At my old job, managers had a strategy for setting goals that can be boiled down to “shoot for the moon, land among the stars.” In other words, set unrealistically ambitious goals with the expectation that hitting even 70% of those goals should be considered a success. My understanding of why managers use this strategy are: 1) so that teams know what they would do if they had more resources during the year, and 2) so that teams come up with scalable strategies for reaching those goals that takes into account the “grand vision”.
Some reasons why I’m talking about this in my 2022 retrospective:
- In my first few years at that job, I felt immense pressure because I took company goals very literally and I worked a lot to meet those goals at 100% without realizing that everyone had an unspoken agreement that the goals didn’t actually have to be met. I wanted to spell this out for anyone newer to the workforce who feels the same pressure, but didn’t think it warranted a whole blog post.
- I’m still salty because our performance measured against those company goals was used to calculate our annual bonuses and that’s unfair, set realistic goals or don’t tie my compensation to the stupid moonshot goals, I just wanted to get that off my chest, but anyway I’m chill, I don’t even work there anymore.
Aside from those reasons, the most important idea I want to reflect on in this blog post is that I shouldn’t use this corporate ambitious 70% goal reaching mentality in my personal life. It sounds really simple when I say it out loud, but it took me this long to learn the lesson.
For example, setting a goal like “I want to read 100 books this year” doesn’t work for me. If I were a corporation, maybe I could convince myself that the spirit of this goal isn’t to literally read 100 books in a year, but to set up a lifestyle and habits that enable me to read very often. But I’m not a corporate machine, I’m a human being. I’m not going to “get more headcount” and I don’t have to design my lifestyle for endless increasing profit. As soon as I fall behind on a goal like this, I fizzle out and avoid it for the rest of the year. In fact, in 2022, I tried to “read more” as a goal, and I stopped reading regularly in March. There’s no team, managers, or risk to my livelihood if I give up on my goals, so I shouldn’t set personal goals as if I’m at work.
So I put these thoughts into practice for 2022. In September 2021, I had quit my job and started working with a personal trainer. By January, I was very excited about “fitness” and knew I wanted to build habits around it. The old me would have set aggressive numerical goals like “finish C25K” or “deadlift N pounds” for 2022.
Instead, this year, I started by writing down reasons why I really, truly wanted to set a goal around weightlifting. I knew that there were superficial, temporary motivations, like feeling insecure about my body image or wanting more muscle in order to have a faster metabolism. I asked myself what motivation I would hold onto when I’d inevitably say I didn’t really care about those superficial motivations. I came up with reasons that I knew I’d never be able to disregard: 1) I want to maintain muscle and bone strength as I get older (osteoporosis for older women is a real risk!), 2) I want to be fit and mobile enough to do everyday activities without feeling limited, and 3) for general cardiovascular health.
With this writing exercise, I made a personal connection to exercise that wasn’t tied to my physical appearance. I realized that I didn’t need to set a specific numeric goal for fitness because specific numbers don’t help me reach the “why” that I wrote above. Consistent, lifelong activity is what I was really trying to describe.
That’s how I decided that my 2022 fitness goal was simply, “don’t stop going to the gym”. If I had set some other aggressive goal like “finish C25K” or “something something Peloton”, I would have fizzled out like every other year that I set new year’s resolutions.
I thought I’d end 2022 feeling like I didn’t accomplish very much, but I’m actually proud of myself for setting a goal I was truly committed to, and not forgetting it for a whole year. In retrospect, my goal was somewhat SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound – but maybe not that specific). Framed differently, my goal wasn’t intimidating, so I never felt like I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish it, so I never stopped going to the gym. Additionally, because it was an explicit goal, I insisted on making it a non-negotiable part of my week. This year, I’m prouder than any other year because I finally stuck to something. I ended up feeling more accomplished this year with my “unambitious” goal than I felt for previous years where I fizzled out.
As a side note, my other goals for 2022 had a similar “zero ambition” strategy: I wanted to get cats and also get my driver’s license. I did both of these things!
With all that, for 2023, I now feel comfortable sharing my zero ambition / extremely achievable goals:
- Don’t stop taking long walks (at least once a week)
- Go to a dermatologist
For the first one, I realized my “why” isn’t related to how fast I can ride Peloton or how many miles I can run. What I really want is to be able to walk around and explore a city for hours without getting tired, and I’m not fit enough to do that today. So this year, I want to get better at walking and stop stressing myself out over running/cycling/intense cardio that makes me want to make excuses to skip it.
For the second one, I noticed how accomplished I felt for simply sticking to my driving lessons, so this year I want to keep up that energy by sticking to going to dermatology appointments and seeing how far I can get with treating my acne scars. Maybe I should frame it as “don’t stop going to the dermatologist.”
I look forward to a hopefully positive update in 12 months!