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Rains: Plan Forward, Measure Backwards

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I met with a shop owner last week. It was our first coaching appointment together. He talked about his goals, his dreams and all the things he wanted to accomplish. Yet the more he talked the less clear things became. He talked about retiring early so he could spend more time with his kids and working with non-profits. He talked about how at 40 he’s already way further than he ever dreamed he would be when he first started in the industry. At one point I asked him, “How will you know when you’ve accomplished your goal and can retire?” He said, “Honestly, I have no idea.” That is where we ended our first session. But without a doubt, that is the very topic we will dive deep into in the months ahead. Getting as clear as possible on our end goal is critical but not as easy as it looks. 

Almost all of us have heard the phrase, “Begin with the end in mind,” popularized by Steven Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” We all have an end in mind. The question is: How clear is it? Have we done the hard work to define “the end” with specific details so that we will know when we’re there?  

And here’s the bad news: You’ll never really get “there” because “there” keeps moving! One of my mentors talks about our biggest goals as if they are a horizon. Have you ever wondered where the horizon actually is? In fact, it doesn’t exist! It’s just a useful tool for our eyes to look out as far as possible and “see” where the sky meets the earth. And as soon as you walk toward it what happens? It moves! Our goals are like that. We start to hit one then we realize maybe we need a bigger goal. So we reset and there’s a new horizon.  

For me almost 20 years ago that goal was to get my little neighborhood shop to $500,000 a year in revenue. Then $1 million then $2 million … then a second location. And a third. And on it went. Every time I walked toward those goals the horizon moved further out. What mattered to me more than the specific goal was the trajectory. Was I moving the needle on being the kind of shop that someone would buy some day? Was I spending less time in the gritty details of the business and finding time to work on it? Was I able to provide financially for the people and causes I cared about most like my team, my family and at-risk children? 

When I was entering my teen years, my grandfather died. After he died, I used to spend hours in his small study. His walls were lined with books, stuffed on every shelf. There were piles of books all over the floor as well. In one of the books I found a little hand written note that stuck with me ever since: “If you aim at nothing, you will definitely hit it.” I have no idea who said that or where he read it. But it has stuck with me for almost 40 years now. We have to aim at something.  

Setting a goal and orienting ourselves and our teams around it provides clarity and a sense of direction.  

Yet, we realize that goals and dreams are like horizons. They are not real. And on top of that, they move as we move toward them. How defeating is that? How frustrating is it if all we ever do is look forward to what’s next? It can start to feel like a hamster wheel, lots of motion and effort but not really going anywhere.  

The antidote to this sense of despair—this feeling of “never arriving”—is to always measure backward. If you want to raise your confidence to go after even bigger goals then celebrate the progress you’ve made. Express gratitude to the people who have helped you thus far. Look back and see how far you’ve come. And yes, celebrate even the hard stuff. I love the saying, “Either you win or you learn.” There is no “lose.” All the hard stuff is simply lessons that are shaping us. With each victory, we celebrate the gain. With each loss, we celebrate the lesson. So today, celebrate and express gratitude. And let’s get after those goals that actually intimidate us. Those are the ones that will bring out the best in us.  


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