When I was four, my parents moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a small town 140 miles South along the Ohio River. In the weeks that followed, I made numerous trips to the Greyhound bus station trying to get on a bus back to Pittsburgh. Apparently, I didn’t understand the “ticket thing”. I was only four! Realizing that wasn’t working, I started beating my forehead on the sidewalk in front of our house, which terrorized our neighbors, but didn’t get me out of town. Still I never lost sight of my goal. When I was ten, I spent my summer vacation in New York where my Aunt Ellen took me on a tour of West Point. As we stood next to the parade ground watching the cadets marching, my aunt, probably thinking I was impressed, ventured that if I wanted to get out of our little town in Ohio, I would need to get good grades in school so I could get into a first-class college like West Point. Suddenly, I had my ticket out of town! On the first day of school after that vacation, I transformed from a rather mediocre, slightly below average student to the top of my class. Twelve years later, I began my first job out of college … in Connecticut. In total, it took me eighteen years to achieve the goal I set when I was four.
As a fourth grade assignment, Colin Kaepernick wrote a note to be placed in a time capsule to be opened during his senior year. It read:
“I’m 5 feet, 2 inches, 91 pounds. Good athlete. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 feet to 6 feet 4 inches, 190 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football, then go to the pros and play on the Niners or the Packers even if they are not good in seven years.”
Colin’s note is a good example of what a well thought out compelling goal looks like. Colin became San Francisco’s starting quarterback in his second season in the NFL. It was not an easy path, but he overcame the many obstacles and distractions he encountered, and his perseverance was rewarded when an injury to Alex Smith, the 49ers starting quarterback, gave him a chance to showcase his talent, and he went on to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Accomplishing his goal took Colin fourteen years.
Stirling Moss, one of the greatest Formula One race car drivers of all time, commented in a magazine article that it took him eight years to learn to concentrate so thoroughly that in a three-hour race he would not have to tell himself to concentrate and he would not have one extraneous thought. He went on to challenge his readers to try it. He said, “Within the first 60 seconds you’ll lose your concentration.” I took up his challenge one day on my way home from work. It wasn’t until I was home and had finished dinner that I remembered starting the challenge. Stirling was right, focus is not easy, but he had the compelling goal of becoming a world champion race car driver. I was just driving home from work.
The point is successful goals need to be compelling to create the focus necessary to drive them to completion. Consider New Year’s resolutions, many people make them, but according to a study involving over 700 people by Richard Wiseman, a Psychology Professor in the United Kingdom, only 12% see them through to a successful result. There are numerous reasons for this, but one factor, I believe, is that most New Year’s resolutions are simply not that compelling, so people lose interest or forget them entirely.
Compelling goals are like earworms, a song that keeps playing relentlessly in your mind. Sometimes it is a song whose name we can’t even remember, or just snippets of a tune that seem to intrigue, frustrate and exasperate all at the same time, but try as we might to shut it out, it just keeps playing. Even when it goes away for awhile, which can be a relief … then, there it is again. But an earworm is just an audio experience; a compelling goal is a multimedia spectacle with special effects.
People cannot simply think of something and say they are going to make it a compelling goal any more than they can turn a song into an earworm. Earworms occur when you listen to a lot of music. You hear a tune, and later, with no effort on your part, you find it playing in your mind. You can choose to ignore it, or you can become a musician. It’s a choice. Compelling goals are like that.
Compelling goals are usually long term. Cooking dinner is a chore; becoming a world famous chef is a compelling goal. The achievement of compelling goals take place over a long period of time and involve a lot of hard work. That is what makes their achievement so satisfying. Think years … or decades.
Be patient, expose yourself to as many ideas as possible, and when a compelling goal starts playing in your mind, sing along with it.