I’m listening to an audiobook in the car while on the interstate. They are talking about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-specific) goals, BHAGs, to-do lists, and stretch goals. I inhale sharply and realize that I am hyperventilating. I think – I hate this crap! I can’t listen to this.
For the unindoctrinated, a BHAG is either a Big Hairy Audacious Goal or a Big Hairy-Ass Goal, depending on your comfort level with the ‘A’ words. Personally, I find the word ‘audacious’ more offensive than ‘ass.’ I think because it reminds me of ‘bodacious.’ Gross.
Don’t get me wrong; I have to-do lists. I just don’t live or die by them. It wasn’t until recently when a colleague of mine spoke from the front of the room that goal setting is a trap, which seemed blasphemous actually- that I started looking deeper into my relationship to goals.
About That Car…
One of the things that I know now that I didn’t when I was in my early twenties is that efforting, pushing, and racing to fulfill metrics is a dead-end road. Worse, it is what anxiety and self-doubt feed on.
In those twenty-something years, I was the Mary Kay (or insert your direct selling company here) lady of your nightmares. I was the one that you met casually somewhere… sitting next to you at the library or maybe you were serving me at a restaurant. I told you that there was a sweepstake or that you gave me such great service that I’d love to reward you with a free facial or my last goodie bag of samples (hint: there were always more in the trunk of my car). I was so casual. Such a snake in the grass but you didn’t fully realize it yet. So you didn’t think twice about giving me your contact information. And the next day it started. The daily phone calls to schedule your facial… and “Hey, why don’t you invite a few friends?” Again so casual. Light and airy. Invite a few people, easy. Best case scenario you answer, and we schedule your facial. You don’t really get to see what I’m capable of. Worst case scenario, you never answer. So I call Monday through Friday, on my afternoon commute home. Every. Day.
See, the game (at least back then) to being a successful Mary Kay lady was meeting ten new women a day and getting their contact info for a facial. That was my job, and I took it seriously. I even went to church every morning to make sure I got dressed, put my makeup on, and got out of the house. It had nothing to do with God.
It drove me nuts.
It was later that I discovered that, on top of everything else that I was conscious of, I was doing this every day despite, or maybe even because of, my deep fear of women and myself. That is a fun ever-peeling onion and also a story for another day.
Consistent, grinding activity is what my sales director and Tony Robbins said worked. “It’s just a numbers game.” I believed that if I did whatever they said, I’d be successful.
Except that I was always chasing the next goal and was never fulfilled. In fact, I was an anxious, pushy wreck. And yes, I was one of the most successful Mary Kay women in my group. But the price was high.
I was winning awards, walking pageant-style across stages, and even got the paperwork for my first Mary Kay company car and no, it wasn’t pink. I got my first fat check from the company and quit my career job to pursue Mary Kay full-time. Suddenly the thing I did on the side and for fun was full-time work.
And I was even more miserable.
I entered a new numbers game. The game of survival. How many skincare sets did I have to sell to pay rent? If I didn’t sell anything in a day, everything I consumed or threw into the garbage became dollars that I was “spending” and I would go down the rabbit hole of how I was going into debt by my mere existence. Talk about anxiety and a scarcity mindset!
You get the idea. Eventually, I entered the workforce again for my own sanity and also to be a responsible adult. And when I did? I gave up my Mary Kay business entirely, even at the protest of my regular customers. And it felt goooood. No regrets.
Warning: Goals Don’t Go Away
While my Mary Kay adventure was pivotal in my relationship with sales and goals, I am still learning to let go.
Why? Because I am a harsh judge and I’m also my own boss.
On days that I feel that late afternoon momentum, I put in late hours until I complete whatever it is that I told myself I would do. And while inconvenient to my evening plans, I love late afternoon momentum. It feels good, and I accomplish stuff.
On other days, I look at that to-do list and ask myself what the world is expecting of me today. Who is counting on me? What are the things that I told people I would have done by today? And I do one of two things- I either do only those tasks (they are typically minor) or I send off an email that says something along the lines of “Hey, I didn’t get this done today. I need an extension!”
You know what? If not abused- as in you aren’t asking for extensions every week, people understand.
