Goals should be attainable? It’s a lie!

As I’ve said, I’ve been on a goal kick lately. I’ve been making some massive changes in my life and it’s exciting and I want to share what I’ve learned with all of you. So, with that…

Lofty Goals Spawn Creativity

It’s true. But only when you’re absolutely, 100% committed.

I learned this as a young missionary. My companion and I were sitting down prepping for the day and decided to make a goal. I don’t recall what inspired said goal, but we were 100% committed. We were going to teach 10 lessons to non-Mormon-folk in one day.

It was ambitious. We’d never done even half that. But, for some reason or another, we decided we were going to make it happen.

Except, here’s the thing–we didn’t have any lessons scheduled.

Well darn. That puts a damper on things.

But with little more than faith and naive optimism, we entered the cold, wintry air of southern Michigan and started knocking on doors.

“Hi, we’re missionaries from the–”


Alright. Let’s try this again.

“Hi, we’re–”


After about the hundredth door and the day well over halfway done, we had nothing.


That’s when my first insight came. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

We’ve probably all heard that saying, but for some reason, the reality of it never sank in.

Until that day.

So I called a timeout.

“Elder Smith,” I said to my companion. “This isn’t working.”

“You think we should change our goal? Maybe make it a bit more realistic?”

That thought gnawed at my insides. No, failure wasn’t an option. It felt wrong and dishonest.

“No,” I said. “We need to change things up. This isn’t working….”

I grinned. “But I’ve got an idea.”

The next house came and a young mother answered the door. A toddler screamed in the background over the voices of some cartoon.

“Look, I’m not–” she began.

“Wait,” I said. “This’ll only take ten minutes. Can I just have ten minutes?”

Miraculously, the child stopped crying.

She let out a long breath. “Fine. Ten minutes.”

Now I had a new problem–how to teach a 50 minute lesson in ten minutes? πŸ˜‰

So I taught my first lesson, and true to my word, I limited my message to ten minutes. The woman’s attitude had changed by the end, and she remained in contemplative silence before inviting us back for a follow-up lesson.

One tenth of the way there.

It was a brilliant solution, it seemed. We simply asked people to give us only ten minutes of their time. If they didn’t like what we had to say, we wouldn’t come back.

We would give them a polite way out. Win-win.

Armed with a lofty goal, an unwavering determination to succeed, and now with a strategy, our mundane and arduous task of knocking on doors took on new meaning.

The only problem was we had only about two hours left of daylight. With only two hours left of “prime time” and with nine lessons to go, we started running from door to door.

“We have an important message and we’ll only take ten minutes of your time. If you don’t like what we have to say, we won’t bother you again?”

Another lesson down.

And another.

And another.

Pretty soon, we passed five lessons.

No answer at that door.

Or that.

That person said no.

Sunlight was fading fast.

We ran faster.

Another person agreed. Seven down.

But we were out of light.

So we regrouped.

“Alright, Smith,” I said. “We’ve got two hours before we call it a day. What do we normally do?”

“Visit members.”

“Okay, what can we do different?”

Elder Smith grinned with a mischievous smile. “Follow me.”

He exited the car and approached a door.

“You know these people?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

“Um…..” I followed, hesitantly. “It’s dark. You know that, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“And people don’t like having us knock on their door at night. You know that, right?”

“Uh huh.”

I shrugged and followed. He knocked on the door and a beefy man answered–full of tattoos, holding a cigarette, and a stern look worthy of a secret service agent.

“What do you want?” he asked.

Smith looked at his day planner, then the man, then back at his day-planner, brow furrowed. “Are you Sean Miller?”

“Nope,” beefy dude said.

“Do you know Sean Miller?”


“That’s weird. I must have the wrong address,” Smith said. “Anyway, while we’re here….”

Elder Smith went into his standard door approach. It only too ten minutes and we went on to teach lesson #8, successfully changing a man’s perspective on what we Mormon folk are all about.

As we left, I asked my companion, “Who’s Sean Miller?”

“My best friend in high school.”

I laughed. “Clever strategy.”

(And who’d have thought that missionaries were capable of such guile πŸ˜‰

We continued to use this shady strategy for the next several minutes. Either our conscience caught up with us or we quit having as much success, but it was time to regroup.

“Alright,” Smith said. “We’ve only got an hour before we have to go back to the apartment. Any ideas?”

And there was an idea. There was a man named Charles. He was a generous soul–always offering rides to missionaries, always inviting us over for dinner, always dropping off goodies at our doorstep.

But we’d never taught him.

I don’t know why we never did. Maybe we were afraid we’d lose a friend if we did, that somehow we’d step into forbidden territory. Or maybe we just assumed he’d said no once before.

Whatever the reason, we had a friend with whom we’d never shared what meant most to us.

“What about Charles?” I asked.

“Giving up already, Fife?”

“No,” I said. “Let’s teach Charles.”

Silence followed.

We were one lesson away and had only one shot.

“What do you think, Smith?”

“It’s worth a shot,” he said.

So we went, filled with trepidation.

“Charles,” I said. “It seems the Bishop has assigned us to be your home teachers. You got time for a lesson?”

He grinned. “You’re not the first to try, young man.” He patted me on the back. “And I’m sure you won’t be the last, but I’m all set.”

“It’ll only take ten minutes,” I said.

“I appreciate the offer and I love having you guys around. But I’ve got my own faith. Now, come on in and have something to eat.”

And for the next half hour, he told us his experiences with past missionaries teaching him and told us why he’d never abandon his current faith.

And that was okay.

We failed. We were one lesson short of our goal.

But what did we gain? We had nine people who had been exposed to our message that otherwise wouldn’t give us the time of day. Nine people that may some time soon join our faith.

And, of course, there was Charles. Had I never invited him, I would have always wondered and probably regretted my decision to remain silent.

But more important than all this, the bar had been raised. No longer could we be content with 2-3 lessons a day. Knowing that 10 was possible, we started teaching 10+ lessons regularly. Within a few months, even 10 was easy, so we raised the bar again, teaching up to 15 or 20.

The fallacy of “attainable” goals.

We hear it touted often as an obvious fact–set goals that are attainable. But here’s the problem: what if what we’re currently doing is far below our potential, but we’re not even aware of it because we only make tiny incremental changes?

How will you know?

You won’t until you stretch yourself.

The promise? You may not reach it (though don’t let yourself think that). But I guarantee you’ll overturn false and deceptive notions of what you’re capable of.

In summary of the past four blog posts:

Making goals requires

And now?

Forget “attainable” goals. Stretch yourself. See just how far you can reach and see where that takes you.

It’s gonna be a wild ride πŸ™‚

4 thoughts on “Goals should be attainable? It’s a lie!

  1. Interesting take. Maintaining optimism would be key. It is sometimes difficult to fall short of a goal and still see that the stretch was worth it. But it is totally worth it. Attitude is everything.

  2. Hmm interesting post. Generally unobtainable goals make me think, why bother when you won’t make it, but I like the way you show it can lead to attitude change and achieving more than the minimum.

    Although I confess I’m thankful the church I belong to limits it’s door to door activities to bill pushing these days πŸ˜€

    • Ha! Yeah, I’m glad I don’t do that anymore πŸ˜‰

      I think, in order for lofty goals to work, we have to be committed to making them happen. Without both, nothing changes.

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