Falling Short is Not Necessarily Failing

Uncategorized Jan 03, 2020

In last week’s post, I talked about your 2020 vision. I talked about the importance of setting goals and then working to achieve them. It is one of the most important steps you can take towards success every year.

However, let’s be real for a minute. There is a chance you aren’t going to achieve all of your goals. In fact, there is a good chance that you will fail at some and maybe even many of your goals if you have a lot of them, and you have made them stretch you and push you to places you have never been before.

Does not achieving your goals make you a failure? Does that make you a loser? I don’t think so.

I think there are only two ways you fail when it comes to goals and goal-setting: 1. You don’t set any. 2. You set goals, but then you don’t take action on them to achieve them. Each of these scenarios is a recipe for failure.

But if you actually set goals, write them down, work on them, review them regularly, and then keep working on them, you are not a failure. You are actually working to achieve something that you have set out to do.

If you create a plan for achieving your goals and then work to execute that plan, I don’t care where you end up with respect to achieving the actual goal; you have not failed. You may have failed at achieving the final destination of that specific goal, but think about what you did all year to achieve it. Think about where your actions took you. Think about who you have become in the process of trying to achieve your goals.

36 Books

Allow me to illustrate this with an example. Two years ago, one of my goals for 2018 was to read two books per month. I was not happy with how little I was reading consistently, and I didn’t like the feeling of stagnation that I felt having not read as much as I should have. So I set a goal to read 24 books in 2018.

I ended up reading 33 books that year. I actually hit my goal of 24 in August, so I could have easily just stopped. However, the goal was written as “2 books per month” for a reason. I didn’t know how many I would read in total, but I felt that if I could ready at least 2 per month I would be consistent in my learning. When I finished with 33 books read for the year, I was proud of my accomplishment.

In December of 2018, I raised the bar on that goal. I figured that if I could get to 33 in 2018, I could shoot for 3 per month or a total of 36 for 2019. So that is what I wrote down as my goal.

I did not start the year off well. In fact, for the first 8 months of the year, the only month in which I read three books was February. (Kind of ironic that it’s the shortest month in the year, too!) The rest of the months I read two books each, except for July. In July I had a big, fat goose egg – zero, zilch, nada. I didn’t complete one book.

Then in September, I made a change that would alter my trajectory. By the end of August, I had read 15 books, so I wasn’t even on pace to hit 24 for the year, and my goal was 36. It was then that I heard about a free app called Chirp. It was an audiobook app that I could get cheap books to read on. I downloaded the app and started buying cheap books to listen to.

I am a huge podcast listener. I listen while working out, doing yard work, driving, walking the dog, and any other time I am alone for a while. So listening to audiobooks would not be a stretch for a podcast listener like me, and I attacked them. I finished 7 books in September – 5 on audio and 2 on paper or screen.

I continued at a somewhat similar pace for the next three months. When the big ball dropped in Times Square on Tuesday night, I had finished my year at 35 books – one away from my goal of 36.

So What?

I am disappointed that I did not finish 36 books this year. I wanted to hit my goal. I wanted to be able to pat myself on the back for my accomplishment. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror afterwards and say, “Nice job, Big Guy. You did it. Look what you were able to accomplish. Look how much smarter you are now.”

Seriously?!?! That’s it? That’s what you wanted to accomplish? That’s what reading 36 books in a year is all about?

Of course not. And yet, yes, there is some truth to that. There is a feeling that if I hit that mark, I win. If I hit my goal, I am better. If I read 36 books, look at how much smarter I am. As if reading 35 books makes me a stupid schmuck without a brain or any prospects for success in life.

Yes, there is definitely a great feeling of accomplishment when you set a goal that is out there a bit and then achieve it. That is absolutely a thing, and it is a good thing. It drives us to want to achieve and succeed at what we set out to do. We need to seek to do that.

But ultimately, it’s not the hitting the goal that matters. What matters is the striving to hit the goal. What matters is the work that goes into it. What matters is the discipline. What matters is the perseverance. What matters is who you become along the way.

