When we aspire to ambitious goals, we risk confusing the goal with the path to achieving it. Here's how it goes — sometimes. We consider the goal and ask ourselves, "Now how do we accomplish that?" We generate some ideas, and if the goal is really ambitious, we often fail to see how to get there immediately. So we adjust the goal and try again. Finally, after several iterations, we succeed in finding a goal that we believe we can reach. Unfortunately, these reachable goals are rarely ambitious. They're practical, they're achievable, they're disappointing, and they're hardly worth the effort of achieving them.
What has gone wrong here? We've allowed ourselves to engage in a search whose objective was to find a path to A Goal, instead of a path to Our Goal. That search simply had the wrong objective.
In effect, the objective of our search was not to find a path to achieving our original goal; rather, the objective of our search was to find a goal that lay on a path we already knew how to travel. But often, ambitious goals lie only on paths we don't yet know how to travel.
As long as we stick to paths we already know how to travel, the goals we can reach are unlikely to be ambitious. To ensure that we find a path to our original, ambitious goal, or to some other goal equally ambitious, consider these guidelines.
- The path we need to find will look impossible
- If you're looking for a path that's clearly possible, you're looking for the wrong path. An ambitious goal is ambitious because nobody has achieved it yet. If a passable path to that goal were obvious, someone would probably have achieved that goal already.
- The path you're looking If you're looking for
a path that's clearly
possible, you're looking
for the wrong pathfor is one that looks impossible, and which has obstacles you don't yet know how to circumvent. But you believe you can avoid those obstacles or find ways around or through them.
- Some new ideas will be required
- Because the path is now impassable, to reach your ambitious goal you'll have to do something that's never been done before — or at least, something you've never done before. If you're considering a path that doesn't require cleverness or innovation, you might be considering a wrong path, or perhaps a less-than-ambitious goal.
- Ambitious goals lie in the domain of innovators. If you're unwilling, unable, or not permitted to innovate, you probably can't achieve ambitious goals.
- We'll inevitably make mistakes and experience setbacks
- At the outset, the path to an ambitious goal is unknown. You pick a path that looks promising, but you have no real assurance that it will lead you to the goal. It might have branches and obstacles, and it's up to you to take the right branches and find your way around the obstacles. All of us inevitably make mistakes and take wrong turns.
- When you do run into trouble, you need reserves and support. You might have to make some repairs, or backtrack and take different turns or branches. That's expected. The people who support you must understand this.
- Doubters will claim that what you're doing is hopeless or wrong-headed
- If the goal is ambitious enough, you'll find doubters — or rather, they'll find you. For many doubters, your success would be proof of their failure, for whatever reason, to pursue the same ambitious goal you're pursuing. For many doubters, fear and shame are the motivators.
- Their doubts are their problem, not yours. Your problem is finding a path to your goal.
Most important, know what to do — and what not to do — when the path you're on is impassable. What not to do: adjust your goal. What to do: set a new goal that will get you a little closer to your original goal, and find a path to that intermediate goal. This can feel at first like failure or compromise. That's a feeling; honor it. But achieving that intermediate goal is definite progress. It sets the baseline a little closer to the ultimate goal. Go to that baseline, and see what you can see from there. You might find a new way forward. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
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