Dreams vs Goals

Dreams and goals both are a critical part of achieving results in our lives.  Dreams tend to drive and inspire us while goals keep us on track and give us concrete direction.  All too often though within personal and business development circles the two aren’t separated in a meaningful way.  We’ll hear comments such as “make sure your goals are SMART – Specific, measureable, actionable, results oriented with a timeframe” but then apply that same logic to dreams, which is impractical and a waste of time.  Dreams have a definite place but it isn’t the same.

So what are goals and what are dreams and what’s the difference?

Think about the concept of scoring a goal, it comes from sports and is defined clearly by goal posts, it ideally does meet the SMART standard we find in MBA programs (others have expanded on the term to include “SMARTER” or “SSMART” in an attempt to improve).  The general concept is this you must be able to clearly determine when you’ve achieved a goal, you must be able to take concrete action steps towards a goal, you must be able to apply accountability to a goal since that’s part of its usefulness, but most importantly goals are like milestones they allow you to develop a plan or strategy to get there.  All of these features are very practical and can help to guide project management initiatives to make them happen and hence the accountability, etc. are worthwhile.

But what’s a pre-requisite of being able to develop a plan to reach the goal?  Knowing specifically what it might take to get there in fairly concrete terms.  In other words goals work very well for desired results within your bounds of knowledge where a minimum of education is required in order to determine the path.  This is partially why goals are generally best laid out fairly short term because there are too many unknown variables the longer the timeframe.  General timeframes are possible say in the case of a large construction project where the details of the end product and the process to get there are clearly laid out but in the likes of an Agile development model or a start-up where there is a great deal of uncertainty it’s best to keep goals as defined by the “SMART” paradigm to much nearer term.

By contrast dreams are useful to give us a loose guiding direction from which we build goals.  Dreams are what we have when we want something but we don’t know how to get there, they can be far off and nebulous.  It isn’t necessary that they be specific, crystal clear, have timeframes, are results oriented, measurable, or actionable.  A dream could be a feeling and trying to turn it into something else often isn’t helpful because that feeling drives us.  A dream could be something we have no idea how to achieve today but can inform a very vague general direction.  Dreams can be far off.  We can say to ourselves “I want to be like that” and then formulate short term goals that we believe will bring us in that direction but may not then we can continually correct and continue.

For most people something like “I’d like to be a billionaire” is a dream not a goal.  It’s impractical to set a timeline on it.  It is deceptive because it is by its nature specific and measureable but trying to treat it as a goal rather than a dream is useless because we are so far removed as not to have a clear concept of how to get there and hence it distracts us from the present moment where we can make a real difference.  Unless you’ve already got a $100 million net worth treat billionaire status as a dream not a goal.  Start by creating immediate goals near where you are at and simply use the dream to inform the rough direction.  If you’ve never made $100k/yr. get your cashflow and personal situation under control with a $10k/mo. or $30k/mo. goal, which can actually be actioned out and achieved accordingly.  If you’ve reached that level aim for $10 million, then $40 million, then $100 million and so on.

Bill Gates never set out to be a billionaire in fact he didn’t believe it was possible given his vehicle but he was very focused on dominating and succeeding in his space and that dedication led one step at a time to his billionaire status.  He targeted $100 million in revenue stating “you can’t build a software company past that point and I will prove it to you”, then later told a friend “I think I can get us to $500 million in sales but won’t be able to handle it after then because people will want more and I have no idea how”.  Today Microsoft does tens of billions per year in annual revenue.

Big dreams become real through focusing on the present.  The most capable performers set very specific short term and process oriented goals.  Follow their example.

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