A Head Full of Goals

Most entrepreneurs base their choices around a vision of their future life. Since that vision is so critical to what an entrepreneur wants and how they will live, it's important to break down that vision and understand what it is made out of. To do this, we'll break down a vision into three concepts: type of goal, accessibility and flexibility.

Type of Goal

I think visions break down into a few kinds: visions of who you want to be, visions of what you want to have and visions of what you want to do. 

Who you want to be is fundamentally about identity. If you want six pack abs, you see yourself as someone who cares about health, physical fitness or appearance. If you want to be a CEO, you care about status, financial security or freedom. Visions of identity case usually be broken down to a high level of detail -- and those details tend to be built out of what you want to have or do. After all, if you want to be a CEO, you probably don't want to get picked as a CEO by a dying uncle. You probably want to learn and grow and eventually become that person. You probably want a storied career including either an entrepreneurial path or an executive path. It's important to break down goals in this manner -- because you're probably not going to be a CEO of a large corporation anytime soon. But you can break down the goal into multiple objectives or steps -- and understand them better.

What you want to have sounds like a goal about winning the lottery or achieving status. However, these goals and others usually break down into something more fundamental. For example, achieving financial security, or not having to work, or being physically fit and healthy. Goals about having are usually very possible to partially achieve on the way, and can be done in multiple ways.  For example, if you want to be physically fit, you could have the goal of six pack abs -- or you could simply walk every day.

What you want to do is probably the most fundamental of goals and the most likely to lead to a clear and meaningful path. For example, making a video game, or going hiking, or going on a vacation. It's also likely the case that having/being goals will turn into doing goals the more you understand what you really want out of them. After all, very little of your life is checking a bank account or being a director. Life is the actions you continuously take.


Accessibility is important in dreams. If there's no clear path to your aspirations, it's definitely worth thinking about in more detail. Visions are only useful so long as they're meaningfully connected to your life. If your dream isn't connected to your life in any way, thinking about it may bring you pain or sadness -- and this probably won't help you actually achieve that dream. It's important to break down aspirations so that there are components that lead you closer to them in the short term. Action-based dreams are usually highly accessible. You may not be able to climb Mt. Everest tomorrow, but it's likely there are hills and mountains near you that you can. If you dream of developing apps, you can always spend time learning about them or making them in your free time. One major limit to accessibility is often full-time work. It's important to consider the degree to which your work connects to your goals and if it's currently moving you towards them.


Very few people achieve their visions exactly as planned decades in advance. A large part of this is because the closer you get to your vision, the more information you have available about it. However, this often means that aspirations will be vague and harder to understand when you have less experience. For this reason, it's important to remain flexible in what you want and to have broad goals. This will allow you to move more swiftly and feel more comfortable as you move into unknown territory.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic

Ask yourself if your goals come out of personal interests or the broader base of society. If you want status or financial security, it's likely the latter. Goals of this variety tend to de-motivate you the moment you achieve them. They reduce the effects of intrinsic goals, since you spend more time thinking about the reward and less time thinking about what you actually want. They also tend to undermine motivation when you partially achieve them. 

Treating your actions as a means to an end makes the action less important in your mind. It takes away from the process. For this reason, the best goals are usually ones of actions, and ones that are achievable in the near term. It's hard to see the path to being a Fortune 500 CEO, but it's straightforward to see the path to selling products at a farmer's market or tradeshow. This fills you with a steady stream of motivation. And you can let the long term dreams take care of themselves -- you'll get to a place where you want to be if you follow your short-term action-based interests.


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