What’s the “wrong goal?” Anything that doesn’t push you closer to living your dream life. If you are spending 60, 70, 80 hours a week working because “successful business owners work 80 hours a week,” you’re probably working toward the wrong goal. If you’re making money but you can’t spend it doing what you enjoy because your business won’t allow you to take a vacation, you’re probably working toward the wrong goal. If you quit your day job because you wanted freedom and working for yourself feels like prison, you’re probably working toward the wrong goal.
Whether you’re just thinking about starting a business or you’ve been running a company for years, it’s time to sit down and really articulate why you do what you do. And I don’t mean why your business does what it does. I mean why do you even have or want a business?
But necessary stuff. If you don’t know what you’re working toward, how will you know when you get there? I know, that sounds super cliche, but it’s true! Many of us start businesses because we have a great idea or we want to work from home to be with our kids or we make something cute and friends say we should sell it. And at first business is probably slow. So we work and work and work to get our names out there, to market, to sell, to grow. And then we start actually making money and it feels so thrilling! But somewhere along the way we find we’re still working and working and working. And now we’re making some money… but we’re not loving our lives. “But this is just part of the process,” we tell ourselves. “I need to get through this part so I can be successful,” we say.
And then what? How will we know when we got there? When our bank account hits a certain number? When we’re featured in a certain number of magazines? When Oprah gives us her official stamp of approval?
Well let me tell you a secret. Unless you change something about the way you work–and define WHY you work–right now, you’ll be even busier and more miserable if and when you hit that (arbitrary/monetary/outside-imposed) benchmark of success.
So today we’re going to take the first step toward getting on the right path. We’re going to define what the “right goal” really is for each of us.
Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited (my fave!) calls this your “Primary Aim,” Sarah Jenks and Nisha Moodley (who host a retreat that sounds like heaven) call it your “Why.” Call it “Define Success For You” or your “Life Goal,” I don’t really care what you call it, I just care that you write it.
This is different from your purpose and it’s different from your mission statement. Your Primary Aim is the big picture of what you want your life to look like. And this is how I wrote mine:
1. Go somewhere quiet, pour yourself something tasty to drink (coffee, lemonade, wine, whatever sounds good), and sit down with a journal and a pen. Close your eyes and picture your life in 10 or 20 years. Your dream life, not your “I’m going to be chained to this cubical for 50 years” life. Where are you? Reading on a secluded beach? Skiing the Swiss Alps? Diving off the deck of your lake house? What are you doing? Who are you with? What do you smell and taste? What do you feel on your skin? Sit with this for a minute or two or five. Wait for the smile to come across your face. What emotions are you experiencing just dreaming about this?
2. Open your eyes and write it all down. Keep writing. What’s your typical day like? How are you spending your time? What kind of home do you live in? Who do you see regularly? Write for as long as you can. Make that picture clear. This picture of your dream life is the foundation of your Primary Aim. If you are not actively working toward having that dream life–then what the hell are you working toward?
Don’t get hung up on whether this feels selfish. It’s not selfish to dream or want a magnificent life. And don’t bother trying to make your dream life look how it’s “supposed” to. I don’t dream of living on a tropical beach. I like to be warm, I like visiting tropical beaches, but I don’t need to be washing sand out of places day in and day out. My dream life involves a comfortable home with a large deck. A deck with a view. I dream of drinking coffee on this deck in the mornings while I write and sketch and read and just breathe. I envision entertaining friends on this deck in the evenings. I imagine watching shooting stars with my family from this deck late at night when reasonable people should be in bed.
My vision of my business 20 years from now doesn’t include me clocking in at 6am and crawling home at midnight. I pop in and check in to make sure things are running smoothly and our customers are loving their invitations, I give hugs and pep talks to my employees, I connect with people, I remind everyone to take a break and have some fun. Then I go home and eat dinner on my deck!