Don’t get me wrong- I have my aforementioned to-do lists and even do annual goal-setting activities with a coach. I have accountability partners and deadlines.
Someone asked me recently, “So how does that work? Isn’t that counter to everything that you believe about goals?”
Nope. Because it takes a village to bring ideas and businesses to life. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. And while I set goals and visualize what success might look like, I am not attached to those things. I would describe it as a healthy superstition around goal setting. Like reading your horoscope. If it works out as planned, great. If not, who cares?
How My Goals Worked Out For 2020
Let’s look at the letter to myself that I wrote at the end of 2019.
The letter is an annual visualization exercise I do on or before New Year’s Day. I pretend that I am actually writing a letter to myself from the future- one year ahead. So I tell myself all of the wonderful things I accomplished that year- travels, business projects that came to fruition, milestones that I achieved, and things that I accomplished with my family and husband. That kind of stuff.
So, on December 31st, 2019 I wrote about the wonderful exchange student (I even named him “Roger”) that we had in 2020 and all of the camping that my husband and I did with my mother, and even that I had published my book to rave reviews.
Needless to say, the COVID pandemic of 2020 put a hold on all travel-related activities overseas or with other people and no, I did not get my book finished or published.
I read that letter and smiled. Because how could I have known what would happen in the future?
As far as the book, I mean, sure one could argue that I could lock myself into a well-lit closet and write for 8 hours a day and spit one out but is that really how creative work gets done well? I had never written a book before so how could I really know what the process was?
When I read that letter a year later, I felt good about the progress that I had made on my book. The progress that I made with a coach with regular goals. And yes, sometimes life got in the way of achieving them. Like my coach participating in a game show, or I was on the line with customer service during my writing time, and we had to reschedule some appointments.
One thing that wasn’t in that letter? That I’d doubled my business revenue in 2020. That was a happy surprise. Amazing how that can happen, isn’t it?
BHAGS and Stretch Goals: Beware
Let’s talk about the role of BHAGS, “unreasonable”, and stretch goals. They are like the “Let’s take this one step further” of corporate-speak.
Basically, you set a goal, maybe even a SMART goal. BHAGS and stretch goals mock the achievable part and challenge you to set a goal outside of your comfort zone, which isn’t in itself entirely bad. I mean, some people (probably not you) set super-achievable goals. What is the point of a goal if it is completely doable? Like, “I will wake up in the morning every day.” Don’t bother with those goals. A stretch or BHAG answers the question “What would be a crazy win?” Sometimes they even get achieved. Bonus!
However, BHAGS and stretch goals are ultimately demotivating. Especially in a corporate workspace. Why? Because they are mostly unattainable and can easily be abused when, by freak accident, you actually achieve them. Also, why kill yourself? Aren’t regular goals enough?
Picture this (ala Sofia from Golden Girls): your boss challenges you to set a stretch goal. You meet the regular goal. Then your boss (which could be yourself, by the way) ups the ante and makes your regular goal the baseline for the next goal. PLUS you have a stretch goal. God forbid you make that one because that might be the next baseline. In the end, you are just a donkey chasing a carrot ALL. OF. THE. TIME. That donkey starves, never gets to celebrate a single achievement, and, ultimately, dies a horrible death.
The celebration part! Don’t leave that out. This is where you will find fulfillment. Take the time to acknowledge yourself for how far you’ve come. Celebrating can mean anything from making that hair appointment to a nice dinner out or even a vacation. Make your celebrations be your stretch. Make those awesome and (slightly) out of your comfort zone. And if that seems financially impossible, start a Celebration budget envelope and put $40 in it each month (thanks, Dave Ramsey!) Or however much makes sense to you. You deserve it.
How About You?
Do yourself a favor. Look at your relationship to goals. How do they impact your life? How have New Year’s resolutions worked out for you in the past? How can you make them work this year? Give yourself permission to ease up. Pick three areas to focus on instead of trying to fix an entire laundry list of things that aren’t working in your life. It might feel risky to take off your training wheels for the first time. I assure you that the risk is worth the reward.
Welcome to the club of feeling fulfilled.