Table of contents for The Most Important Project of Your Life
Step 3. WHAT MATTERS? According to a blizzard of studies, and my own observations of human beings over the past 50 years, the #1 that reason people don’t achieve their goals is that they don’t have goals. One reason? Fear of failure drives people to avoid clear goal-setting, or entices them into settling for fuzzy, ambiguous goals. Another cause of this aversion to goal-setting is the assumption something is impossible just because we don’t know how it might be achieved when we first imagine a goal.
Many things seem impossible when they’re merely difficult, or when the path to the goal is hidden to us. But it’s no different from setting out on a drive across town. You can’t see your destination when you first start driving, but you set out in that direction nonetheless, confident that you’ll find a way to reach your goal. Things don’t always go smoothly, of course. If there’s a traffic jam, you route around it. If a bridge is out, you take a detour.
Well, is works the same way in other parts of your life. You don’t need to know exactly how a dream might be attained, or even if it’s possible, to start the journey towards it. And you can more than double your chances of success just by making sure that you and your family have shared, meaningful, and measurable goals – clear goals , as clear as sunlight. Having a goal influences how our brain works, what we pay attention to, what we notice. We’re surrounded by opportunities that we’re blind to. Having a clear goal is like telling a fish “Hey, you’re surrounded by water!” Suddenly the fish can see the water that was invisible to them before. Your goals will help you notice anything that crosses your path that can help you achieve those goals. Oh, and often times achieving even part of a big, bold, audacious goal is plenty success to surprise and delight us, so set your sights on a big goal and go for partial credit!
EXERCISE: Ask “If anything were possible, what would we create as a family?” Have fun talking about your wildest goals and dreams. One way to do this is to imagine it’s 10 years later and you’re celebrating your outrageous success as a family. Wahoo! After you’ve enjoyed talking about the fabulous possibilities, finish by making a collage together of pictures that represent the essence of your fabulous future as a family. Don’t think too hard about what pictures and words you include, just “grab what grabs you”, and integrate everyone’s favorite pictures into your family collage.
Make it measurable!
EXERCISE: Create your Family Success Scorecard. As you clarify your measures of success you will reap two benefits. First, you’ll dramatically increase the clarity of your goals. Second, you’ll find that the means to achieve these goals starts to become clear as well. To create your success measures start with your stakeholder analysis. What will each of your most important stakeholders be saying when you’re enjoying fabulous success as a family? Will your parents say “We’re so delighted that you’re able to come visit us during the holidays.”? If so, your success scorecard would include “Spend time with family every year”. Will your spouse say “I’m glad we’re saving for our kid’s education so far in advance.”? Then perhaps your scorecard would include “Save $XX amount for college every month.” Will your kids say “It’s awesome that we have so much fun together!”? Maybe you’re scorecard has something like “Weekly family fun night” on it. Whatever your measures of success, make sure that you would have reason to celebrate if every measure was attained. Double check that you haven’t left anything crucial out. To do this, ask yourself “If all of these measures of success were achieved, what would be missing that might cause me regret?” If there’s nothing, then you’re done!
Step 4. WHO AND WHAT MATTERS MOST? How do we make the difficult tradeoffs among our family’s competing priorities? Unless you have unlimited money, time and other resources, you will need to make trade offs in how you spend limited resources. Who are your most important stakeholders? What are our most important goals? When push comes to shove, how will we decide who and what gets priority? This is harder that it first sounds. Some people compare it to choosing between your heart, lungs and kidneys.
Naturally it’s easier to say “Everyone is equally important.”, but practically speaking that’s just not true. For example, do you stay in the local area because you have aging parents nearby even though you have a chance for a better job elsewhere? In that case your parents are a higher priority than you. Or do you live in a certain neighborhood so that your kids can go to a better school, even though the parents would prefer to live closer to work? In this case the kids are prioritized higher than the adults. Whether or not we take the time to make our priorities explicit, they are driving our decision-making. Take time to struggle through these exercises and you’ll find a new clarity in your decisions about where to spend your precious time and money.
EXERCISE: Prioritize your top 3 to 5 most important stakeholders, labeling them clearly on the stakeholder map you made in the previous exercise. The easiest way to start is to eliminate those stakeholders who are clearly NOT the most important. Next identify the ones most likely to be among your top stakeholders. Then compare your top stakeholders 2 at a time, asking yourself “If I had to choose between disappointing one of them, which would I disappoint?” Which ones you consider most carefully when you make important decisions as a family? As you talk through the prioritization you will probably start to realize what criteria you are using to make these decisions, such as those who depend on you most, or those who mean the most to you. Make a note of these criteria – like riding a bike, most of the time we don’t think about our prioritization criteria as we make decisions, but they drive our choices invisibly.
This same prioritization approach can be used to prioritize your Family Success Scorecard Criteria. Of course you’d like to achieve success in every area, and that’s certainly the goal. But sometimes you will need to decide among competing goals. If you take a lavish vacation, will that be sacrificing your child’s chance to go to college? If you postpone your dreams of traveling the world until retirement, will you risk deep regret if for some reason you’re unable to travel later in life? Think long and hard about what matters to you, and the relative priorities of those matters. Your daily decisions shape your life as surely as the oceans carve the beaches of our planet.
EXERCISE: Prioritize the items on your Family Success Scorecard. One fun way to do this is to imagine that you’re celebrating your 80th birthday (many people live vibrantly into their 80s these days). As you’re surrounded by family and friends on this momentous occasion, what would you most like to be able to say as you look back on your life with your family? These should be at the top of your list. Double check your prioritization against your stakeholder priorities. The most important success criteria should line up with your top priority stakeholders. If they don’t go back and check whether your prioritization of your family’s stakeholders really makes sense.
EXERCISE, NOT READING, BUILDS MUSCLE! Create your family success scorecard and prioritize stakeholders and success criteria. Success springs from the 3 Ms – Map, Measure, Manage!