Questioning and adjusting our goals

Written on 9th January, 2011

People who know me know that I like to make things systematic when I can, and doing so helps me make sense of things and have confidence in my actions. In addition to making things systematic, I also believe greatly in avoiding assumptions, and I think it is possible to embrace both of these ideas.

New Year, new goals?

The start of a new year is a time at which many of us reflect on the past year and set some goals for the next year. This year, I’m doing a little of that, but on the whole I know what I want to achieve and I have become quite comfortable with setting and adjusting goals throughout the year rather than limiting my opportunity for change to a single point each year. It is this idea of adjusting goals which I would like to reflect on and discuss instead.

Adjusting goals

I have found that as time has gone on, the main goal I want to achieve has changed a lot. In other words, my own definition of success has changed. This is a change that has happened as a result of my learning over a year or so of working on startups, but I doubt whether I would have adjusted my goal if it wasn’t for all the learning around “testing hypotheses” which I’ve been embracing.

How my own definition of success changed

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first got hooked on the idea of startups, the goal in my mind was monetary. I wanted to be “financially free” so that I could do all the things I wanted to do but was unable to do due to money. So my first startup was a big idea. It could change the world, at least I thought, and I would be rewarded enormously for what I would do - given time. I then realised that in order to get there, persistence was one of the vital aspects. After trying a few different ways in order to reach the success I had chosen, I realised that I was unhappy more than I was happy, and I saw no reason for this.

My second startup, came to me in order to serve a very different purpose for me. I could have easily oriented the second idea just like the first idea - grow fast by keeping it free, but this time things were different and I wasn’t letting myself go down that route again. It was time for a change. So what triggered the change? I realised that my goal had shifted - I was no longer purely after the money, I was fighting for my time.

My new goal (definition of success) is to be able to do whatever I want with my time.

Goals trigger actions

This change would not be half as interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that this change in what I defined as success has actually affected my actions in a huge way. I wrote an article recently about working in waves in order to bootstrap a startup. With my new goal, I don’t want to be doing things by this method, since it involves me spending time on things I don’t want to be doing. Some amount of time doing things you don’t want to be doing is fine and could be argued necessary, but I think there’s a threshold that has to exist.

So now, due to my new goal, I try to act each day towards reaching that goal. This results in very different actions than with my previous definition of success.

Is it time to question your goals?

This is now my current definition of success and is what I spend my time working towards. It may change again in the short or long term, and it may well not be the goal other people are pursuing. I know that love and happiness are other very worthwhile goals, but they are not very specific, and I think specificity is important. With my goal, I can aim for a certain passive monthly income which frees up my time.

What is your current definition of success, and have you questioned it recently?

Photo credit: Angie Torres