We need the goal to give us a focal point of what we want to achieve. But for most things in life, what we really are looking for and what we want to achieve is much deeper and more complex than a single thing that one goal appears to be.

Reading 36 books means I opened a book, iPad, Kindle, or app on my phone and allowed someone else to teach me, entertain me, or take me on some kind of a journey to a place I had not already been. It meant that I invested some time and effort in improving myself and being taken on some kind of entertaining, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or inspirational journey.

As the old saying goes, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” You can say it’s some trite cliché, but I disagree. I have lived by that mantra along with a couple of others for a long, long time, and I still wholeheartedly agree with it.

Don’t Try to Cheat It

Here’s the other thing about hitting our “goals.” Sometimes we get so caught up in hitting the goals themselves, that we lose sight of what we are truly trying to accomplish. Why did I want to read 36 books? A few reasons are: I wanted to learn more. I wanted to grow and improve. I wanted to create a habit of discipline. I wanted to get away from the TV more. I wanted to learn more to be able to pass on to my readers and my community. I wanted to expand my horizons and my worldview.

Yet, here is what I did when I was falling short and not doing what I should. First, I downloaded the audiobook app to “read” more books. While I don’t believe that listening to a book is any less of an experience than visually reading it, it is not the same experience. Still, I absorbed every word of each of those audiobooks (13 from September through December), and I learned a lot from them, and I go back and listen to sections of them still. I highly recommend listening to books along with reading books.

But here’s where I really started to behave differently in my quest for my goal. In November, I started choosing shorter books. I only finished one book in October, and I was sitting at 23 heading into November. So as I chose books to read, I chose books under 200 pages and preferably around 100 pages. For audiobooks, rather than 5, 6, and 7-hour recordings like some of my earlier books, I chose 3 and 4-hour listens. A couple of weeks ago, I actually chose one under 2 hours.

Why? Because I wanted to get to 36 books. I had a goal, and I wanted to achieve it.

Failing as a Path to Success

Today as I type this, I am so glad I only got to 35 books for the year. It forced me to look in the mirror and consider what exactly I was doing and thinking. Consider that first sentence in the paragraph. I said, “I only got to 35 books for the year.” Seriously!? 35 books in a year is a great accomplishment! Yet, here I am saying I only got there. If I had not had a goal of 36 books and I then read 35 books in a year, I would not be saying I only read 35 books. My perspective was badly altered by my obsession with my goal.

Also, consider how I tried to cheat the system. I chose shorter books just to achieve my goal. Imagine coaches choosing to play against weaker opponents so they bolster their records to show what good coaches they are. (And we all know that would NEVER happen – yeah right!) It’s the same concept. I was choosing shorter books only for the achievement of the goal, not for the knowledge gained or the entertainment or whatever the book was going to provide for me.

My #1 focus coming down the stretch was to achieve the goal of 36 books. It was not what the 36 books could do for me. It was not what the main point of reading books is in the first place. I had lost my true focus on why I wanted to read 36 books – to improve myself.

In a sports analogy, I focused on the scoreboard, not on the process of getting to whatever the scoreboard showed at the end of the game. It’s like coaches who set goals at the beginning of the year with certain wins or championships as a major focus. That’s fine to do as long as you don’t get sucked into believing that they are the whole goal and then sucked into behaving in ways that go against who you are or how you should behave just because you want to achieve that goal.

Too many coaches have compromised their own integrity for the sake of trying to win certain games or championships. When they fall into that trap, I don’t care how many scoreboard wins they achieve; they are losers every time, for they have ultimately lost their character and their souls.

This is why I wanted to write this for you today. While I am a firm believer in establishing goals and then working hard to achieve them, I do not believe that achieving the goals should be considered the be-all and end-all of success. I have numerous goals that I set for myself this past year that I did not achieve. But holy cow! What I achieved in the pursuit of them and what I learned along the way are things that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

This is what goal-setting should be all about. Set goals and work on the actions and habits necessary to achieve them. Then see how you grow and improve along the way. This is the true measure of success when it comes to goals – the person you become on the journey towards your goals.

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