Tis the season for …

The year 2023 written in gold sparkler on a black background.Goals. Plans. Intentions. Let’s hit the ground running – it’s a New Year, New You, New Opportunity!


Not so fast.

Let’s rethink this whole new year thing.

I’m fond of saying that the only New Year’s Resolution I ever kept was … wait for it … to never make another New Year’s Resolution.

And I recently heard someone comment that reaching a goal is the penalty for setting one.

Goals and resolutions aren’t inherently bad. But they can often set us up for accomplishing less than we could have (that’s the penalty thing), or for beating ourselves up because we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do. It’s both prevalent and obvious in sales organizations: a quarterly sales goal is set, it’s met, and everyone sits back with a sigh of relief and coasts through the rest of the quarter. OR, it’s not met, and everyone starts pointing fingers and trying to find someone to blame for the miss.

This happens to us as leaders in any field, and as individuals.

Some goals are necessary and reasonable.

Need to get a specific, defined project finished and out the door? Absolutely set time frames and milestones and an end-point goal.

Want to learn a new skill? By all means, define your learning plan, set time frames for completion, and define what success looks like – how you’ll know you’ve mastered the skill well enough (and don’t forget to define “well enough”).

But other goals are restrictive – or punishing.

“Go big or go home” is a recipe for burnout and exhaustion. Career timelines, income targets – they can push you to strive for markers of success that may not actually be meaningful for you. Or they can limit your ability to succeed in ways you may not have imagined possible. Those salespeople who hit their quarterly target and coasted the rest of the way? What might they have accomplished if they hadn’t had that end-point target, but kept on going instead?

So what’s the alternative?

Go ahead and set the goals that make sense. Project-related goals, deadline-driven and with specific markers of success and completion, are – as I said above – real and necessary.

Just don’t confuse a project with an aspiration or even – for instance – a sales target. (If you must set a sales target, make it an “at least” number instead of a final target.) Goals are containers for getting stuff done; there’s a clear start, and an equally clear end.

As for yourself and your career, start by doing something very few people do: define success. What does success actually, really, truly mean for you? (Links go to other articles I’ve written on this topic, and open in new tabs.)

If you don’t know your highest aspirations, you’ll never know what you need to do to get there. And you’ll wander around with goals that aren’t really yours, and which you’ll either miss, or achieve … and then wonder why you don’t feel (you guessed it) successful.

And please note: an aspiration is not a goal. Like I said, goals are containers for getting stuff done.  Aspirations are a yearning, a desire for something that’s not as concrete as a goal. They’re a way to choose a path forward in your life and career, but an aspirational path doesn’t come to an end in the same way a goal does.

Clear as mud? Perhaps. The distinction isn’t easy to define in the abstract, but if you look at your life and career and what you want, you’ll start to feel into it.

Are you a leader working to set – yes, I’ll say it! – goals for yourself and your team? Or are you wondering how to shift from a goal mindset to an aspirational perspective?

Let’s talk about it. Contact me and we’ll set a time to meet!