Best-selling author Jim Collins famously coined the phrase “big, hairy, audacious goals.” Goals of this type are bold, important, and unexpected. They channel our vision; inspiring change in us and the people we serve.
For example: instead of saying “I’m going to learn a new recipe,” a big, hairy, audacious goal would be “I’m going to write an award-winning book on bread making.” Rather than committing to put aside 5% of your paycheck, you might drastically change your life hoping to become a millionaire in 10 years.
Big, hairy, audacious goals are fantastic–if you can deliver on them. And that is the problem. Anyone can come up with bluster. (If you can’t, there’s a sea of sales pitches with your name on them). But we’re all so sick of big, hairy, audacious, unfulfilled goals in New Year’s Resolutions, corporate propaganda, and marketing copy that we’ve all developed at least a little pessimism about goal setting.
Failure doesn’t inspire confidence. Period. We can learn from it. We can develop grace in loss. We can be better because of our humility. But an engine that misfires in most of its cylinders isn’t going to take us anywhere.
So instead of setting big goals, start tiny–much smaller than you have before. Choose goals that are actually feasible. Don’t worry that they may not move the needle right now. Small changes add up quickly.
You don’t need to scale hairy cliffs when smooth paths are an option. Going around the mountain may be better than going through it. And if you aren’t moving at all, the difficulty of your journey may prevent you from starting. Hard journeys will need to be done; build your strength now by starting somewhere.
Audacity alone may not be a problem–we all want to be bold in our convictions, and unexpected changes often inspire us. But there is little value in choosing surprising goals just because they sound great. Embrace goals that are critical: the ones you must keep to survive. As you develop confidence, you can level up until you’re working on satisfaction, fulfillment, and dreams. Be patient. Treat yourself when you can. But when your car is out of gas on the highway, don’t waste your time rewiring the stereo.
Goals matter. And there is a place for big, hairy, audacious goals. But the things that will actually change your life are almost always tiny, smooth, critical goals. Start there.