It is daunting to set high goals—what if you fail, or come up just short? A basketball player never celebrates a ball grazing the bottom of the net—it was so close to the rim it nearly went in! The player celebrates when the ball goes through the net. But the player still shoots. It would be a boring game if no one took a shot because they were afraid of only grazing the net.
What is the first step in defining goals? First: think big. What is the biggest and best goal you can think of? Write it down. Once it’s in ink it seems more tangible and less ethereal. Next, think of interim goals. Something tells me Michael Jordan’s first basketball shot wasn’t a dunk. I’m going to hazard a guess that it was a regular old jump shot. After he was able to master jump shots and lay-ups, and after external factors made their contributions (ahem, growing a foot), did he then tackle his goal of the slam dunk.
This principle helps keep us on track no matter the field. Joe Wilson personified thinking big. It took years for him to realize his goals for the copier. He set small goals in the interim, but they all added up to the main event. When he spoke of leadership he advised people “to set high goals, to have almost unattainable aspirations, and to imbue people with the belief that they can be achieved.”
Joe Wilson wanted to understand what could be done, because he believed knowing what could be done often defined what should be done. How often do we use the word could? It often connotes something unattainable. “I could apply for my dream job, but I probably won’t get it.” “We could have healthy food available in all neighborhoods, but requires a lot of coordination.” Should provides the sense of what we are supposed to do. “I should get my resume ready.” “We should look into why grocery stores aren’t in every neighborhood.” The woulda-coulda-shoulda phrases give us an escape. I will take Mr. Wilson’s advice one step further by adding what must be done. I must apply for a better job. I must meet with local grocers. I must set big goals.
For life altering social progress we must set lofty goals. Poverty in Rochester is embarrassingly high. It would be ridiculous to set a goal of reducing poverty by 10% in 20 years. I would be embarrassed to set that goal—and because it’s set with the fear of failure, it probably would not succeed. To set a goal of reducing poverty by 50% in 15 years puts your skin in the game. Now the goal becomes a must.
If you keep your goals in front of you, and you check off all the small goals along the path, someone may cast a bronze image of you slam dunking.