Setting big, hairy, audacious goals for your career—or for anything, really—is so much fun.
Ambitious goals rev up your internal engines. They inspire you to be creative and innovative. They push you to take bold actions. You feel like you can climb any mountain.
Then, when you tell people about your big goals, and they cheer you on? Oh my. Even more fun! High fives and fist bumps break out.
People tell you how proud they are of you. Even if you haven’t actually done a thing yet. It’s like, having the gall to set big goals for yourself is achievement enough!
Of course, the excitement of setting the big hairy audacious goal fades. Eventually, you’ll find yourself alone. Faced with the daunting task of making it happen.
Where do you start? How do you start?
Now that you’ve signed up to climb Mount Everest, how you do begin?
Have you attempted this goal before?
If you’ve tried this goal before, with somewhat disappointing results, you’re lucky! You have valuable insights that you can use to increase your chances of success.
Your previous experience is your best teacher. So you want to squeeze out as much juice as you can out of that nut. Do a post-mortem review and gather all the golden nuggets before you proceed.
Then where you’re done with that, you can come back here and proceed to the next step.
Declare your big hairy audacious goal.
First off, you want to find a way to state your goal as clearly as you can. Preferably in one sentence.
I want to be a published author, with at least 15 books under my belt.
I want to climb Mount Everest by the time I’m 40.
I want to relocate from New Jersey to California by the end of next year.
I want to transition to a new career within three years.
I want to be a recognized authority in widget design.
Here’s the thing: this shouldn’t be a difficult step.
So, if you’re having a hard time, that’s a clue. If you can’t boil your big goal down to one or two sentences, perhaps you haven’t reached the core of it yet. It’s not something to feel bad about; you might just want to dig in a bit to get to it.
Simon Sinek is a recognized authority on the subject of starting with your why. He’s written several books on the subject and gave a couple of not-to-miss TED talks. I won’t get into the why topic in this post but do keep this in mind. You want to understand the underlying motivation and purpose for your goal. Why is this goal important to you?
Decide on the strategy to achieve your big goal.
You’ve heard the cliché: There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
There isn’t just one way to reach your goal. Sure, there are examples of strategies that people have used to achieve goals similar to yours. And it will serve you well to look at those successful strategies for reference.
But at the end of your research, you want to pick the strategy that will work best for you.
Let’s say the big goal is to climb Mount Everest by the time you’re <insert age here>.
You can decide to pay and join a commercial climbing expedition. Or you can pair up with others and do it on your own. You can join a sponsored climb. You can even get paid to do the climb if you have a service to provide (e.g., a photo-journalist can be hired to write about the hiking experience).
Right there are four strategies you can choose from if your goal is to climb Mount Everest.
Let’s pick another example. Let’s say your career goal is to be a published author by the end of next year. Here are a few possible strategies you can consider:
- You can write the book by yourself and independently publish it.
- You can write the book by yourself and get traditionally published.
- You can hire a ghost-writer to help you write the book; then you have a choice between indie or traditional publishing.
- If you have upwards of $20K to spare, you can go to a service like this, and have them help you write and publish the book.
- You can write the book in parts, post it on your blog for free, and later compile into a book.
There are probably a few other strategies you can add to that list.
Which one is right for you? It depends on many factors, not least of which is who you are.
And I’m not just talking about skills. Your habits, your mindset, the way you motivate yourself. All these things factor into choosing which strategy will suit you best.
Come up with the plan that ties to that strategy.
After you’ve decided on the strategy or approach that you’re going to take to reach your goal, you now want to come up with the plan.
Very simply, your plan is a set of inter-related activities and tasks.
It’s important to put your plan together after you’ve decided on the strategy.
I often observe people crazy busy, running around with a long to-do list filled with a hundred and one disparate tasks. Why? Because they jumped to the “doing part” before picking the route they want to take.
I think of it like grocery shopping for a dinner party that you’re going to host, but you haven’t yet made up your mind about the menu. So you go inside the grocery store willy nilly filling your shopping cart hoping you’ll get inspired by something you see. Or that somehow, the stuff you bought will add up to a dish that you can prepare. As you can imagine, this is a hit-or-miss strategy.
Let’s go back to our example goal, climbing Mount Everest. Take a quick scan of the given strategies, and you can easily imagine how different the plans would look like depending on which option you choose.
Sometimes, coming up with a plan is where the wheels fall off the wagon. It can get overwhelming, and there’s a high risk of over-planning.
The Big Goals to Awesome Results Worksheet gives you a script to follow to come up with plans that work. Download and use the worksheet, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Work your plan.
Finally, you want to take actions that are in line with your plan.
This is the exciting part, though it’s easy to get overwhelmed at this stage. And we all know what happens then. Nothing gets done.
I find that when the chance of overwhelm is high, it helps by taking a weekly view of your tasks.
Put away your huge task list. Work you plan every week by choosing 3-5 key tasks on which to focus. Doing this will get you moving. And you’ll feel good about yourself seeing the progress which will feed your motivation.
A key point you want to bear in mind: Make sure that you’re picking core action steps. Guard against taking action that looks like you’re busy working on your goal, when actually, you’re simply hiding. This is a common thing! To get an idea of how this hiding vs. real work looks like, read this.
Having big goals is awesome. Highly-motivating, these ambitious goals stoke the internal fire inside us and make us believe we are capable of doing great things (which of course, is true!).
But that initial motivation that you feel needs help if you’re going to achieve your goal. You cannot just rely on your drive to keep you moving forward.
Pair your enthusiasm and passion for your big goal with a system or a process that translates your idea into action, and you’ll be all set.