As far as I’m concerned, aiming low means achieving more … and I’ve lived the research to prove it.
Most days, I follow the same routine.
I get to my desk, flick on the monitor, pull up a seat, and open up my notepad. I reach for whatever pen takes my fancy at that moment from my “wheelie bin” stationery organizer. If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll grab a ruler from my top drawer for a good measure. I write the date in the top right corner (MM/DD/YY and “Day”), then in big block letters write the words “TO DO LIST” (with an optional smiley face). The first item on my list, demarked by a checkbox with a shaded 3-D shadow, is easily bested: “Write To Do List!” That checkbox doesn’t stay unfulfilled for long; space soon occupied by a practiced red tick.
And we’re away.
This whole exercise is part habit, part therapy. The daily custom gets my scattered mind lined up somewhere close to the center. It’s only on reflection of this whole song and dance that I realize a deeper truth about myself. It seems I’m not too fussed with making a ground-breaking scientific discovery; I’m not trying to cure terminal illnesses, I’m not even trying to get rich – I just want to make progress. Drawing up empty squares, ticking them off.
So, where does this take me in life?
I’ve done the whole “Goals Book” thing before, and it has tremendous merit. The idea is to put down your grandest dreams, the ultimate destinations in career, love, wealth, and development. Then, you break it all down to realistic goals you can achieve month to month, week to week, day by day. If you do this long enough, you are promised ultimate success and happiness.
Inspirational, right? Show me where to tick!
What they don’t tell you is that things get boring. They get hard, and sometimes you just don’t understand where you took a wrong turn. Veering off course just a fraction can have dire consequences for your aspirations.
Imagine being in an aircraft that is just one-quarter of a degree off course. Not such a big deal, unless you’re flying 9,000 miles and 16 hours – now you’re in Taipei asking a very apathetic Customs Officer which bus shuttle gets you to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Way off.
I’m not trying to cure terminal illnesses, I’m not even trying to get rich – I just want to make progress. Drawing up empty squares, ticking them off.
The unfortunate truth is that it happens to careers: aspire to become an internationally-acclaimed chef, end up working at Big Rooster. It happens to love: teenage fantasies of an impossibly perfect soulmate; fast forward to the automated “thank you email” you just received for upgrading your e-Harmony subscription. Moreover, it happens when it happens (there is a bumper sticker that supports this claim), as do the scattered killing fields of ambitious New Year’s resolutions, showing that aiming high brings you more misery than joy.
There’s a famous quote attributed to inspirational speaker Les Brown that goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.”
Typical of an “inspirational speaker,” really. He gets paid to churn out poster perfect phrases like that.
Well, I’m sorry – I might just call BS on that one, Les. The beautifully visual quote makes it sound like one remains blissfully afloat in outer space after missing the moon. No, no, no. When we miss our moon – our dream home at auction, that big-time promotion, the awards and accolades – we come hurtling back through the mesosphere and burn up like a crumbling meteor.
While, indeed, we gave it a go, procured some skill and “learned something” from the endeavor, it’s the missing out that can be our final undoing.
I put forward a more reasonable encouragement: “Aim for the ceiling. If you miss, at least the fall won’t crush you.”
That way, when I falter – and I will, we all do – the fall isn’t fatal. From my childhood experiences of the game Snakes & Ladders, it was always the kid who shot up the longest ladder who also managed to find the longest snake. (Take that, Les.)
When I sit down each morning and very deliberately set the lamest goals, I feel good. I’m taking small wins where I can get them. And so I recommend this to you: Sure, have your big dreams and wild passions, but start the blaze with kindling-sized goals; write them down, cross them off, repeat.
With every shin-height hurdle overcome, you’ll experience fulfilment on a daily basis – fuel you can use to propel forward – and that certainly beats waiting on a Blue Moon that may never come.