My son, Harold, is 7 months old (You can glimpse him at the end of a movie here). He’s mastered sitting up, and now he’s trying to figure out moving around on the ground. I’ve realized something pertinent to careers this morning based on this experience, and thought I’d share it.

(You didn’t think this was suddenly Parent Hacks, did you?)

Stretch Goals Matter

Harold was trying to reach a toy just a hair out of his reach. I almost leaned over and handed it to him, but then I realized the moment: he had a shot at achieving something. It’d take some work, and he’d really have to be uncomfortable and unfulfilled until he got the job done, but the end product would be achievement. Accomplishment.

What good would handing the block to him be? He’d be satisfied, but not fulfilled. It’s the difference between a lunch of potato chips versus a lunch with a salad and sandwich and water. Both fill the belly, but one adds value.

But Don’t Stretch Too Far

Now, had I come over and pulled the block 12 feet away, Harold would recognize right away that he wouldn’t be able to get the block. At least not at his current level. Instead, he’d be frustrated, sad, and probably start looking around for something new to do.

Sound like employees? Sound like you?

Set Stretch Goals

If you read Lifehack, you already know that YOU set the goals, not the employer. Right? If you’re letting your boss set your goals, you’ve got something that needs correcting. Your annual goal list must be beneficial to both parties, and supervisors use goals to correct actions, train you for new roles, etc, but ultimately, this is YOUR process. Agreed? Good.

Do I have to tell you about SMART goals? You know that too, right? Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timebound.

Let’s do the process in order:

  1. Bring out your personal mission statement, or write down on a 3×5 card what matters most to you, in all the roles of your life.
  2. Set a HUGE goal for each of those roles that matter to you. (For instance, if you’ve said your fitness matters, and you’ve just started working out two or so times a week, the HUGE goal could be “Sign up for a Marathon 10 months from today.”)
  3. Set stretch goals to get there. In the example listed, the first might be to schedule a run/walk program, and start it.
  4. Set dates for each small segment, each stretch goal. Dates matter.
  5. COMMUNICATE the dates with someone that will help you be accountable.
  6. Boil the goals list down into something that fits into your context/execution system (like Getting Things Done).
  7. Execute against the plan.
  8. Schedule goal reviews every month. Correct your course accordingly.
  9. CELEBRATE goal milestones reached.

This is something you can use if you’re self-employed, unemployed, over-employed. It fits inside all the frameworks of our lives. My point about not letting your company run you is vital to the process, and important to realizing who’s in control of your self-improvement. Oh. Right. “SELF” improvement. “PERSONAL” development.

Harold got the block, and he was really happy with it. And, just like you and your career, Harold celebrated the victory, and then went on to his next goal, a stuffed cat named Cowboy Kitty.

Want to share? Submit a few of your HUGE goals and the stretch goals you’ll use to get there to the comments of this post. Or send trackbacks to the post and I’ll come visit your site.

–Chris Brogan has the HUGE goal of taking Grasshopper New Media to full startup mode by 2007. He writes about the business at [chrisbrogan.com]

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