Whose goals are they anyway?

Many of us did not consciously choose some of the most consequential life paths we’ve taken.  We are born with a religion, a culture, and strong views on everything from relationships to the significance of education and wealth. Then we delude ourselves into believing that after careful consideration, we chose these ideas.

Obtaining an advanced degree or gaining fame, getting married, traveling the world, or creating wealth are worthy goals, provided they are in fact your goals. No one on their death bed ever said: If only I had spent more time chasing other people’s dreams.

It’s valuable to reflect on the paths we take and ask: “Who is this for?”

All problems are real

It’s easy to look at the 3-year-old who’s having a tantrum because his fingerpainting got ruined and think: get some real problems! This is exactly how the fifth-grader going through her first heartbreak views him.

But the fifth-grader’s father who just lost his job views her the same way. And those who were unlucky enough to be born in a country with no freedom, where they could be killed for expressing their views, would probably trade a limb to have these “problems”. And on and on it goes.

There’s no point in comparing, because to each person, their “crisis” is justified and very real. Life and its challenges are not part of a competition. Knowing this should be the basis for compassion.

What you’ll do…the only thing that matters

Mark Twain said: “The man who doesn’t read has no advantage over the man who can’t read.”  Gender pronoun neglect aside, he makes the point that knowledge is meaningless if you don’t apply it.

So when you acquire experience, knowledge, or some new perspective…what will you do with it?  How will you use it to better yourself, and what will you do to become an inspiring example for others?

Education and certifications are great to have.  But the plain truth is that no one cares what you have.  It’s what you do with what you have that matters.

Stop exaggerating

Outside of obvious jokes, I make it a habit to avoid exaggerations like “I’m starving” or “This is devastating” or “Everyone thinks I’m…”.  (Really?  Everyone?) Our tendency is to believe our own thoughts, and the over-reactive sensational ones aren’t helpful.  It’s unlikely that I have ever actually been starving.

Don’t trick your body into feeling exhausted, freezing, or any other distorted extreme.  It’s possible that you just need a nap or a warm coat, and those can be attained without invoking stress hormones and going into crisis mode.

Yet another reminder to be vigilant with your thoughts and words.  And to remember…you don’t have to believe everything you think anyways.

Boost your immune system

Our nervous system can’t distinguish between being chased by a tiger and the nerves we feel just before a speech.” For urgent, life-threatening matters (which, unless you’re President Lincoln do not include public speaking), our bodies are doing their jobs by turning on stress hormones so we can run or fight for our lives.

It’s a glitch in our DNA to produce the fight/flight reaction because we are embarrassed by something, or anxious about some imagined future.  Because our bodies are impressive in their ability to prioritize and dispatch resources, we weaken our immune system by starving it of resources and instead send them to non-urgent, non-emergencies.

Boost your immune system!  Heal faster!  Avoid getting sick to begin with!  More practical reasons to do our best to proactively reduce stress.  Not that we needed more reasons.

Do the right thing

It’s often difficult to assess what is “right”.  Other times, it’s obvious. The difficulty in doing what we know to be right is that we may feel like we’re losing something, or perhaps won’t be rewarded.  You might get away with not reimbursing someone for the loan they forgot about.  You get no praise for averting catastrophe because there’s no catastrophe to show that your actions were warranted.

But YOU will know.  And every little decision and action solidifies the person you are.  Of course we won’t always know what’s right.  The question is: are you the kind of person who does the right thing when the answer is clear?

You don’t always have to be productive

Productivity means making every minute count, which implies that every minute not spent in active pursuit of a goal is wasted.

Getting sleep, socializing at work, and geeking out over sports or hobbies can be seen as lazy or unproductive.  Yet science tells us that sleep enhances cognitive abilities and compounds our ability to focus.  Despite technological innovations, 80% of jobs are still acquired via connections to friends and colleagues and not online applications.

It’s difficult to quantify productivity here, but it’s worth noting that being attentive to our own mental and physical health and our relationships are effective in producing outcomes that we care about the most.  Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to produce something every moment.

Fulfillment 101

The silver bullet message in my keynote speech on rapid learning and goal-setting is that nothing is more empowering, motivating, or sustainable than your belief in what’s possible.   And nothing makes you believe in possibility more than progress.

This doesn’t just apply to chasing a huge dream or a new skill.  You can shift your perspective and see every little thing you do as progress.

Even something like texting a friend jokes is an investment in the relationship.  Getting a great night of sleep is an investment in your physical and mental health.  Progress – no matter how small the steps.  The fastest path to a more fulfilling life is feeling that overall, you are a better version of yourself today than yesterday.

Jobs and problem-solving

Every consultant or employee is compensated for the value they add.  Their ability to solve relevant problems dictates their value.

When interviewing for jobs or obtaining career advice, minimize talk about the positions you’ve held, and talk more about the problems you’ve solved.  If whomever you speak with is confident that you are capable and motivated to deliver their outcomes, they will happily hire or refer you.

This is the supply-and-demand curve at work.  The best of the best have the most useful and most rare ability to solve problems that matter.

How habits make us

James Clear’s outstanding book Atomic Habits outlines how our habits are not goals to be met, but the things that make up our very identities.  Where you are financially or health-wise today is precisely the result of your prior habits.

There’s an obvious difference between “I do yoga” and “I did yoga”.  One implies that the practice is part of your identity or lifestyle.  Unlike goals (lose 10 pounds in a month for example), habits don’t have an end date.

There is tremendous power in creating new habits that serve us.  And again, unlike goals, every tiny action you take casts a vote for the person you wish to become.