I often meet clients who are struggling with a part of themselves only to discover that, tuned to a different level, the very thing that most vexed them is also among their greatest strengths.

A hyper-focus on what disasters might come modified into an awareness of those disasters becomes the foundation for extraordinary preparedness.

Tweak anxiety so intense that it shuts down decision making and there you find a dusting of anxiety that clings to – and therefore highlights – a person’s passions and greatest loves.

Take an attention to detail that makes projects stretch out into infinity and turn it down and you have a notable ability to turn vague ideas into solid reality.

My very profession has a similar dial in the works. The zero on that dial means no goals, no specific focus. At 10, the goals are all that matter. Somewhere in the middle, we find the functionality of goals. It’s true: They’re not functional in and of themselves.

Many a coach finds herself cranking toward 10. Goals are exciting for us; they create a sense of progress and accomplishment. Our clients are excited to achieve goals and, frankly, they add something tangible to a profession that can sometimes be hard to explain beyond, “We’ll have great conversations that will change your life!” which is true but not a great marketing message.

Goals at 10, though, miss the purpose of the goals themselves which is to enliven something bigger and badder within us. Goals take the amorphousness that is our values – the ideas that are most central to who we are as people – and turn them into actions that we can live in our daily lives. A goal that isn’t directly connected to one or more of our values is like pancakes without syrup: pointless.

The bigger issue with goals at 10, though, is that they need to be accomplished to be considered valid. A frequent fear expressed by folks I work with is that they’ll put a lot of effort toward a specific outcome and never see it come to fruition. I have a sense of you, dear reader, nodding your head and wondering what I see as problematic in this. Well:

  1. We get to control our effort but not the outcome. The goal of running a marathon could be thwarted by a wrong step in the midst of diligent training that damages an ankle terribly; the goal of founding a groundbreaking start-up could be derailed by another innovator coming up with a similar idea and getting it off the ground just a wee bit sooner. If we’re focused solely on completing a goal, we miss all the goodness, the effort, the contributory accomplishments of each bit of progress towards that goal.
  2. We have to shrink our goals into the achievable. And, friend, there are a world of goals out there that are critically important and yet not likely to be achievable in a lifetime.

I’ve done some daydreaming lately about the abolitionists who lived and died without seeing the end of chattel slavery. For roughly 250 years, there were abolitionists and most of them wouldn’t live to see the Emancipation Proclamation. As I daydreamed, I wondered: Did they die thinking that they had wasted their lives because they hadn’t seen chattel slavery end or did they die with a feeling of fulfillment for spending their lives planting the seeds for change, living into their values, standing in and for what is right?

Early in his memoir, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, Congressman John Lewis, who died just this past July after a lifetime of working for equal rights and access for all Americans, wrote:

“Faith, to me, is knowing in the solid core of your soul that the work is already done, even as an idea is being conceived in your mind. It is being as sure as you are about your dream as you are about anything you know as a hard fact… Even if you do not live to see it come to pass, you know without one doubt that it will be.”

Goals set to 10, where the goal is everything, don’t allow room for this definition of faith; they don’t allow room for long, slow world change.

If you are feeling daunted, as so many of us are, by this moment in time and all that we are in the midst of – coming together as a country and as a world; continuing the work of building, as Congressman Lewis and his peers called it, a Beloved Community that values all people equally; healing our planet of its ecological woes; and so much more – you might consider where you’re putting your emphasis. Is it on the action of moving toward your greatest values and working into the goals that enliven them, or is your emphasis tied to seeing the outcome you desire?

That is to say, is there room in your reckoning for faith as Congressman Lewis defined it?

We have a lot of training to keep our goal dial to 10. I’m well-practiced at supporting my clients in that adjustment; reach out if you’re curious how coaching with me might be a useful tool for you. If you’d like more community along the way, The Bigger Badder Crew always has a spot saved just for you.

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