What's Your Goal?
What do you want?
Everyone has a dream. For some people, that's all it is and all it will ever be. But others have a passion, a drive, a vision. So what's the difference between a dream and a vision?
Basically a dream is a formless fantasy without any detail. A vision has a clarity and purpose that yields a drive and results in action. If you ask person "A" what they want out of life they'll say, "I want a big house and a sports car." If you ask when they think they'll have it, the answer will be some variation of "someday." And chance are that if you ask them how they'll do it, the answer will be either "work hard" or "become an executive" or even "win the lottery." So, it's a dream, not a vision.
But ask person "B" what they want out of life and they can give you a very detailed answer. They can tell you the size, style and possibly even neighborhood of their retirement house. They know what car they'll be driving. They have a sharp image in their head and probably have a plan to get there.
A lot of motivational speakers will talk about mental imaging, self affirmation and other activities that help people stay focused on a goal. But before you can look, consider and use the helpful things, you need to start with a firm foundation and a plan. THAT is what I want to ask you to spend some time with me thinking about. Having a destination without a plan doesn't work. I used to say it was like trying to drive from New Orleans to Las Vegas without a map. Well, a few years ago I did just that. It's called GPS. So. . . The current version of my mantra is having a vision without a plan is like driving from Dallas to New York without a GPS.
A plan. Is that all you need to get to your destination? well, pretty much. Of course you have to execute that plan. If you make a plan and just think it'll magically fly you there, you're in for a sad realization. But if you make a plan, follow and work that plan, and adjust that plan as life changes, you'll get to your destination. So let's get to the planning and learn how to make adjustments and work the plan.
Step One - Identify Your Starting Point
How do you make a plan for your life goal? First, take a very honest status check of where you are right now. Identify EXACTLY where you are starting from. This has to be painfully honest. No personal illusions or stroking your ego. Check you ego at the door, walk into your bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror and be brutally honest. Figuratively. You actually need to be sitting down at a desk with a pencil and a notepad.
Exactly what are your strengths? Write them down.Don't just write down the obvious ones you saw on your last job application, write down anything and everything that you can call a strength. Good with kids? Able to organize a large group activity? Good memory? Able to write clear and easily read instructions? Able to manage and work with different personality types? Able to follow directions for difficult people? Whatever it is, write it down.
Now, do the exact same thing with your weaknesses. Write down the things that can cause you to trip and stumble. Do you get frustrated easily? Do you have to be the center of attention? Are the great at details but loose sight of the big picture? Are you overweight? Do you tend to be superficial and people respond negatively to it? No one is going to see this, so don't be afraid to be 100% fully honest. You need to know exactly where you are, both in strengths and weaknesses.
The next part of identifying your current starting point is identify what else you have as assets outside of yourself. What is your current job? What are your past jobs? What is your schooling, training, and extracurricular background? You need to get as clear a picture of where you are and what you have as possible. Now we can move to the next step, which is being just as clear and exacting on your goal.
Step Two - Make Your Goal Concrete
Flip the page on your notepad, resharpen your pencil and take a breath. Now its time to draw your goal. Think about exactly what it is you want. Is it a physical goal? A monetary goal? or a career goal? Or is it a mix of all three? Or even something else? Whatever it is, write it down. Be as clear and specific as possible. A big house is vague. A 3 story Tudor style house with a spiral staircase inside the main entrance and a huge kitchen with stainless steel appliances is specific. Do you want to be a Vice President? Of what? What company do you see yourself as a Vice President with and how long did it take you to get there? How old do you want to be when you reach your goal?
Now, whatever your goal is, monetize it. Yep, it's all about money. No, not really, but making your goal concrete mean knowing exactly what is required to make it happen. I'll let you in on a little secret. Your goal now may not be the goal you want when you actually get there. The VP position may not be necessary to get the rest of your goal, or you may get the VP position and realize that's all you really want. But there's no way to know that right now. So we need to make sure everything we are going to aim for has been thoroughly defined and has a cash value applied to it.
How much will you need to buy that house (in current dollars)? How much will that car cost? How much is insurance for that car, house, boat, whatever? How much spending cash do you need to have for the lifestyle you want? Do your homework and see exactly how much cash you need to have. Is your goal to retire at 50? Then how much do you need in the bank to live off of for the rest of your life? If you don't plan to live of a flat cash sum in the bank, how do you plan to pay bills when you are no longer working? That needs to be clearly identified and accounted for.
What is a concrete goal? It has a time frame, a dollar value, and a clear finish line. That trime frame could be in years from today, a specific date, or by a specific age. It doesn't matter how you set the time frame, just that you have one. It doesn't matter what your dollar value for the goal is. It could be making a set amount per month by the age of 60, or having $2 million in cash in the bank. Or making a consistent $3000 without working. It doesn't matter what your goal is, as long as you've done the homework to make that number realistic and appropriate. Don't plan for have a steady $3,000 per month income and expect to buy a $3 million dollar home and drive a Lamborghini. But if you want to have your house paid for, your dream car paid for and a steady income of $3,000 after taxes without working, that is realistic. At least from the standpoint of mathematics.
Lastly, have a clear finish line. Don't let your life suffer from "Goal Creep." Goal creep is where you have an initial goal, but as you start completing parts of the task, the goal moves. For example, maybe your goal includes having a muscle car like a custom Camaro. Well, if you get the Camaro, you decide you want a Porsche. then you get the Porsche and decide you want a Ferrari. It's a never-ending cycle where you never reach your goal. Either decide the exact car and know when you have hit the goal, or decide you want to be able to buy a new car every two years and have it paid off before you trade it in and that IS the goal. Either one is just as valid and perfectly fine. It's not WHAT the goal is, but knowing when you've REACHED the goal that needs to be clearly and completely identified here.
