You Can’t Be Anything: How to Set Goals

Most millenials were sold the idea that dreams are ninety nine percent nurture and one percent nature.  But it’s self-evident that not everyone can be LeBron James; on the basketball court it does matter that you’re five-foot-eight.  The poster on the wall and the pep talks just don’t carry us far enough.  At some point you just have to have the disposition, physically and mentally, to be among the best.  Being passionate about a goal isn’t always enough; we need to set goals based on our strengths.

It would be easy to stop at this conclusion and wallow in self-pity over our bad luck to have been born ‘us’.  We could pretend the only thing separating us from something great is genetics.  But what we would truly mourn is failing to become great at that one thing.  Perhaps you can’t be in the NBA, perhaps you’ll never sell a gold record.  But it’s a sucker’s choice to imagine our lives are dichotomously doomed to mediocrity and those reaching greatness in a field.  Let’s invent another option.

An underpinning to our definition of success is that our failure is a failure; that if we didn’t follow the pattern of the person on our poster, we lost.  But was your work and practice in vain?  Was the time wasted?  Let’s note some unsung aspects:

  • By shaping your life around your vision for the future, you demonstrated commitment and the ability to set goals.  
  • As you got up every morning to practice, you built the good habits that mastery demands, regardless of the field.  
  • You missed a milestone by losing a match or dropping the ball,  but you kept going anyway and showed grit and perseverance.  

What if you applied these values elsewhere?  What if you reset your targets by leaning into your strengths instead of fighting against them?  Especially when you’re young, it’s easy to attach yourself to a passion that isn’t in line with your natural abilities, because you don’t have sufficient experience to identify those abilities.  By letting go of these expired obsessions, you free yourself to set goals based on authentic strengths . 

In the required reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, he discusses the success of Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert.  Adams knew he was not the best artist and he was not the best comedian.  But how many other people were both a good artist, a funny comedian, and an experienced businessman?  This confluence gave him a fresh perspective and a novel route to success; a blend he could offer that no one else could (or had before).  

Maybe your chess career didn’t pan out, but other experiences helped you develop as a writer or a speaker.  Could you blend those talents to start teaching chess?  Writing articles?  Perhaps your singing didn’t take you to Michael Bublé levels, but could you coach others in their pursuit?  Could you volunteer to lead a choir? 

We each have some unique passion that we can use to add value to the lives of others.  What’s yours?

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