What 40 Years of Goal Setting Has Taught Me

How to Stay Motivated Day After Day, Quarter After Quarter

“Life is a journey, not a destination,” I proclaimed to the whole company at a January kick-off meeting. In fact, I remember screwing this up and first saying, “Life is a destination, not a journey.” I quickly corrected what I said. I was 31 years old and didn’t even know what this meant.

Masters of the Universe

It was early January 1985. We achieved the last bit of a three-year earn-out at midnight on December 31, 1984. We had the best quarter we’d ever had in the history of the company. All the sales reps exceeded quota. Everyone else in the company hit their bonus goals. We believed we were the smartest, hardest-working, and most successful software company in the world. We were masters of the universe.

There is nothing like running a fast growth company where everyone meets their goals. Nothing. The strategy worked. The team executed. The plan was perfect. The buyers bought. It’s just incredible.

But Tomorrow, I’m Behind Again

Bob Lasher, our National Sales Manager, was celebrating with his team just before he left the office. As he was leaving, he took the time to tell me how his reps closed those final five deals which put us over the top. His reps were brilliant, and so was he. I gave him a big hug and said, “You need to really celebrate this New Year’s Eve. You deserve it. Congratulations.”

He pushed the front door open, hesitated, and then turned to me and said, “I intend to celebrate. It was an amazing year. But when I come back after the holidays, I’ll be behind quota again.” He called the elevator, stepped onto it, and was gone. I just stood there thinking about what he had said.

Goals Over Money

I celebrated too, but all night long I kept thinking how fleeting success really is. We worked so hard for three years to make that earn-out. If we didn’t make it, then it was gone forever. More important than the money was the goal.

If we hit this goal, it would help build our credibility and careers. We would prove to our new owners and to ourselves we were worthy to run this company, maybe even their company. We were high performers and great managers.

Returning to the office on January 2, 1985, I was on a new plan. The glory of just two days ago was already gone. With the new year came the new goals and new concerns.

  • Will the reps accept the new quotas and sales plans?
  • Do they have enough business left in their pipelines to hit January numbers?
  • Will the new product announcements create enough excitement in our market for us to maintain momentum?

Chasing Goals Again

I called my boss, Jim Porter, in California. I wanted to discuss how the whole company was feeling, starting with me. We’d won the Super Bowl and now were into a new season. How do I get them motivated? How do I get myself motivated? How do I inject them again with the adrenaline from the chase of the end of year goal?

He said, “Charlie, life is not a destination. It is a journey.”

I said, “That’s nice, but I’m not built that way. I need to be chasing a goal which no one thinks I can achieve. I’ll work as hard as is necessary to get there and so will my team. We are winners.”

I didn’t know what to do with what he told me. I was too young and too headstrong. I was thinking, “The old man doesn’t know what he is talking about. Achieving the goal is most important.”

Defining My Limits

I’ve been setting goals for over 40 years. I even had my kids set goals on a post-Christmas vacation at the beach. That was over 30 years ago. They were seven and five. I was a goal believer. Kathy thought I was nuts.

Since that time I’ve learned why goals are important. I used to believe goals would help me do more, accomplish more, and be more. But I’ve come to believe the purpose of goals is to show me my limits. I need others to help me. This is where the richness of life resides.

Chow to Chow

I work with an entrepreneur who is a Marine. In a status meeting, I asked him how he keeps going. Entrepreneuring can be a lonely occupation. He said, “Chow to chow and Sunday to Sunday.”

He explained, “That is what we recruits used to say to each other while in basic training at Parris Island, SC. The goal was to finish the thirteen weeks and become a Marine. But we had to get to the next meal to achieve it.”

When Marines see each other, they always say “Semper fi.” It means “Always faithful.” This is the core belief of the Marine Corps. It reminds them of the journey they experienced together and who they became along the way. They are Marines, always faithful to each other, and they have the stories to prove it.

Staying in the Game

The goal keeps us in the game, heads down and doing what we need to do today. It keeps us working together toward a common destination. But the richness is in the journey. That’s where the memories reside.

The stories accumulated along the journey make life worth living. It is not about what I achieved. It’s about what we did together. How we struggled together. How we won together. The best life is a journey, not a destination.

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