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What is a big hairy audacious goal? Have you ever set a goal that was borderline crazy ambitious? Set a target that made you feel excited and scared at the same time? One you felt self-conscious of admitting out loud, concerned people would think you were full of yourself?
My decision to try and become a doctor was pretty audacious. I would be the first in my extended family to attend university. I wasn’t sure my grades were going to be good enough. Dad was worried I’d be disappointed if I failed. Mum said go for it! You never really know what you can achieve until you push beyond the obviously achievable.
Attempting to start this website seemed a ridiculous goal. I don’t have any particular technical skills, and have barely written an essay in years. I already have a great career. Yet I liked the idea of spending my time writing, and believe myself capable of creating something useful and interesting. I feel deep down this site could fill a need for Australian doctors and other high-income earners. It will be some time before I can confirm whether I am delusional!
If you don’t believe in yourself, no-one is going to convince you otherwise.
When Drift Gets in the Way
It’s easy as you get settled in to adult life to slowly forget your dreams and settle for stability.
You spend each day focussed on micro tasks: the presentation you have to prepare, bills to pay, impressing your potential partner, cleaning the house, Friday night drinks.
Days become weeks become months become years. And if you’re not careful, years become decades.
Before long, your grandest “dreams” become completely inane, like upgrading your car and showing it off.
I’m here to remind you to stop drifting and start dreaming!
Is the life you would design for yourself if money was not an option? Hopefully life is pretty good already, but are you moving towards where you want to be in ten years or more? What are your grandest dreams?
Schedule some time (right now, I’ll wait).
Check your calendar and schedule “Dream time”. If you’re single, that shouldn’t be too hard. A morning, or afternoon, no Netflix distraction to dream. If you’re part of a couple, I’d suggest you each spend some time thinking about your own dreams and then schedule a separate time to dream, and plan together.
Perhaps it’s time to start planning a Big Hairy Audacious Goal!
What is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal?
The term “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG) was created by Jim Collins and Jerry Pooras for their book – “Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies”. For me, the term conjures up something far more exciting than a S.M.A.R.T. goal!
The BHAG was intended to make companies look past the distracting short term. BHAGs are meaningful, bold and inspiring long-term goals the whole team will be motivated to work towards.
Short term thinking holds many of us back. Drift, I suspect happens to most of us at some points in our life. Our existence is comfortable enough to allow us to drift without direction, not achieving any progress in the direction we would ultimately desire.
I am so saddened to see highly ambitious and successful individuals reach retirement and flounder. These intelligent and capable people have sometimes been so busy completing everyday tasks for their busy careers and families, they forgot to plan what happens next. With no work to structure their day, people can suffer depression and sometimes lean on substance abuse to take away boredom and that dreaded sense of pointlessness.
I think individuals (particularly those with busy and fulfilling careers) benefit from setting bold and daring goals. You are an ambitious individual, someone who could achieve most ambitions they set their focus on them. Why settle for drift when you can engineer your own life?
How to Set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal
I like to set big goals on a yearly basis. I review my previous goals, how far I have progressed, and whether these are goals I still want to pursue.
To avoid short-term thinking, BHAGs really make you look long into the future. Where do you want to be in 25 years time?
Goals can be set in all areas of life, these questions may help prompt your dreaming:
- Who do you want to be?
- What do you want to experience?
- What do you want to achieve?
- Who do you want to be close to?
Find somewhere to write down and store your ideas. I quite like to look back at my old goals, years after they have been made. It’s nice to reflect on how far we have come, and sometimes amusing to see what I thought was important a decade ago.
Use them to form distant long-term goals. Look out 10-25 years when you answer these questions. Think about which ones are the most important and make these your priorities.
Some can find themselves completely stuck, feel unsatisfied with your current life and the planned trajectory. If you do not yet know what you ultimately want your life to look like in 10-25 years time, I can recommend this book on life design*. Spend the time reading and performing the activities to get a far better idea of what your ideal life would look like.
How to Achieve a Big Hairy Audacious Goal
Look at one goal at a time. Large goals always seem insurmountable, and your progress towards pathetically small.
You will need to break the goals down into far smaller, more manageable chunks. What do you need to achieve within the next 5 years to be on track for your 10-25 year goal? This is far more comprehendable. Break it further, into tiny steps, to be taken each day, week, month and year, to inch you in the direction you want your life to lead.
Examples of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal
Financial independence is a BHAG that many young people strive for. Some misunderstand and believe the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement is about money, and retiring.
They’re missing the point!
FIRE chasers often won’t actually retire. And financial independence simply means never worrying about money, or having to consider money in life decisions.
If this truly audacious goal is achieved, the financially independent individual can perform whatever and how much work they like, poorly paid, well paid or unpaid. Work then really becomes a hobby, regardless of any incidental income it produces.
Financial independence is a worthy goal, but the significant delayed gratification required to save 50-75% of net income will not appeal to everyone. Reading some FIRE blogs, however, soon makes you realise how easy it is to pick low hanging fruit and increase savings to 20%+, enough to amass significant wealth over your career. Leaving an intergenerational wealth legacy may be you’re goal, looking out for your children, grandchildren and beyond.
Your BHAG may not be financial. It could be career – becoming the world’s top corneal specialist, or a family doctor looking after generations of families that keep coming back for excellent care. It could be to make the world a better place by starting a charity, or change one of the many injustices that you feel passionately about. Raising children to be caring, responsible and independent adults seems like a pretty ambitious goal to me! Perhaps you want to run ultra-marathons, or have a close relationship with your children and grandchildren in 25 years time.
Be brave! Share your most audacious goals in the comments section. I’d love to read them!
How to Maintain Enthusiasm Over the Long-term
Very few people will stick to progressing towards such long term goals. Life gets in the way, the goal seems unrealistic and your progress so slow. It’s easy to give up, or get distracted and forget about them.
Write your goals down. Over and over we are told, goals that are documented are far more likely to be met. Write your shorter-term sub goals down and enjoy the satisfaction of ticking them off once achieved.
Share them with someone. As intimidating as it might be! Depending on how you feel, with your partner, a friend, a parent, on this blog or on your facebook page to anyone who will listen. External accountability helps many of us stick to the commitments we have made.
Make a visual reminder that will make you think of your goal every day. A vision board with pictures representing your dreams displayed somewhere you will see every day. At the start of your paper diary or other physical book you use daily. Written on your office window or car dashboard, on a custom keyring. Make a habit of listening to podcasts that reinforce and remind you of your goals during your work commute.
Schedule time each month to assess your progress towards goals.
Review them each year, and schedule time to dream. Dreams and goals can change over time, as your priorities do. Make sure you are still moving in the direction you want to be going in. Set reminders in whatever calendar you use, or schedule an email to yourself.
If you fail to dream, you will never achieve your unrealised potential. No-one is going to create the life you want for you. Dream big and set long term goals to ensure you are living the life you want in 10-25 years time.