The cold hard truth about setting goals

Hope your week is off to a great start.

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Most people just starting out (with no network and no capital and no experience hiring or leading a team) set goals like this:

“Where do I want to be 10 years from now? Everybody tells me I need to dream big. So I think I want to own a $1 billion company.”

And then they work backwards and start to look at the steps that can get them there…

“If I want to found a massive company I better think of a good idea and go raise a bunch of money.”

They work on their business idea for 3 months, realize the odds are stacked against them, they pack it in and go get a job.

“Entrepreneurship is just too damn hard.”

This isn’t how business works. This is extremely flawed practice and it leads to trying to skip way ahead. There is no way to get excited about the little wins when you’re idolizing Elon Musk or watching Shark Tank all day.

In reality business is about momentum. It’s about 1 foot in front of the other for 10 years.

The people getting wealthy in your town right now didn’t start with massive, gaudy, world changing goals.

“Shoot for the stars and end up on the moon” is the dumbest saying of all time. “Dream big and go big” is bullshit advice.

“Swing for the fences” is something successful people who did not-fun shit for years and forgot about it tell college kids who ask them for advice.

Going big in entrepreneurship with zero experience, zero capital and zero network is the best way to end up with a JOB.

Let me tell you a secret:

I never set 5 or 10 year goals. Never have and (likely) never will.

I set 1 year goals and I reset them and recalibrate them every year.

You’ve heard of the analogy of climbing a mountain and picking what mountain to climb (different businesses to start or undertakings to get after). Going after that $1B company is definitely a steep mountain. You’re raising money, trying to do something that has never been done before, having your way with the world and trying to bend reality to fit your worldview…

There is something very noble and amazing about that. Like gladiators going to battle. Sherpas headed up a mountain in horrible conditions. And these folks move humanity forward.

But here is the thing:

You have to crawl before you can walk. Business is about momentum.

If you set big, exciting, world changing goals the little stuff you need to do to learn shit and get some momentum won’t be exciting or feasible. Getting 100 customers or making $25,000 won’t feel like it moves the needle so you’ll try to jump past it.

My first goal was to get 100 customers. The next year my goal was to get $50k in my checking account (financial freedom for me as a 22 year old and well over 1 year of runway.

The next year my goal was 3,000 customers and over $1 million in revenue. The next year it was $500k in our company checking account after all expenses (and taxes) were paid. The next year it was building a facility from the ground up (this took 2 years).

The year after that we tried to build a second facility and we failed. The year after that we decided to buy one and we succeeded. The year after that I wanted to buy 3 properties and we bought 4. Two years later we have 62 properties, a massive portfolio and I own several other companies that are growing fast.

Notice something about my goals:

1. All of these were short term goals.

2. None of these were sexy, far fetched goals.

3. All of them were achievable and realistic.

4. I didn’t accomplish all of them.

So lets flip the script and forget the normal “mountain climbing” goal strategy. I have a reframe for you:

You’re on top of the mountain right now. Your “small, unsexy, achievable, realistic” goal is at the bottom of the mountain.

Examples of good goals:

  1. I will make $10,000 next year in my side hustle.
  2. I will delegate and lead a team at work and ask for a 15% raise
  3. I will buy my first rental property

All you need to do is make it to the bottom of the mountain.

So how do you think about accomplishing this goal?

You are standing on the top of the mountain with a glass of water and you dump it out.

That water is going to take the path of least resistance down the mountain. It will find the easiest, most likely, fastest way down to your goal.

The water doesn’t have ego, big dreams, distractions, emotional ties, etc. Water isn’t greedy. Water doesn’t care what other people think.

Water is working on 1 thing: Get to the bottom of the mountain as quickly and easily as possible.

Every Y in the path is a decision.

I’ve written extensively on decision making and believe it is a muscle that must be practiced and grown. Check that out here.

When you make decisions you’re thinking about 1 thing and 1 thing only:

What would water do? What is the path of least resistance to accomplish my goal? What puts the odds of success in my favor?

Act like water. Be water. Take the path of least resistance.

That means you don’t care about the glory in solving “hard” problems. There will be plenty time for that when you are set up financially, have built the skills, have the network, and are kicking ass at life.

That means no “changing the world”. Changing the world isn’t a statistically wise thing to try to do. The odds of failure is too high. And remember, you have a basic goal to accomplish.

That means no greed and ego. The best path won’t always be the one that is the most fun to talk about over beers with your buddies.

That means making decisions like a poker player sitting at a table. Your chips represent your time, energy and capital. How can you invest it with the maximum odds of success (achieving your goal).

You don’t care about anything but increasing those odds.

You have a singular focus.

My annual goals were always pointing towards the same theme:

What goals can I set right now that get me closer to a situation where I don’t have to take orders from anybody. No grown human will be able to tell me what to do and when to do it so I can get paid next Friday and feed my family.

No one customer would have the power to negatively impact my life. No one investor or partner. Nobody.

If one person decided to be a dick and try to tell me what to do or how to live, I could tell them to eff off and move along.

That meant $ coming in from several sources. Several companies. For me a few million $ in the bank account.

I knew that once I got that accomplished my life would open up. I’d get to live without the stress and constant nagging sensation that follows entrepreneurs of potential failure. The chance you could lose it all.

What is your north star? What is your vision of success?

Build your own stepping stones working towards it with small, achievable goals and then be like water.


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About Me

I started the Sweaty Startup in December of 2018 because I believe the Shark Tank and Tech Crunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship.