If 92% of resolutions are never achieved, do I need a goal for the new year?
So much has been written about resolutions and goal-setting that I initially hesitated to weigh in. I’m bravely going where too many have gone before…but here goes.
Are you a goal-setter? Do you have a bucket list? Are you sometimes frustrated when your goals seem out of reach? If so, read on.
We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t reach a goal you don’t set” but it’s not really that easy, especially when kids, taking care of a parent or paying the bills gets in the way. Goals are not just big aspirations; they are the stops along the way on the roadmap of your life.
I set three big goals I wanted to reach before 40. I reached them all by 39 and I’ll tell you how.
Let’s start at the beginning. I had no reason to believe I should be setting any goals, much less big ones. My parents were high school drop-outs, with arrest records and a drug problem. Growing up in their troubled household, I initially followed in their footsteps and dropped out of high school, soon followed by a major life trauma. My life was headed…nowhere.
What kinds of goals do you set when your starting point is ten steps behind the starting line?
Big ones: education, financial security, companionship.
If you consider where I started, these goals were almost impossible. It’s what I chose to do every day that transformed them into possible.
First, there was education. After years of being passed over by one company after another for not having a college degree, my hopes for a career weren’t looking too good. Instead of giving up, I decided I wanted to be CEO.
After attending 6 different schools, I was a high school drop-out, then a college drop-out. Jobs weren’t easy to come by…much less good ones. While hoping for a break, I accepted a dead-end position that I detested. The company was in a part of town where I had to contact the guard to get into the parking lot. They were a direct mail company, the bottom of the business food chain. It’s not what I dreamed for myself but it was honest work and, since they were paying me, I showed up every day prepared and dedicated.
While sitting in a meeting talking about direct mail, I was presenting to a local college, Loyola University of Maryland. They were promoting their MBA program and needed a campaign. I was professional and represented my company well, even though I was looking for another job every day.
Lesson 1: work for the one you’re with
Soon after the meeting, I had a call from a woman in the meeting, she was a recruiter for the program and she suggested I apply. Are you kidding me? I thought I had “high school drop out” written across my forehead. Imagine the possibility. I was not qualified, not if you consider that before you apply for a masters program, you must finish college. That option wasn’t available to me, I could barely afford rent, much less school.
When she called the second time, I knew I had a choice. I could try or let it pass me by. A call to the director of the program was all it took to get a meeting. After an uncomfortable start, I asked what it would take to be considered as a non-traditional candidate. I was honest, I told them about my background: challenging start, limited education, major life trauma.
The school might have been skeptical but they laid out the criteria I had to meet to even be considered. I exceeded their expectations and was accepted (more on that in another post), which is how I earned a MBA without finishing high school or college.
Lesson 2: ask for what you want
While in the MBA program, I came across an insolvent company with an interesting patent. They were not making much progress and couldn’t raise the money to stay in business. At the time, I was at my second tech company, successfully transitioning to technology, but still limited to smaller companies, which sometimes brought leadership challenges. After closing the deals that made an IPO possible, I was cut out of equity in the IPO and was looking for a chance to prove myself.
This new opportunity was a much bigger risk but I had few other options for big success. Fortune 500 companies couldn’t understand my challenging path in business so I had to create my own opportunity, and prove I could do it. This new company couldn’t pay me but they were open to negotiation on equity; I cashed in my savings, 401k and borrowed money so I could run the company.
This was a huge risk, deciding to bet on myself, and a fledgling company. There was tremendous uncertainty in the opportunity, and I struggled at times, but I refused to accept I wouldn’t succeed. There was no safety net. When the company was sold for $230 million, it was a win for the investors and founders, and confirmed lifelong financial security for me.
Lesson 3: know when to bet on yourself
After leaving that company, it was time to apply the same determination employed in business toward something much more personal. I’d never find happiness unless I dealt with the trauma that followed me for 19 years. I had been raped at gunpoint at 18 and I wanted the case investigated. My efforts over the years to get it investigated didn’t go anywhere; no one believed I had really been raped so how could anything possibly be done?
When it happened, the police made it clear they didn’t believe me, which led to my family not believing me. It was as if I was completely alone in my pain, and that was keeping me from letting anyone else get too close. It was a dream I was too afraid to dream for myself.
It took many calls, and more than a few awkward conversations but I finally found a detective, Bernie Holthaus, to investigate my case. Bernie was with the Baltimore City Police Department and he navigated the most personal process of my lifetime through the incredibly impersonal criminal justice system.
Bernie and I both pinned our hopes on DNA, which should have been in a rape kit. When he found out the evidence was destroyed, I was crushed. But my mission had become his mission. It turned out there were fingerprints in a database. He had a match. After 19 years, my case was solved in 3 days.
Lesson 4: find the right people to support your goals
The day of the arraignment was the first time I saw his face. That horrible night almost two decades earlier, my face was covered with a pillow. Now I knew what he looked like and he knew he picked the wrong woman.
After an emotionally stressful day, I wanted to go home and sleep. Well-meaning friends wanted me to join them for drinks. They were insistent because they believed it would make me feel better. When they refused to take no for an answer I agreed to join them for just one drink.
There were at least ten people for Happy Hour that night as we pushed tables together in the restaurant. I finished my beer and prepared to exit as one final person joined the gathering. Since there was only one seat left, right next to me, that’s where he sat.
That’s the night I met my husband.
Two years later, we were married and had our first child.
Lesson 5: show up
The decisions you make every day are footprints on the path to your goals. There will be bad days, and on those days, I go to sleep knowing tomorrow is a new day and I get to start all over gain.
It’s important to set the goal but it’s equally important to recognize that what you do every day is what will get you there. Throw in a good dose of daily gratitude and I promise you’ll get there. If I can do it, you can too!
Are you setting a new goal this year? What can you do this year as you work toward a bigger goal? What will you look back on and wish you accomplished?
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