Nothing quite compares to the thrill of achieving a challenging, meaningful goal. To this day, I can vividly recall crossing the finish line of the Portland marathon nearly 10 years ago – a huge and crazy-for-me goal that required extensive time, training and mindset shifts. While many marathoners set time goals, mine was to complete the event upright and smiling. Success felt amazing!
Just a year or so before that marathon, however, I spent a wild amount of time and energy writing a book proposal and sending it off to potential publishers. I can just as easily recall the sting of disappointment with every rejection letter I received; a sharp pang of defeat and a strong dose of self-doubt seemed to accompany every “Sorry, not interested.” I felt I had failed.
Does not achieving a goal equate to failure?
When I speak in workshops about goals, often someone will say, “I used to set goals, but I felt worse if I didn’t reach them than if I’d never set them in the first place. So I stopped.”
I get it – I really do. But I want to offer an alternative perspective.
Imagine your friend, who is overweight, sets a goal to lose 100 pounds over the next year. He works with a nutritionist, exercises regularly, completely shifts his lifestyle, and at the end of the year he has lost 95 pounds.
Did he fail?
Those same workshop participants I mentioned earlier respond with a hefty, “No way! He lost 95 pounds! That’s an amazing success!”
But he set the goal to lose 100. So, is it really success?
Yes. In my mind, yes. And here’s what goals ultimately come down to: It’s not so much about reaching the goal as it is about who you become in the process. The transformations you experience. The knowledge you gain. The stretching, the discipline, the connections, the growth.
Achieving the goal? That’s the icing on an already-delicious cake.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on goals is "Succeed" by Heidi Grant Halvorson. Along with numerous strategies based on her research on motivation, she writes, “Achieving a goal isn’t everything. What you want and why you want it matters just as much in the long run.”
It always, always comes back to your "why."
As we approach the wrap-up of another year, I encourage you to do three things:
- Celebrate the goals you’ve accomplished.
- Celebrate the progress, growth and learning you’ve experienced with all of your goals, achieved or not.
- Reconnect with your why, your purpose. Why did you set these goals in the first place? What’s your underlying motivation? Why was this important enough for you to turn into a goal?
You may just find that you’ve experienced success even in the goals you didn’t reach. My rejected book proposal? That turned out to be a blessing in disguise; I can see now that was not a book I was meant to write, and that experience taught me immensely, solidified my resolve and fueled future books, including the one I am writing right now.
So, celebrate your growth. Learn from your experience, and use that knowledge moving forward. Reconnect with your why. Then, look ahead to a new year and new goals with a deep sense of meaning, purpose and knowing you – yes, you – are successful.