I sat at a round table in New York and looked at my colleagues. They all looked like me: dark suit, white shirt… glassy eyes. We all laughed a little too loud and drank a little too much. These were all the guys running big businesses within our global corporation. We had just come through heroic years, managing financial businesses through the global financial meltdown. But rather than celebrating we were trying to escape. All of us faced cuts in pay and massive upside goals we had to accomplish. In fact, much of our compensation was tied to making those goals. Our jobs were tied to making those goals. I knew I was failing. I assumed by the alcohol volume around the table that many of these others were as well. Many already had their resumes out and would just move on. I did not have that option. I had just relocated my family to a new city; I could not move them again so soon and still have a marriage.
I stumbled back to the hotel room, staggered into the bathroom and caught sight of myself in the mirror. I leaned forward and looked for a long time into my own eyes. Mentally I walked back through my years in this industry: the late nights, the constant pressure. Then as I looked at myself, I got a determined look in my eye and slowly said the words that would come to make all the difference.
I give up.…
And so I gave up on The Goal. Is it even lawful to say that in America? To even think of giving up on a goal? Aren’t goals the driving force for achievement?? I say this to audiences and they look at me like I just told them there is no Santa Claus. Aren’t we taught from a very young age to set daily, weekly, and annual goals? Don’t we always set New Year’s resolutions??
But how do those New Year’s resolutions work out for 88% of us? (Hint: they don’t.)
Standing in my hotel room in New York staring in my own eyes: “I give up.” A peace suddenly came over me; I could breathe. “I give up.” I said and I went to bed. And slept like a baby.
Then… a strange thing happened.
The next day I sat in meetings mesmerized by the pearls of wisdom that were being passed out by each speaker. Was this the same crap that was being shoveled out yesterday? It was no longer just one more block to weigh me down on my race to an impossible goal. It was now potential fuel to help me accelerate down the road a little faster today.
I got back to the office and held a meeting – The Goal was undoable and we all knew it. So what if we just focused on the reason why we entered this business in the first place: to provide great service to great people and help them retire the way they wanted. And so we did that. We set out a series of measurable activities we could control and defined success by the question, “Did we travel today a little further toward that vision than we traveled yesterday?” We focused on activities.
And then an odd thing happened.
18 months later, we were the number one office in the system on a per employee basis. We had far surpassed The Goal.
And no one was more shocked than me.
When I got the call, “Hey Mike, have you seen the list? You guys are at the top!” I had no idea. But in the office, it really was not that big a deal. On that day we were just trying to travel a little further than the day before.
Incremental improvement compounds on itself. A peaceful mind breeds creativity. Giving up The Goal may be the best step for your achievement.