Set Big Goals & Measure Backwards to Appreciate Progress

Every year Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) has a regional conference in the Midwest, and this year our local chapter hosted the event in Detroit. I attended the conference as a member, but our firm was also a sponsor. Over the 3 days there were many speakers, tours, and social events, winding up with the keynote speaker Earvin “Magic” Johnson – who apparently is very tall compared to me.

Magic’s talk was entertaining, recounting his evolution from high school basketball career in Lansing, MI all the way to owning the Lakers, Commanders, and becoming a billionaire. (If you’re interested, check out “They Call Me Magic” on Netflix). At one point, Magic was describing his desire to have a private plane, and how he gathered his staff and shared this with them, knowing it wasn’t achievable tomorrow, but asked the question: “What do we have to start doing now, to have a plane in three years?”  So they set the goal, took the necessary steps, and “Viola!” They had the plane in 3 years. A great reminder that setting intentional goals matters. Most of us know this, but are we really executing it?

Separately, I recently read The Gap and The Gain book by Dan Sullivan & Dr. Benjamin Hardy and was so captivated, I finished it in three days. I’d highly recommend reading or listening to it for yourself, but the basic premise is high achievers struggle with happiness because they’re always chasing the next bigger goal and sometimes these goals are created from comparisons to other people or ideals, rather than what we actually want. Furthermore, we rarely pause to look backwards, and measure how far we’ve come. Rather, we’re always measuring against the next goal, chasing the ever-elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If we can just get there, then we’ll be happy.

One of the exercises in the book is to look back 10 years, 3 years, 1 year to see where you were at then, compared to where you’re at now, looking at things like: sales level, income level, relationships, quality of life, what your mindset was, what you were worried about, etc. Where you were then vs. where you are now. In many cases, the growth/evolution is shocking when you actually take the time to measure it. This allows each of us to see the progress we’ve made, the struggles we’ve overcome, the successes we’ve had, and builds confidence for the next round of goals.

For me personally, this was incredibly eye-opening, humbling and a “holy crap!” moment. I wrote a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (coined ‘BHAG’ by Jim Collins) in 2009 with literally no idea how it would be achieved, and honestly, didn’t give it much thought. I was more focused on annual goals, not some distant point in the future. But this year, we’ll hit that ‘BHAG’ goal, and it hadn’t really occurred to me until I went through this exercise. Wow.

Combining the 3 ideas – (a) set BIG goals, that are (b) important to YOU (not comparisons to others or ideals), and (c) pausing to measure progress backwards from where you came – is a powerful combination for both achievement and happiness.


Todd Rammler

Todd Rammler is the President and founder of Michigan CFO Associates.  Todd is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds an MS in Accounting from Walsh College (cum laude), and a BBA in Finance from Western Michigan University.

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