
New clothes? Up to this point I had hand-me-downs and Good Will apparel.
This led me to set income goals early on. I wanted to buy new clothes for school during my senior year. So I worked and saved to do it. Mission accomplished.
The Key Question
What I failed to ask early on was “why?”.
When I got my first real job after high-school I was working as an industrial maintenance mechanic. I was the low guy on the totem pole. But with my drive I was able to move up quickly.
Within a couple of years I was making only about a dollar less than people that had been working there over twenty years. That hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had set a short term goal about money thinking it was long term. I failed to stop and ask myself “why do I want this job?”.
Your what goal will fall flat or let you down if you don’t ask the follow-up why.
I didn’t have an answer to that when I was younger. But I’m getting better about it now.
The Why Can Change Your Goal
I had decided to go back to college so I’d have the paper to open the doors for better careers. (If I was talking to my younger self, I may have even given different advice there.)
But I went back because I didn’t want such low limits on my income. At the time, I thought “using my mind for work is the ticket”.
So I signed up for business school. Now when you want to learn and love to learn, undergraduate business school is somewhat lack luster in terms of a challenge.
I went back to use my brain to excel. That was my why. So when classes ceased to challenge, I decided to push myself to find something harder.
I thought graduate school was my future at the time and I wanted to be an economist. So I changed from a business major to an applied mathematics major as I discovered graduate economics was super math heavy. I kept my minor in economics so I could still take all the econ classes. But I was able to skip some of the less intense business requirements.
Layer on the Why
As I hinted at in the last section, if I was talking to my younger self… my advice may be different than the path I took. Even with the same why.
I wanted to do work that used my mind instead of the physical labor of my youth. But I also wanted to have a much higher limit on my income. Or ideally, no limit.
Now at this time I hadn’t learned anything or done anything with marketing, much less digital marketing. The marketing in school tended to be focused on brand style building instead of results based marketing. But that’s a post for another day.
A child asks why constantly. We stop asking why far too soon.
Looking at my past goals, I did not ask why enough times.
Why do I want to use my mind? Because those jobs tend to pay more… or because people aren’t meant to work night shifts… or because physical labor is a young game. Any of those answers are just first level.
But let’s take the pay. That was my motivator. Why did I want a job that had a higher income cap? Because I felt like I could make more by putting in a different kind of work.
Why? Because from a young age, I understood those at the top of the organization made more money than those at the bottom. What I missed at that time is that there’s a better perspective.
Those who bring the most value to a company get paid the most. I’ve used this re-frame to dramatically increase my own income.
Check In Often
I’m really long winded today. But since I’m at time, the last takeaway is that you need to check back in on your why.
Sometimes the why itself will change and you need to be able to pivot your goals accordingly.
Maybe you have a kid and your income goals suddenly become less about no limit and more about how much can I make in this limited time… so I can spend more of it with my kid.
The point is, you need to check in on your why often.
Otherwise you could end up at the completely wrong destination.