Tackling big goals can be tricky. Sometimes as we look ahead, we can visualize where we want to end up with clarity that rivals NFL game coverage. We can close our eyes and see the business we want, the clients we long for, an organization we believe in, and the success we have hoped for. The ending is as clear as can be. Then, with that sinking-startled feeling you get when you suddenly wake up from a dream about falling, you open your eyes and find yourself in the present. Our ending–our goal–is across a chasm so wide we can hardly see the other side.
When we start in on big goals it’s easy to see the beginning and end. It’s the middle that’s the trouble. Today I’ll share five tips for starting the journey across the chasm. Five practical steps you can start taking today as you begin to advance on a big goal.
1. Take a step, any step
You’ve probably heard the Lao Tzu quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s true. Very true. Advancing on any big goal requires action. Results begin with intentional actions.
As you look at your big business goal, you might be feeling overwhelmed by how far you have to go. Instead of giving in to self-doubt and fear, start thinking critically. Think about things that must happen in order for your goal to come to fruition. You don’t need to have all the answers, just a few to get you started. The key here is to be concrete. Be as specific as you can be. Be realistic. Make a list of small steps that you can start taking that will set you closer (even if it’s just a few inches closer) to where you want to be. Examples of concrete steps might look something like this (please note, these are just examples, every situation will require unique steps):
- Share your dream with someone you trust–it’ll make it much more real.
- Finish up “busy work” projects that are distracting you from your goal, instead of propelling you toward it.
- Weed out activities you’ve taken on that are spreading you too thin.
- If you are just starting out and still hold a day job, schedule daily/weekly time specifically for growing your business.
Even a tiny step toward your goal will put you closer than before you lifted your foot.
2. Set smaller goals
No, this isn’t my way of telling you to stop dreaming big, to give up and aim for something smaller and more realistic. Once you’ve come up with a few steps to start taking, look out a little further and set some “sub-goals.” Examine your big goal and come up with one or two smaller goals you’ll have to achieve along the way.
Again, you don’t need to have the entire process planned out. Have faith that other sub-goals will become clearer and more obtainable once you have accomplished the first few. The important thing is to have a good understanding of your first few sub-goals and some concrete steps you can take toward accomplishing them. As you accomplish one of your small goals, as your path to your big goal becomes more clear, sit down again and think of the next goal you should start working toward.
3. Use the buddy system
I’m a firm believer that life is better when we do it together. Big goals can be super scary when we are all alone, but they can seem less so when we share them with someone else. Kind of like crazy nightmares that seem terrifyingly real when we first wake up but seem much less spooky once we’ve explained all their weird details to a friend. As you begin to attack your goal, I recommend two types of friends: Peers and mentors.
Find a few like-minded friends who share a passion for entrepreneurship, change, and self-motivation. Talk about your goals, and brainstorm together. Even if you aren’t in the same field, a peer who shares your desire to start up or grow a business will help keep you accountable and motivated.
Next, look around and find someone who is living your goal–or at least something very close to it. Work up some nerve and speak with them. Remember that the object of a mentor is to have a relationship. Don’t just walk up to a person you admire and expect them to tell you all their success secrets.
That will probably not come out in your favor. Instead, be useful by networking your services with theirs; volunteer your time to them; explain you are a new entrepreneur who admires their work, and then offer to take them to lunch. Forming a relationship will take time, but it is a worthwhile investment.
4. Be generous
Most entrepreneurs begin their business because they believe in their idea/product/service. They know their idea can solve a problem or fill a need. When setting out to achieve a big goal, it’s easy to become self-serving. We can get so caught up in the drive to bring our dream to fruition, that we can forget why we set out on the journey at all.
When I first went into business on my own it was because I believed nonprofit organizations and ministries deserved design, photography, and video services that were both affordable and beautiful. That vision expanded into a desire to offer lovely photography to average families without breaking the bank. I still believe in those things. While I enjoy being self-sufficient, being generous with my skills keeps my focus on the reason behind my ambition to grow a great business.
Think creatively about ways your business can improve the community around you and pursue them. In addition to being a moral boost, creative giving can lead to loads of networking opportunities and improved public/community relations.
The goals I never revisit are the goals I never achieve. Any goal–regardless of size–is more likely to get accomplished if you revisit it regularly. Plan to check in on your progress on a regular basis. Put it in your planner. Maybe plan to meet up with your mentor, or a peer to see where you are and brainstorm how to proceed.
Just be sure you do it. And no matter what your progress has been, remember to keep a positive attitude. Don’t get tangled up in self-doubt if things aren’t progressing how you planned. Grow from setbacks, learn from mistakes, and –most of all–take pride in the successes (no matter how big or small) you achieve along the way.
This article was first published in 2015 but has been updated and expanded in 2023