“In the long run men only hit what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.” - Henry David Thoreau
I know the title is a bold claim. Two things: first, it seems anymore that one need be fantastical in their claims to compete with every buzzfeedesque article and second, the title was inspired by the best nutrition/diet article I’ve read in a long time. And while such an article is also incredibly relevant, I will link it at the bottom as to not send you down an internet clicking spiral from whence you are unlikely to return. Our collective challenge here is to focus on the here and now. So let’s get to it.
The term ‘goal-setting’ tends to elicit strong emotions in various ways for people. In my experience, some dread the exercise while others obsess over it. Whatever your position or stance, my goal here is to share both some practical steps and some inspirational thoughts why goal setting matters. I’ve broken this out into three parts: The Why, The How and The Now. Why, might you ask, spend your valuable time reading this over other goal-setting articles or anything else for that matter? Well, if I may so humbly state because, in addition to giving this a great deal of thought, I have consumed more than 50 books around goal setting and development, I have coached more than 300 people around setting personal and company goals, and lastly, you are already here. It takes more energy to leave than to stay, so stay and let’s get to work. If you loathe reading or inspiration, I have two options for you: 1.) Skip ahead to Part II: The How, and 2.) I will be holding a Q&A on how I execute goal setting on my (@natechecketts) and the @Rhone Instagram feed. Please feel free to DM or share with me any thoughts or questions along the way.
PART 1: THE WHY
A few months ago, the Saturday night before a four-day work trip, I found myself on our downstairs couch with my 3-year-old watching his new favorite movie, COCO (thank you, Netflix). If you haven’t seen this recent Pixar classic, it’s the story of a young boy in Mexico who, combined with his love of guitar music and the national holiday, Dia de Los Muertos, (Day of the Dead), discovers his deceased ancestors. One of the last scenes of the movie shows a father playing on his guitar the main song of the movie “Remember Me.” He is singing to his young daughter before he leaves for a trip (for a visual she looks to be about three or so). SPOILER ALERT: This father-daughter duet is ultimately the last time they see each other. The father leaves for a trip and dies in a most unfortunate way. I sat there with my son captivated, looking from the scene to this curly haired 3-year-old of mine, his eyes aglow with the movie. I admit that the whole scene, the music, the idea of departing the next day and the storyline, hit me very hard. I’m sure Pixar engineered it this way. It could also have been the fact that I had just finished filling out updated life insurance forms as well as reviewing our family will, so my own personal mortality was already on my mind. It could also be that I have a chronic disease, Type 1 Diabetes, which is known to lower life expectancy. But whatever the reason, for maybe the first time, I started to feel quite vulnerable and fear my own death, overcome with the thought of leaving this boy and my family too early. Some tears in my eyes, I pulled my son in close, kissed his head and said, “I love you, buddy.” He turned back, kissed my cheek harder and said, “I love you too, Daddy!” This was not something he had ever done before, which of course made me an even more emotional wreck. But somehow he got it. He understood that this connection on the screen between a father and his daughter was similar to the connection he and I had and that it was special.
After putting him to sleep that night, I tried to get the fear out of my mind but it would not leave me. It felt as though I might be feeling this for a reason, that there were still things I needed to do before I left. I hopped out of bed, quiet not to wake my wife and tiptoed downstairs to my little man cave. I wrote a letter to my family with important information, put it in the family safe spot, added a folder on my laptop labeled JIC (just in case) and added a few things in there as well, ya know, just in case. I felt marginally better before crawling into bed for a few hours of sleep which didn’t really come. I then woke up early, grabbed my bags, kissed my wife’s forehead and headed out to catch my car to the airport. The fear still gripped me as I turned and looked at our home, in some ways resigning myself to the fear and accepting that truthfully, we really don’t know when our time will come. The conference I attended in Colorado was really special and worth the trip but I did end up facing a scary medical situation where my insulin pump broke for the first time ever in almost a decade. In addition to this situation, which thankfully was solved by some miraculous intervention and having a brother-in-law for a doctor who called in an emergency prescription, the keynote of the conference was Ryan Holiday, a tremendous author and thinker who spoke about “Memento Mori”, a latin and stoic phrase that is translated to mean, “Remember you will die.” The coincidence of it all overcame me and I was reminded me of a quote by Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
All of us want to leave a legacy and time passes so quickly. If you want to further crystallize your time left, take the average lifespan of a US male (78.74 years) and subtract your current age. Then multiply that by 70% to get waking hours (remember that ~30% of your life is spent sleeping). You could also multiply it by 50% given that now sadly on average ~20% of the average US adult’s day is spent on a phone. That’s how many waking years you have left to accomplish whatever it is you want—and that, by the way, assumes you live to the average lifespan.
Example for a 35 year old: 78.74 - 35 = 43.74 * 50% = 21.87 years
Remember that this exercise is not meant in fact to create fear, self-loathing or any other negative and non-productive emotion. It is meant to help you feel a sense of urgency and to prioritize what matters most—i.e. maybe you don’t actually need to see the final season of Game of Thrones.
So while time is a very hard concept to grasp it is important to think about. Otherwise, it is easy to fall into a rut of feeling like we are not in control or not realize how life is passing by. What makes it more complicated is that the world is now truly our oyster. It is easier now than ever before to decide at any point in your life to pursue life in a different career (LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.), a new place to live (Airbnb, Homeswap, etc.) and even a new relationship (Bumble, Tinder, FarmersOnly.com, etc.)—the choices are literally endless. It is no wonder why it is easier to just not think about it and go on just living. But that is why self-reflection and goals, hard as it might feel, can be really helpful. They help orient us into prioritizing our actions.
If you want to put your life into even further perspective, there is a great read called Your Life in Weeks by Tim Urban and a calendar where you can actually see where you are and what you possibly have left. Be warned—it will drive this point home really hard.
No matter what it is you want in life, goal setting can and will help even if you don’t always hit your exact goal.
I can give a hundred examples but let me just give you two: 1.) Think about driving. Imagine driving without out an address, or maybe worse, with an address but without inputting it into some kind of GPS. Yes, that could be enjoyable for a time, but eventually, you are simply driving aimlessly and most of us can’t afford to do that in perpetuity (as great as an occasional aimless drive is). 2.) Imagine you enter a room and are handed a dart to throw at a dartboard somewhere in the room but the lights are turned out. I don’t care who you are, you will get closer to a target you can see clearly. So the natural question is how do we pick the targets and destinations—where do we start?
If you do no more than simply desire to give yourself some direction and you write three things you want to do on a sticky note that you put on your bathroom mirror that is already a win. And small victories will lead to bigger ones. In Part II: The How, I share how I set my goals. There is no proprietary system, no way of trying to convince you to part with your hard earned cash (outside of a shameless Rhone plug buried in the middle). It’s just simply what has worked for me.
To read part two, click here.
Nate Checketts is CEO and co-founder of Rhone. To see more uplifting and motivating content, follow him on Instagram: @natechecketts