As we approach the end of 2020 and all its turbulence, I’ve been reflecting on a piece of wisdom my entrepreneurial grandfather taught me: “Don’t make a list of goals — know.”
It took me years to fully grasp the insightful gift he gave me. How can someone live without a list of goals? The more I do consulting work with financial advisors, the more I understand what he meant.
We cannot always achieve all our goals, especially when we attach timeframes and expectations to them. And working harder is not the answer. As we’ve seen in 2020, there always will be unpredictable outside forces that influence our ability to complete a goal.
Even though goals can help us, they aren’t always applicable to the present situation and what’s happening around us. At times, they often do not amplify the best of ourselves or our businesses. If anything, they’re helping us compensate for what we aren’t doing well.
What We Need to Overcome
A lot of the time, these are the four activities that we’re not doing well:
- Overcoming procrastination,
- Keeping our focus,
- Facing our fears, and
- Organizing (i.e., letting go of) our thoughts.
I’ve found there are financial advisors who cannot operate without a list of goals. They’ve been conditioned to believe it’s the lack of a list of goals that’s the problem.
In other words, if there are no goals then there is no feeling of accomplishment, no box to check each day and, thus, no progress being made. And it’s human nature to evaluate both others and ourselves by some measure of progress.
What’s most important is overcoming the four challenges I just described.
• For example, if you struggle with procrastination, the problem is that you are choosing to put off what you know needs to get done now. Instead, tackle the issue by simply recognizing what needs to be done and forego working off a list.
• The same goes for maintaining your focus. What if your weak focus is simply a sign that you are not very committed to knowing what you need to do in the first place? If you really knew, wouldn’t you be maintaining your focus without needing a list of goals to keep you motivated?
• What about facing fears? The need for a goal to help us alleviate our fears is usually tied to feeling inadequate when compared to someone else. Wouldn’t it be better to know you can achieve anything by making small progress each day and building on that achievement, knowing that you can reach your aim?
• Finally, there’s the challenge of mental organization and letting go of our thoughts. Does organizing 20 goals into a list help you know you can achieve the goals? And even if writing down the goals helps you move forward, does it amplify the best in you?
Our goals are only as good as our imagination, and many times what we imagine is far less than what is possible for us to achieve.
As 2020 has illustrated, I don’t always know what’s going to happen, but I do know what I need to do when it happens. And, all I really need to know is that I will be ready for anything to happen, which I am certain my grandfather wanted me to learn.
Living with Uncertainty
While it’s true that goals help us in many ways, depending on a list of goals can — and does — limit our level of thinking.
When we set goals, we set out to achieve them instead of staying focused and open to the many things that are possible.
The risk of using tightly defined goals is that it may limit our ability to understand everything we can achieve, which is likely to be far more than we’ve ever imagined.
This is not to say goals aren’t helpful. But when you set a goal for yourself, it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy and shape all that you imagine is possible for yourself.
This is especially true if the goal is flawed. And let’s face it, we’re all flawed, which means we run the risk of holding ourselves back instead of pushing ourselves forward into the unknown. The point is that we all have opportunities and possibilities that aren’t yet apparent.
Many times (I’ve learned and observed) when all the goals and lists of what we think we want to achieve disappear, we give ourselves the gift of freedom to know that we can succeed despite whatever comes our way. In doing so, we are more open to knowing how to respond to what is happening around us while it’s happening.
To truly know is to understand the big picture of what is possible, and this big picture is — simply — that anything is possible. If you do the work immediately in front of you, do it consistently and do it well, you will be better off tomorrow than you are today. And, from my perspective, being better tomorrow is really the only goal you need.
If that is your goal, eventually you will know how to live in limitless uncertainty and be open to all the possibilities, opportunities and challenges available to you that help you grow.
The alternative is to work with a list of goals that may limit how much growth (you’ve already decided) you can reach and can stop you from knowing what’s truly possible. If you decide you’re capable of achieving all that is possible, you will one day know that anything is possible.
As we exit 2020, an unprecedented year for the world, my wish is that you will enter 2021 not simply imagining the possibilities but responding to them as they unfold.
No set of goals will ever give you the power to predict what’s possible for you and your teams to achieve.
If you’re open to all possibilities, I promise — much like my grandfather instinctively knew of me — you will know what to do with that knowledge. And, knowing that you do not know everything that’s possible and being OK with that knowing is the greatest freedom (and growth) of all.
Angie Herbers is an independent consultant to the advisory industry. She can be reached at [email protected].