Recently, I’ve been thinking about failure. After taking on bigger goals, it’s part of my process to consider the possibility that I might not achieve them. This is because my goals aren’t particularly small.
In the world of business, failure is a scary word. You’re likely to hear more advice about developing a mindset such as, “Live as though failure is not an option.” Even the idea of thinking about failure comes with the belief that you will then anticipate it, and thus the very thought about failing becomes a predictor of it.
However, failure is all around us; failures abound like weeds in the grass. They fill up the digital pages of Social Media and spill into our homes. Failure invades our junk drawer space, and even our convenience foods that sit on our shelves.
Many people come to our counseling office in hopes of escaping the pain of failure, and there are plenty of ways of avoiding it. Apply for a job that does not require new, challenging skills. Avoid romantic relationships, and isolate oneself to the point of loneliness. Don’t travel far, stick to your usual paths, and by no means should you push yourself to do something different, because you might not be good at it, and you might experience the feeling of failing at yet one more thing.
Rather than avoiding failure, is there any way we can learn from situations where failure may well be a viable and even reasonable option? Is there a way of minimizing its damage while exploiting its lessons? Should we attempt to do things that leave us feeling like we’re biting off more than we can chew?
I propose that there is a way, and there is a reason. It’s called setting stretch goals. And instead of adopting the mindset where failure is not an option, you create a pathway of learning, where you gather everything you need to learn about yourself so that you grow that area of personal excellence, regardless of outcome. You may not even need to succeed at your goal in order to reap the benefits of having set it in the first place.
Want to know more about setting stretch goals? And why on earth should you ever intentionally try to bite off more than you can chew?Wait, What Is a Stretch Goal?
First of all, it might be helpful to have a working definition of a stretch goal. Most of us have heard about stretch goals from the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. In the case of Kickstarter, a stretch goal is a financial goal that goes beyond the original fundraising goal to produce the Kickstarter launch product. However, I am steering this working definition of a stretch goal away from merely financial ones, as growth in personal excellence is influenced by wealth yet is not defined by it.
In other words, personal excellence is not measured solely by the amount of assets you earn or own.
A stretch goal for personal excellence is any activity, achievement, endeavor, or lifestyle change that requires you to apply considerable energy, time, effort, resources, mental and physical skills, and sometimes relational skills in such as way that could not be gained by paying someone else to do it for you. It is something you must do for yourself, although it will likely require you to collaborate and connect with others to achieve the most personal growth.
That’s my definition (and I’m sticking to it)!
Setting Stretch Goals, For The Win
Social Media news feeds are constantly filled with stories of young entrepreneurs who quit their corporate jobs, invest in launching a startup, use their home or savings as collateral, and sometimes, when luck strikes, you’ll see their smiling faces near a headline that shouts their successes.
While this may be a type of stretch goal, it certainly is not the only kind of stretch goal that is available. In fact, there are many kinds of personal development stretch goals. Here are a few samples:
- applying for a leadership position in your current workplace
- losing 40 pounds and training to run your first half marathon
- gaining 15 pounds of muscle and learning to rock climb
- remodeling or reorganizing your home kitchen and learning to cook nutritious food
- saving money for an international vacation, while taking language courses online to help you communicate with local people
- Volunteering for a charitable organization with an eye to join its advisory board within five years
- Volunteering for a conference, with an eye to become one of the conference planners within three to five years
- giving a free presentation of a speech you’ve been working on, with an eye to be paid as a speaker at the conference of your dreams
- going back to school to add on more skills, applying for jobs that were once well outside of your skill set or abilities, and even creating additional work that challenges you and offers more value to the company
- Attending a series of communication seminars, to improve the way you interact with others, and being evaluated in front of your peers
How might you find your stretch goal, the one that makes you wonder if you might fail, yet pushes you hard enough to grow personally in order to have the opportunity to reach that goal?
I’m a fan of Tara Gentile, Sally Hogshead, and Dr. Michelle Mazur, and all three of these women have written posts regarding how one might find what Michelle refers to as, “Your Big, Audacious Goal”, and what Tara and Sally call your unique MVP (minimum viable product) that is a service turned into a product, and that “thing” that sets you apart from others (Sally’s Fascinate work). Put these three perspectives together, transfer them from the world of business to another area of your life (pick one, any one), and you will see that there are other stretch goals across many disciplines and personal life interests that would require you to dig deep, commit to a plan, reorganize yourself, and learn how to execute a way of living to achieve your stretch goals.
Whatever your stretch goals are, they should scare you. They should require you to dig deep and wonder if you really can do this. If you have over confidence that you can achieve your stretch goal with ease, it isn’t much of a stretch, is it?
Q and A: The Value of Failure and Stretch Goals
And, so what if I fail?
Failure does not always exist in a single moment. When you fail to achieve the ultimate goal within a given timeframe, a singular moment contains failure, yet all the moments before may actually contain valuable, character-building and life-changing activities that have radically transformed you for the long haul. You mine the data you have — that is, everything you learned, even any mistakes or missteps.
What do I do if I don’t reach my goal? Should I give up?
That depends. Is the goal still viable on a new timeline? Is there opportunity and personal drive to try again? Was the process of trying to achieve the goal pleasurable, eye-opening, and worthwhile to you? Do you care what others think if you try again and fail? Did the process of working towards this goal cost you too much to try again (and this includes but is not limited to financial costs)?
Is failure necessary for growth?
One can argue that failure isn’t absolutely necessary for personal growth. Strangely, I do see failure as a shortcut to succeeding, because people who fail in their first attempts to achieve the same goal usually develop skills and thinking that they can transfer to future endeavors, such as increased organizational skills, humility and communication with others, patience and timing, consistency with self-care, and respecting other relationships.
Most of the people I admire have failed at something in their life at least once, and more often, several times.
If Failure has lessons for me to learn, why do I try to avoid it at all costs?
What do others have to say about the value of stretch goals?
Forbes has a short article debunking the avoidance of stretch goals. Ironically, the author points out that your stretch goals should not be primarily financial.
Share Your Stretch Goal With Us
If you would like to have your stretch goal listed here, send an email to imei dot hsu at gmail dot com, and I’ll repost your stretch goal without listing your name so we can keep it anonymous.
If you don’t know what my stretch goal is, come visit our office in Pioneer Square, or watch this video for a clue to what is coming soon.