Frameworks & Opportunities > Goals
The logic trap behind setting goals.
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Not so Great Expectations
I always wanted to play football for the University of Georgia. My dad went to law school there, my parents met in Athens, and most of my family bleeds red and black. Growing up, I would spend every Saturday in the fall watching UGA football. I remember watching UGA greats like David Pollack and Jarvis Jones wreak havoc in SEC backfields, and I envisioned myself doing the same in a few years. Why not? I was a decent football player. I was a team captain, I started at tight end and defensive end, and I was named to the All-Region team for both sides of the ball.
That being said, I had unrealistic expectations. I was a 6’3 215 pound defensive end, and I played ball at a tiny private school in South Georgia. For the most part, the competition sucked, and my league was barely recruited by colleges. I wouldn’t wow anyone with speed or athleticism, but I overcame physical shortcomings with effort. Unfortunately, you can’t out-effort a 6’6 frame.
After my senior year of high school, I accepted a walk-on spot at Mercer University. Mercer is a small Division One program that competes in the Southern Conference. Was I grateful for this opportunity? Definitely. But I also felt underwhelmed.
I believed I could play at Georgia. I had spent the last six years with my sights set on that goal. I felt slighted that Mercer had only offered me a walk-on spot instead of a scholarship. I thought I was good enough to compete as a freshman at Mercer. Instead, UGA never gave me a chance, I had zero Division One scholarship offers, and I was first-team all practice squad. In my head I had completely missed the mark.
Now let’s zoom out. In reality, I was the first person from my high school to play Division One football in years. UGA football would have consumed every moment of my life, while Mercer offered me the chance to get involved in other endeavors around campus. I met my best friends through Mercer football, and I finished my career as a starter and captain with a full scholarship. Objectively, I ended up having an awesome experience. By my sophomore year, I came to realize how fortunate I was. That being said, why was I so frustrated for so long?
Disappointment is created by the gap between your reality and your expectations.
For me, the gap between playing at UGA and walking on at Mercer was huge. I often draw from football because it was an important part of my life for a long time, but this same dynamic is just as important in our careers.
You wanted a specific job, but the company hired someone else.
You wanted X salary, but your boss didn’t give you a raise.
Your project wasn’t implemented at work.
You aren’t moving up as quickly as you wished.
The list goes on and on. Reality rarely matches the image in our heads, and that often creates disappointment. You put countless hours towards a specific objective just to fall short. It appears that all of your efforts were for nothing. However, occasionally we do hit that goal. After months of struggling, we finally reach that elusive target. That’s awesome… right?
And Then What?
You wanted to make partner at your firm, and you get it. You got hired by your dream job. You got that pay raise. The CEO wants to implement your proposal. Your first thought will be an emphatic “I DID IT”. Your second thought will likely be “What’s next?”
As humans, we are wired to chase whatever comes next. We adapt to make our current situation the norm, and this can be good and bad. While it helps us adjust to poor circumstances, it also makes us quickly glide over our achievements. We’ve all been there. I felt it after getting accepted to Columbia Business School. After earning that football scholarship at Mercer. After landing my first job after graduation. It’s human nature to adjust to your new “norm” and start looking for new mountains to conquer. So we have two not-so-great outcomes:
A) Disappointment from not hitting your target
B) Fleeting satisfaction from achieving your goal
This quickly becomes a cycle of goal-hopping. We can get so caught up chasing that next thing, that we never really get to relish the last one.
Static Goals and Dynamic Lives
Goals are binary: you either achieve them or you don’t. If you do succeed, that goal will be replaced by another. Goals are also static, but our lives are dynamic. You may set ten year career goals, but how much changes in your life during that time? You move to a new city, develop new values, and pursue different interests. While we change, that goal is still there. What if our goals no longer align with our lives?
While goals create friction when our priorities change, they also blind us to alternatives. When we create goals, we construct steps to help us reach them. The more specific the goal, the more specific the steps taken. As we channel our attention to the task at hand, it becomes difficult to see other paths until we move on from the current one. Simply put, our current goal gives us tunnel vision.
