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The Danger in Thinking Big

by Shawanda Greene

Mistakes in Setting GoalsIt was Donald Trump who said, “If you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.”

Pardon my irreverence, but I disagree with The Donald.

For many, thinking big is crippling.

If you set a goal that is so large – erect a mountain that is so insurmountable, you’ll give up before you get going.

Recently, I was reminded of how setting ridiculously lofty goals leads to inaction.

While attending an all day panel discussion at the Brookings Institution, I met a woman named Mary, also known as @Listen2Mary.

Since Mary clearly prefers talking over listening, I learned a lot about her during our brief conversation. Which is why I feel comfortable diagnosing Mary with the condition Too Big Thinkingitis.

It was touch-and-go for a minute, but I managed to squeeze in a few things about myself while chatting with Mary. And since I’m genuinely interested in others’ passions, I asked Mary what she hoped to achieve.

You know what this crazy bird told me? “To change the constitution.”

I wish I knew, but I couldn’t grasp what Mary found so offensive about the constitution. She was all over the place - rattling on endlessly like a mad woman.

Because I like to talk too, I finally interjected. I asked Mary, “Do you vote?”

She continued her monologue as if I hadn’t said a word.

My question remained unanswered while Mary babbled nonsensically about women’s rights, feminism, the Catholic church (where’d that come from?), and the 11th amendment.

You can call me a lot of names, but soft spoken isn’t one of them. Mary obviously chose to ignore my inquiry, but I wasn’t letting her off that easily.

What? If you have big opinions, you’d better have big balls to back ‘em up.

I asked again, but louder, “Do you vote?!”

Bollocks!

I was cast aside once again. This woman ran over my words like a locomotive.

As Mary continued to wax on about a variety of topics that no one expressed any interest in, I felt I had to stop her.

Someone needed to do something to make her pause, if for no other reason than to force the poor woman to take a breath before she passed out.

I asked a third time, and louder still,

DO YOU VOTE?!

 

Miraculously – albeit briefly – Mary shut up.

I finally got her attention.

She answered, “No. I’m currently stateless.”

Huh?! *Tilts head confusedly*

And then….

Bam!

Before I could even respond, Mary punched me in the face with a barrage of excuses for not voting.

They were coming at me so fast, the only one I could decipher was, “I don’t trust that my vote will be counted.”

Well, kids, I guess that’s it.

Mary wants to change the constitution without doing the one thing that’s required to bring about change.

I don’t know much about amending the United States Constitution, but I know it’s hard. Real hard. And downright impossible for someone who can’t be bothered with taking the tiniest action imaginable to get the process going.

There are plenty of Marys – Maries – Marys (shrugs) out there.

You have a million dollar product idea and, by golly, you’re going to bring it to market.

But first, you need a patent.

Then, you need $300,000 in venture capital.

Oh wait. I forgot. Back up.

You have to create a business plan and an awesome PowerPoint presentation to show prospective investors.

Hmm. Your sales pitch won’t be complete without a prototype. Are you going to make that first prototype or do you hire a manufacturer?

You’re not exactly sure where to start, but you’re convinced you need more seed money and more education.

Manna from heaven could really get things moving.

Shoot! This new endeavor is so time consuming, you can’t hold down a full-time job and pursue your dream.

You’ll quit – as soon as you have $100K saved.

Bullscat!

Don’t make your goals so big.

The action plan to accomplish your goals is nothing more than a series of sacrifices.

The bigger the goal, the bigger the sacrifice.

That’s how it works. Don’t hate me for speaking truth. The universe makes the rules. I’m just passing through.

When you know you’re unwilling to endure the painful process of achieving a particular goal, that’s fine. You have two choices. Change the plan, or change the goal. I’m not saying you should never challenge yourself, but you’re often better served by choosing the latter.

Who knows? Succeeding at the small things may eventually get you to that big thing you were hoping for all along.

Have you ever dreamed big? How’d you make it happen? Did you make it happen?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

cashflowmantra January 21, 2012 at 7:20 AM

I think many people fall into the trap of thinking big but never bothering to figure out the steps involved to get from point A to point B. If they would break down their large goals into smaller ones, they might just accomplish something.

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Shawanda January 23, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Good point. Even with relatively small, easily attainable goals, or even a project at work, it helps to break things down into small actionable steps.

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My University Money January 21, 2012 at 5:45 PM

It's easy to have an opinion (the a**holes and opinions cliche is as true today as ever) but much harder to actually work at making a difference in the world. It's ok to dream big in areas where you have a ton of passion and motivation, if you don't, better to search for that first.

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Shawanda January 23, 2012 at 5:26 PM

I usually have a hard time defining the "R" in SMART goals. It stands for Relevant and you just brought up why it's important. From my understanding, Relevance pretty much means setting important goals. If a goal isn't important to you, if you're not passionate about it, you're not going to have the chutzpah to see things through. Particularly when times get rough, and with big goals, times always get rough.

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Barb Friedberg January 21, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Shawanda, I am so with you on this one!! It makes me want to have a chat with you :)

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Shawanda January 23, 2012 at 5:31 PM

I remember I introduced the concept of not thinking too big a while back and a commenter (on another site where the blog post was published) disagreed with me. She referenced the infamous $10 million check Jim Carrey wrote to himself when he was homeless. However, how many people can actually see themselves as decamillionaires when they're homeless? And not just envision it, but work towards it? There's nothing innately wrong with wanting to accomplish big things, but shouldn't the first goal for most people in that situation be, "Obtain a place to stay, i.e., not be homeless"?

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