Start, Stop, Start, Fail, Start, Finish

Completing a goal usually takes you down many roads, some of which appear to be dead ends. The bigger the goal, the more roads, bridges, streams, deserts and even oceans you may be required to cross before you arrive at your target destination. As many folks prepare their goals for a new year the past failures and yet-to-obtain prior goals can be a hindrance to defining your new aspirations.

As we pull out our blank sheet for writing down a fresh set of objectives for a brand new year we invariably stumble across some prior goals, which are written on similar blank sheets, but are, as of now, unachieved. How we handle those former goals in our mind is key to unlocking a powerful future. Do we shy away from even looking at our previous lists or totally disregard previous goals as candidates for the New Year for fear of reliving our prior failure? Or do we double down, digging in even harder as we set out to tame that wild beast of yesterday?

Prior to enrolling in an MBA program I asked two people that I respected for their opinion on taking the time and money to achieve an advanced business degree. One person told me it was a waste of time and proceeded to list accomplished people who didn’t need such a degree to “validate themselves.” The other person encouraged me to press into it and go for it, saying that I would meet new people who were like-minded in advancing their careers. At the time my income was about $28,000 per year so it was a major financial decision as well.

I did decide to go for the MBA. It was intimidating, exhausting while I worked full-time, and after the first year I stopped taking classes. I could not handle the stress. When I stopped I had no specific plan to restart. A couple of years went by and something inside me kept thinking about obtaining that degree. I eventually began again and finished. Having paid for the entire program myself and doing it while working made the final accomplishment much more impactful than my undergraduate degree.

Recently I read an incredible story of a 70-year old lady who circumnavigated the world, solo, in a sailboat. She did it after failing on her first two attempts. Her first try ended on the final leg when she ran aground and lost her vessel. Her second ended when a major storm off of Cape Horn broke the boom of her second boat. The third try took 260 days at sea, alone. Start, Stop, Start, Fail, Start, Finish. Isn’t that how the big dreams come true?

As you plan your new year be brave in your goal setting. Pull out those old lists. Don’t shy away from them. Who cares if you failed before? You are wiser now. You may be able to afford better equipment now. Big dreams take big bold brave starts. The fact that those starts are often followed by some dead ends is not a reason to give up. It actually means you are much closer to the finish than you ever imagined. Go for it. Make it a big year!

Note for managers: If you are setting goals for a team and you need to try again to accomplish something that was a goal for this past year, you can either just list it and hope nobody notices that you all just failed, or you can talk about it. I suggest you talk about it. You can ask your folks to share a story about themselves or someone they read about who started, failed, and started again. Getting your team reset mentally, being honest about why you did not make it last time, and why it is important to try again can unlock some amazing creativity and passion. In the software industry the first version of many great applications is often unrecognizable from the third version. As a manager you have to talk your team through that process and be their faith at critical periods along the journey. You can do it.