Rethinking Big Goals: When to Say When

November 2016

Photo from the Presidential Range by Anne Saita

Photo from the Presidential Range by Anne Saita

We were about three hours into the day’s hard hike when we took the first wrong turn. Then, about an hour later, on a slim path of slick granite boulders perched precariously on a cloud-dense cliff’s edge, we became consumed with death, specifically hikers who’ve perished, but in worse weather. By then I had broken my trekking pole, my shin’s skin, my shoe and my spirit. I couldn’t keep my backpack balanced, nor steady my fatigue-shaking legs.

Anyone familiar with the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains knows its difficult terrain, but I didn’t. I hadn’t done all of my homework. I also hadn’t physically prepared as well as I could, consumed with work deadlines and a family emergency in the weeks leading up to the trip. But our team of two was determined to “bag” five peaks that day despite high winds, rain squalls and poor visibility.

So, ever the businesswoman, I did a quick SWOT analysis in my head – taking in my strengths (my endurance, high threshold for pain), weaknesses (poor equipment, tight muscles), opportunities (aid a quest, push physical boundaries) and threats (bad weather, dangerous conditions).

Then I made an executive decision: Let’s get the hell out of here.

My far better conditioned friend was more than mildly disappointed. After all, we’d planned for this for almost a year. It was a big deal. But she never moaned about missed opportunities, nor let other hikers later know I was responsible for our aborted plan.

The problem with setting big, audacious goals, in life and in business, is they are conceived under certain terms and conditions. And in the months or years that follow, those conditions can change. Bodies break down from the constant assault of training. Acquired mental acuity is replaced by anguish from  a health crisis or an unexpected loss. Market demands shift due to new disrupters or geopolitics.

When do you stay true to lofty goals, and when do you formally downgrade or abandon them? The answer, we all know, is it depends. If you feel you are or will soon arrive at a critical juncture, or believe your big goal is becoming more elusive, consider:

  • What are your key performance indicators to track, and what are those KPIs now telling you about your capacity, maturity and future prospects?
  • What else is happening around you that could signal a shift in what you provide – to your organization or to your loved ones?
  • How much risk can you assume with your current level of responsibility?
  • And how much time can you realistically devote to that goal, even when it’s broken down into small steps? What can be sacrificed to see those steps accomplished on time and on budget?

We are all challenged at different times in our lives and in our businesses. The people and the companies that prosper best are not necessarily the brightest or the biggest. They are the most agile and can quickly adapt to change and to movements as they happen.

My friend in New Hampshire started climbing to new peaks in the Presidential Range soon after I had flown home. I have no doubt she’ll summit all 48 mountains, probably sooner than she thinks and, despite a hasty, guilt-fueled promise, without me. She’s fit, flexible and focused. As for me, I’m moving on a more realistic goal for where I am now and likely will later be.

–Anne