Step Three - Identify the Gap
Now you have a clear understanding of where you are, and a pretty clear picture of where you're going. So we take the "obvious" step and identify the gap and create a plan of how to cross the gap. I used quotation marks around obvious because its only obvious after the fact. And it's the most overlooked thing in people's plans about their lives.
Think of this step as a basic math subtraction problem. It's not exactly as simple as a basic subtraction problem from elementary school, but it's a good way to think about it. Take what you want to have, subtract what you currently DO have, and see what the difference is. If you want to have a steady income of, say, $6,000 per month and your current income is $2,000, the gap is $4,000. Another way to say that is you want to make three times your current income.
If you want to own a home that is a certain style, type, size, whatever, find one like it in the real estate listings and use that as a benchmark. The goal house costs $245,000 and your current apartment is $1,200 per month. How do you do the math on that? Go to a website that provides free home loan calculators and do a rough estimate. Realize these calculators never include insurance, taxes, fees, etc. but they do give at least a starting point for starting your plan. So say the calculator says a $245,000 home will need a $10,000 down payment and then payments of $1,500 for 30 years. You now know that your "rent" only needs to go up $300 per month, but you also need to save $10,000 first. If you have a 10 year goal for the house, that's saving $1,000 each year, or $84 each month. Again, realize these numbers are rough estimates, but they give you a framework to build your plan off of. Do the same thing for a car, boat, or any other significant item that is part of your vision.
Once the math work is done, write down what the various parts of the gap are. (I'm going to add some more for the sake of this example:
- Save $83 per month for 10 years (down payment on house)
- Increase "rental' budget by $300 per month
- Save $100 per month for 3 years (new car down payment)
- Increase car payment budget by $300 per month
- Increase salary from $2,000 to $6,000 in next 10 years
- Obtain Management job at automotive electronics manufacturer
That is your basic road map. Once you have it written down in black and white you can see if it is realistic, a serious stretch, or you need to re-think something. I am NOT saying give up or change anything, just think through and make sure you are very clear about what is involved in reaching the goal. Do you truly believe you can reach that goal? Do you truly have the drive and passion to make it happen if it is a very high goal you are aiming for?
What age do you want to retire at?
Step Four - Map Out Your Future
Now you have your starting point, your ending point, and have clearly identified what the gap is between them. The last step is Map out your success route. That sounds like it's going to be this very tedious job of looking in a crystal ball and dialing in to see where you should be in 12 months, then 24 months, then 36, and so on. But since we don't have a working crystal ball we can't do that. We get to do it the easy way. Have you ever heard the phrase "Divide and Conquer?" Well that's what we're going to do now.
- Decide how many years you think you need to reach your goal.
- Divide that in half. Both in time and in the goal.
- Now divide each half again so you have four quarters . Divide the goals to match the stages.
- Decide if you need to break the first quarter into even smaller stages.
- Start down the road to your goal.
Lets use the imaginary goals I used earlier. The time is 10 years. so the quarter milestones are every 2 1/2 years. And the car is only 3 years, so we'll just split that in half and say 1 1/2 years is the milestone. So here's how it looks broken into milestones:
Car: 1 1/2 years
- $1,800 saved for down payment
- Budget has $150 extra to apply to car (This can be where the down payment savings is coming from, but list separately so you know exactly where you are)
- Current car paid off
Car: 3 Years
- $3,600 saved for down payment
- Budget has extra $300 to apply to car payment (so if old payment was $400, you can now afford $700 per month)
- Current car will be traded in as part of down payment
Retirement Goal - 2 1/2 Years
- Salaried position with company of choice
- $2520 Saved for down payment (keep this separate from the car money. Do NOT get it mixed up)
- Salary is currently $3,000 per month
- Supervisory position
- $5040 Saved
- Salary at $4,000
7 1/2 Years
- Entry-level management position
- $7560 Saved
- Salary is $5,000
- Manager position
- $10,080 Saved for Home Down Payment
- Salary is $6,000
OK, so now you have a road map. Does that magically make it happen? Well, yes and no. You see, it doesn't technically make anything happen. However, having a very clear goal, with an actual date assigned to it, has a magical effect on your attention, drive and willingness to stick to your plan. If you goal is 10 years, that's so far away, anything can happen between the start and the end. But it you have a deadline that is only 30 months away, you feel a sense of urgency, which increases your focus, drive and awareness of opportunities. The ability to hit that small, close goal is very doable. And hitting that goal gives you the emotional boost to keep going of the next goal. and the next and then the finish line. And remember, if the 30 month goal seems too far away to work, split it up into multiple smaller goals to help you get some momentum.
Another side effect of this travel plan? If you miss the small goal, you haven't failed. You still have 7 1/2 years to make up for it. Either work double hard the next quarter to get back on track, adjust all of the goals to reach the end, or adjust the exact date of the finish line to help offset the amount you fell short of this goal. Which method you adjust is up to you and your specific situation. This roadmap to success isn't engraved in stone. It's a map that can be as flexible as you want it to be. The critical take away from this is one simple thing: Having a series of small short term goals are easier to complete successfully than 1 giant goal far off in the distance.
A Vision, as I stated in the beginning, is a crystal clear goal that you want to reach. Now you can make a map or GPS route to take you to your life's goal. I wish you success in your journey. (Although I'm not sure you'll need it if you have a solid plan and you follow it.)