The Big Picture

One of the magazine cutouts on my visual goal "board." My goals are more specifically detailed in my goals document, but this keeps them in eyesight at all times.

A few years back, a couple entrepreneur friends and I got together to share our goals. The idea was that, if we each knew what the others were trying to accomplish over the next year or so, we could hold each other accountable. Also, meeting to discuss our goals would force us to write them down. And it would ensure that we could rationally explain them to other people (no half-baked, nonsensical ideas) and that other people we knew and trusted thought they were good goals (e.g., not too hard to achieve, detailed enough, relevant to our larger life objectives, and so forth).

I was all-in for this meeting. Confession: I had goals--and have always had goals--but I’d never written them down before. And only in rare cases had anyone held me accountable to them. (A fitness challenge at the gym, for example.) Everything I've ever read about success says you need to write down goals and make them specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART). I just hadn't done it. Time to start!

We came to the meeting with our goals typed and printed in multiple. When it came my turn to share?

I got shot down. Nicely, of course.

I went through my entire list before anyone said anything. I walked through all the things I was going to achieve in business growth, client mix, employee development, efficiency and productivity, corporate culture.... And so on. Each goal for the year was incredibly SMART.

Not smart enough, though.

My friends praised me on my hard work in developing business goals--praise first, then constructively criticize, right?--and then asked me where my other goals were. The stuff not directly related to work.

Stuff not related to work?

Yeah, they said. Stuff around my mental health, physical health, family, friends, even personal financial well being. Stuff like that.

So much for thinking I was a well-rounded person. Suddenly, I realized that I had a one-track mind.

Back to the drawing board. It wasn't easy. The section of my goals document directly related to work was fantastic. The other areas were blank or anemic. I was stuck. And stunned. I was one-dimensional? Really?

I won't lie: I had a bit of an existential crisis.

Drawing a complete blank on other facets of my life, I took it to the studs. I asked myself this: When I reach the end of my life--and I hope that’s a long, long time from now--what will make me feel that it was a good life? No one existence can contain everything. And every choice takes you away from other options. So, realistically, what would matter to me at the end of my life, given that I can't have it all?

Everyone's answer to this question will be different. We value different things. Our lives are our works of art, and no original work of art will ever truly be the same--even if it attempts to mimic someone else’s.

Answering this question was one of the most important exercises I've ever put myself through. I surprised myself with my answers. And I began to understand myself and my previously unexamined inclinations better than before. Once I knew what would make my life a good life, I knew how to develop long-term goals and knew how to develop goals for each year that will get me closer to them.

Will my specific goals evolve over the years? Yes. But I'm certain that the framework under which they fall will always be the same. I may decide that some other specific thing will better contribute to making mine a "good" life but the tenets I developed around what matter to me aren't likely to change.

You're probably wondering what I came up with. I'll share, in time--probably in a series of articles around different life goals I've set and the specific pieces I've put in place to get me there. But I don't want to influence your answers, because I've truly come to believe the exercise is something everyone should go through and develop her own conclusions.

So I challenge you:

Think about what will matter to you in the grand scheme. When you look back on the art you've created--your life--what will convince you that it's good? Don't forget that your life is multifaceted--your work and your family and your friends and your finances (yes, even them) all contribute to the bigger picture and influence each other. And then once you know what truly matters to you, what goals should you develop to begin creating that masterpiece?

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Reader Comments (3)

I am chuckling because I have been that friend. The one who asks you the deep questions, the questions about "the rest of you" as one person put it.

We all come from a different place Leslie. I was blessed and lucky enough to know at a very early age, I was just the holistic deep gal. We all go through these growing experiences - no matter how enlightened or intellectual a life we feel we had led.

So you gonna share your mental, spiritual and physical goals with us ;)

When I look back I see many life paintings of all the joy, tears, strength, courage and even fear I have created ( yup - you heard me right - I recognize we create it, not live through it) and I see times when I was fearless and times I was a wet soggy noodle.

Then I ask if I were to be sitting at my own funeral listening to folks talk about me what would they say? Heck I even ask friends that one now, snort... ok you figured out I am the deep weird one right- good, they have said "She helped me see things I had in me I was afraid to look at and it turns out they are my biggest strengths" "She stood with me when I was about to give it all up and patiently pulled me into loving my self again" "Yeah, I got to be with her when she was weak and she still beat all our asses with gumption."

Now it is my turn for lunch ;) ( yup saw you went to lunch with Deb)

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermichele price

When I was in high school I was asked by an english teacher to come up with a title for an auto-biography. This must have been in my junior or senior year when I woke up and started caring about my GPA and about going to college.

I pondered and reflected upon my life and more specifically my academic career to that point and came up with "Play it by ear"

Looking back at the last twenty plus years I think it was a serendipitous choice. How many seemingly small choices have sent me hurtling from one path to another? The choices haven't always been good of course (or wise for that matter). But I recognize that they are what have molded me into what I am now.

I can compare my present circumstance to what an eighteen year old kid expected; to be an aerospace engineer and live in florida and have his own rocket company by now, but I'm just not that guy anymore.

I can look at my schoolmates and friends who "got on track" or "on the program" and got the career, the family, etc but I have come to realize "that's them and this is me and this is who I have to be".

Now, all that being said, I am over forty and slightly less thick headed than I was in my twenties and I have been planning for my future little by little. But I have to keep in mind that the plan isn't the end all be all of my life. The plan should be the tune that we dance to but from time to time we should be free to change the melody as is necessary.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

Love your post, Michele! Everyone needs as many friends as she can get who ask the deep--and sometimes difficult!--questions, and then nurture her through answering them. Deb even asked me at lunch if I'd met you in person--were your ears burning? She said you're wonderful and a genuine person, which are two huge compliments in my book. Looking forward to lunch!

And William, I hear you. Some of the thinking and ideas I had when I developed my initial set of goals a few years ago now have shifted with time and changes, but I haven't regretted any of the work I've done so far--and the big picture has mostly stayed the same. And I'm with you, too--we should never measure ourselves by anyone else's yardstick. We all have our own paths--trying to fit society's expectations is a way to wind up miserable.

August 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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