3. Take this dream life description–and you may even choose to wait a few days or weeks to really let it sink in– then try summarizing this dream. In some ways this summary will be more concise because it’s fewer words, but in others it will also be more broad. The way I approached this was writing a bulleted list that completes the sentence, “In my dream life I get to…” For me, my answer is
- Be creative every day
- Have time to enjoy my family
- Have the money I need to do what I enjoy
- Live with my family in a beautiful and comfortable home (with a big deck!)
- Set an example (for my kids, other women, and young people around the world) of living my dream
4. Now summarize it even more. Write a paragraph or a series of short sentences that really clearly defines your Primary Aim. WHY are you doing all of “this?” (And “this” is whatever it is you’re working on right now.) It might not actually be much different than the list you made in Step 3, and that’s fine! Just think of it as the “pocket size” version of your dream life’s big picture. Something you can memorize and articulate. Here’s mine:
Remember: The point of ALL of this is… To live in and enjoy a beautiful home and life with my family… To have the time and resources to create, laugh, and play… To be an example of dreaming, risking, and achieving.
That’s it! So simple, seemingly attainable, but really what I dream of! I mean how many people can honestly say they spend as much time as they want to with their family? Or that they’re making the money they need to take vacations and just play? So your primary aim might be bigger or it might be smaller–for me, this is it!
5. Write it down and hang it up. Hooray! You just defined your Primary Aim in life! That’s huge! But it means nothing if you’re not looking at it every single day. It’s amazing how quickly we lose sight of our true goals in life when we’re stuck in the routine of just doing doing doing. You have to have a physical reminder of your Primary Aim to keep you on target. It can be as simple as a post it on your mirror or a card you carry in your wallet, or you can go all out and design a pretty print that you frame or hang on your bulletin board. Whatever’s going to work to get you to actually look at it and think about it.
6. Use this as your filter. You get to make about a zillion decisions every day. Some are easier than others. Some will keep you up at night. When at all possible, use your Primary Aim as a guide to help you make those tough decisions. Ask yourself, “Which path will lead me toward that dream life?” (And if the answer is “both!” then you probably can’t make a bad choice here. If the answer is “neither!” maybe it’s time to bring in an alternative choice!) I find the times I’m most frequently paralyzed by indecision is just in the basic question of what task to do next. My Primary Aim acts as a guide to help me prioritize. When I’m staring at a list of ten tasks–which of them actually allow me to experience my dream life right now? (Playing whole-heartedly with Olivia, going out to dinner, drinking coffee on the deck.) Which will move my game piece forward on the path toward living my dream life daily? (Working on my business, taking risks, putting $20 in a savings account.) Which tasks really don’t align with my Primary Aim at all? (Scrolling through facebook, comparing my work to others’, perfecting my list of excuses for avoiding exercise.)
7. Use this as your pep talk. Sometimes we still have to do things we don’t love doing. Sometimes our daily tasks are monotonous and boring–but still necessary. For example, I really really hate doing dishes. It’s just one of those daily chores that is so unsatisfying because while the dishwasher is running, someone will inevitably use another dish and the sink stack begins again. But the alternative is not doing dishes at all and that’s even worse than doing them. So how does this relate to my Primary Aim? Well part of my dream life is to live in a beautiful home. And to me, part of living in a beautiful home is having a clean kitchen. So while I may not live in my ultimate dream house right now, I can do everything within my power to make the home I do live in beautiful and comfortable. I can clean the damn kitchen. And it may seem silly, but somehow changing my thinking from “I’m doing the dishes because I have to,” to “I’m doing the dishes because I will enjoy my beautiful home when they’re done,” really helps it suck a little less.
Will defining your Primary Aim make you rich or famous or super smokin’ hot? Probably not by itself. But dreaming, writing, and reminding yourself of what your real goals are–your honest, selfish, if-I-could-have-it-all goals–you’re setting yourself on the right path!
Now it’s your turn! I showed you mine, so you show me yours. Go pour yourself a glass of whatever, write your primary aim, and come back and share it in the comments below!
And sometime in the future I may even start sending out weekly or monthly tips and updates! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Sign up now so you don’t forget to sign up later!