In a goal-centric life, your satisfaction is determine by your ability to accomplish your goals. You are constantly chasing these transitory highs, one at a time. Unfortunately, the entire journey is discounted if you don’t hit your target. You will spend 99% of your time working towards a goal, and maybe 1% actually accomplishing it. Don’t let 1% of your time dictate the importance of the other 99%.
Thankfully, there is an alternative. Enter frameworks.
Goals are what you want to do. Frameworks are who you strive to be.
Frameworks give us flexibility and freedom. They are the foundations for our day-to-day actions. When we create frameworks, we decide who we want to be, and we live our lives accordingly.
Goals rob us of our present by focusing on the future. Frameworks emphasize the present to create the future.
The outcome of your goals either validates or discounts the work put in up to that point. Frameworks are the work. The outcome becomes a consequence of your efforts, not a destination for them. When you set a goal, you say I want to achieve _____. When you build a framework, you say I want to be _____. Why is this important? You can’t control external factors that could impact your goals, but you have full control over your own actions.
Let’s look back on my football story. Instead of UGA or bust, I decide that I want to be a football player. Period. What does a football player do?
Hones their skills (route running, pass rush, blocking)
Attends college camps
Every day spent on these steps is a day spent fulfilling this framework. The process is the goal. From that, each day’s work is fulfilling on its own. The steps I took to “be a football player” ended up putting me in a position to get recruited by Mercer. Once I got to college, these same steps put me in a position to earn a scholarship. This framework led to me accomplishing a lot over my collegiate career. This thought process can carry over to any discipline.
I want to be a writer.
Write something daily, no matter how small
Publish 2+ items online weekly
I want to be bilingual.
Study a foreign language daily
Find a langue partner to practice with
Incorporate the new language to your daily life (change language on Netflix, etc.)
The key reason why frameworks are superior to goals is that they provide meaning to the mundane. You will spend weeks, months, and even years working towards various things, but it can take a long time to see results. If your focus is on the end game, it is easy to become discouraged and quit. If your focus is on the present, you are far more likely to make it to the finish line.
“That’s cool, but how do we navigate what to do without having goals as a compass?”
Great question. That is the beauty of frameworks. I mentioned earlier that goals are static, but our lives aren’t. Frameworks are flexible. Opportunities will appear from your efforts invested in your frameworks. You won’t know when or where they will arise, but I promise they do. When you set a goal, you are predetermining the opportunities that you are willing to pursue. When you focus on your frameworks, any and every opportunity becomes a viable option. Opportunities become the new “goals”, but it is on you to seize them when you have a chance.
I started writing investment articles on Seeking Alpha, satire on Hard Money, and my blog here because I wanted to become a better writer. I didn’t have a specific endgame; I just wanted to see where my writing could go. In the meantime, I also applied for an analyst role with a venture capital group a few months back. While I didn’t get that job, the recruiter had seen my writing experience and asked if I was interested in an investment writer role with their team. I was ecstatic and leapt at the opportunity.
I never intended to apply for that job. Up to this point, I didn’t even know it existed. Yet the work that I had invested in writing created a fantastic opportunity. Now say I get that job. I would be working with a group of incredible investors day in and day out. I can only imagine what future opportunities might stem from this one. See, frameworks and opportunities compound. Your framework helps you find that first opportunity, which leads to another one and another one. By not mapping out your career roadmap ahead of time, you are open to pursue these opportunities as you find them.
Now my writing graph looks like this:
Trust the Process
The irony of choosing frameworks over goals is that you will find yourself accomplishing more while planning less. Frameworks help you stay in the game. You are less likely to get discouraged if everything is taking longer than expected. You will be more open to opportunities as they cross your path, giving you countless venues to advance your career. Figure out who you want to be, and get to work. When opportunity comes your way, seize it. I promise you’ll find your career to be much more fulfilling.
Have a great #AlmostFriday