Originally appeared in The National Law Journal on April 7, 2014
Did you make partner at your law firm? Did you make more money this year than the year before? Do you drive a nice car? Do you live in a big house? Are you happy? Would the 12-year-old version of you be impressed by who you have become?
Most of us begin our careers with a clear perspective of what we want. We can almost taste it, our visions and dreams are so real. Then life happens. Marriage, kids, work, more work, and then we wake up one day and ask: Is this really what I signed up for? Am I going through the motions or I am getting closer to what I want the most?
In the short term, we tend to set goals that are overly ambitious but, in the long term, we aren’t ambitious enough. Why the disconnect? Perhaps it is due to our small attention span. We get overwhelmed by quotidian routine — we get up, do our work, exercise (maybe) and go home. But our Big Harry Audacious Goals, as leadership expert Tim Collins calls them in his bestselling book “Good to Great,” we too often put on the back burner. How many times have I heard that someone wants to write a book, travel the world, buy rental properties, start a blog or their own business? But far too few have the focus and determination to start and complete those goals.
When I coach lawyers who haven’t had much success at bringing in business, I find they often have a magic number: They tend to want to bring in an additional, say, $200,000 in new business during the next year. When I press them about how they hope get there, I find that far too many aren’t willing to do the work required. They have no problem setting goals but find it all too easy to put off necessary disruption to their daily routines.
Three things have helped me accomplish my own goals: a clear plan, broken down into its components; a defined end date and a way to measure my progress; and accountability. This last can come from a coach or peer, but you need someone to keep you honest and focused.
When I first started my business, I set a goal of moving to Australia for a month with my family — and to have someone else pay for it. I wrote down the goal; planned a conference in Sydney with a partner to whom I’d been introduced through a connection there; and found a sponsor for my conference. The goal seemed impossible when I set it, yet I made it a reality.
They say we only use a small percentage of our brains, but I’m convinced that setting goals and dreams for our future is one of the most powerful ways to better access the latent portion of our talents.
Don’t be afraid to set big goals, but be ready to pay the price to see them through. You only have one life — make sure it is spent on those things that matter most.