Writing Out Your Goals: The Actualization and Evolution of What You Want

I was cleaning out the basement this weekend and I came across a list I made about 3 years ago. It is a “to do before I’m 40” list and I wrote it after I got laid off from my IT management job. I remember the list well because it was my first ever goals list and it looks like:

By 40

  • Record an album
  • Complete a triathlon
  • Own a business
  • Own a house
  • Have $50000 in the bank
  • Own a mountain bike trail
  • Complete a 24 hour mountain bike race by myself
  • Have written two books
  • Be working as a motivational speaker
  • Get a nose job
  • Have a suit made for me
  • Sing in front of other people
  • Bench press 200 pounds
  • Have a six-pack (abs)
  • Drive across Canada
  • Go out East
  • Have a recording studio
  • Have an MA
  • Have invented something
  • Meditate 30 minutes per day 3 times a week

It’s a lofty list with a few very challenging items, a few superficial items, a few status items and a number of fitness/sports goals. When I saw the list I remembered it instantly in spite of the fact that it was in a box in my basement and I hadn’t seen it for three years.

Of particular interest to me are the number of these items that I no longer care about (they aren’t my goals anymore), and the number of items that I have been able to cross off the list.

On the face of it, the few items that I have cleared off the list are fairly modest. But when I think about it more, I realize that many of my peers have similar goals but have not achieved them or are not even working towards them. Even if I didn’t achieve anything else in the last 3 years, I think I have achieved more success than most people have as far as setting a goal and moving towards it because I did achieve some of the things I put my mind to.

But that isn’t the case as this was just the FIRST goals list I made. As I worked towards building my own company (making video game cabinets) I realized that it didn’t really make me very happy – I wasn’t that I wanted my own company, it was that I wanted to work for myself and have my success be determined by my own effort. Given at this was the case, I needed to learn how to sell. Learning how to sell became an item on the next goals list. I also knew that I’d have an easier time being taught how to sell working for an established company vs. learning through trial and error with my own company. “Working as a sales person for an established company” was also put to paper as a goal. I ended up getting a job with GoodLife Fitness Clubs as a membership coordinator; it’s a sales role.

With reference to GoodLife and selling, my goals changed very quickly as I attained more and more of what I put my mind to. It went something like this:

  • Learn the theories of selling – 6 weeks
  • Make a sale – 10 days
  • Achieve my monthly goal – 30 days
  • Lead the team in sales – 75 days
  • Lead the division in sales – 120 days
  • Become a General Manager of a GoodLife Club – 160 days
  • Become a successful manager – did not happen

There was some over lap with these goals – I completed my first sale and achieved my monthly goal when I was still learning the basics of how to sell. The other thing that is interesting is the speed at which I changed my goals – what started off as a desire to prove whether or not I could sell became a desire for a career with a company in about 60 days. Recall that working for GoodLife was not one of the before 40 goals and even the goal of learning how to sell was only tangentially related to anything on that list. There is a sort of evolution with this – what we want can be changed by what we do today, one achievement leads to a desire for other related achievements or to a desire for something completely different.

My failure to become a successful manager was a bit of a disappointment but it was also a huge learning experience. I worked hard to be successful at it and had enjoyed some successes but did not achieve what I viewed as success and after a lot of soul searching I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to. Once I saw the futility of what I was trying to do, I conceded and stepped down allowing someone else to try and make good on what I had hoped to achieve.

The next goals list moved away from leading a team in favor of leading individuals:

  • Become a personal trainer – 4 weeks
  • Help someone start working towards his or her fitness goals – 2 weeks
  • Achieve my first month goal – 2 weeks
  • Sell over $3000 in training – 5 weeks
  • Sell the most on the team – did not happen

Again, there was a goal that I gave up on because I realized that I wasn’t going to be happy working towards it. In fact, I found training people to be one of the hardest things I have ever done, seriously. It takes a special type of person to work one on one with someone to help him or her achieve their goals. The problem was fit. I never had the goal of seeing someone achieve their goal, only to sell training, be a trainer and help people get started. Had I had a better idea of what the job was actually about, I wouldn’t have done it because it’s a long haul thing and not the simple once-off that selling memberships is.

So I left the job, particularly drained, and since I had saved some money I took a month to travel the east coast of Canada and do some camping. I went with my childhood friend Deb who loves traveling. It seemed to make sense to go with her because we had spoken about traveling together before and the opportunity just present itself last May. So that cleared off another couple of goals (one from the first list and one from a fifth or sixth list).

Now what does this all mean? Well, I think it means a bunch of things:

  • That by writing your goals out you make them real
  • Real goals will be achieved more often than imaginary ones
  • Goals will be achieved or changed based on new information
  • Every action you take can impact your desire for things that were never considered before
  • By looking at a list of your goals, you can begin to create a sense of entitlement or, at least, a sense of ability that you can do something
  • You’ll have a better chance of finding yourself doing what you want to do if you figure out what you want to do and working towards it
  • That your desires are based on what you are doing at the moment and less on what you think you want

I encourage everyone to write out their goals and I’m not sure how it goes. When I ask them about it, they say things like “I don’t feel like it” or “it feels really stupid” or “I don’t need to”. But I think that most people don’t do it because they don’t think they have the right to anything better than what they have now. Life is something that is done to them and not something they are willing to take an active role in creating. Life isn’t like for everyone, those who have taken the time to write out their goals tend to be working towards achieving them.

If you want to change your life, change your life and the best way to start is to figure-out what you want to get out of it. Go on, make that goals list!

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