Last year, I had the idea to write a pair of ebooks. The ebooks were intended to supplement the blog, drive traffic to it, and expand my writing platform.
It was a good goal.
The problem was, it was only a goal. It wasn’t strategic. It was just starting at Point A, looking at a hot Point Z, and starting into a run. Revving from casual, Sunday-drive speed to Formula One levels didn’t work. I wouldn’t advise it. As quickly as I started, I decelerated and eventually stalled. The goals were effectively dead within a month.
And yet, so often, that is how we approach growth. I’ve made the mistake time and again. I’ve had a purely goal-minded mentality to progress. Step 1: Record some concrete action or victory. Step 2: Sprint to the finish line.
It doesn’t always fail. There is such a thing as a good sprint—if you’re in the 100 meters. I’ve reached some meaningful goals that way, but plenty of goals also fell through. A flat goal mentality lends itself to sprinting. An investment mentality takes a marathoner’s approach.
Goals, Investments, and the Dream
It will help to define our terms.
In my thinking, a goal is the desired result of your ambition. It’s the point, place, or achievement you want to reach.
An investment usually has a goal at the end, and may be made up of many sub-goals along the way. Investment is the strategy. It looks at the whole journey and how to reach the end. It isn’t only focused on the destination.
A Dream (capital D, for our purposes) is the sum of many goals and the intersection of multiple investment strategies. A Dream is the Big Goal, but it’s greater than that. It’s more all-encompassing than a single goal could ever be. Like actual dreams, the Dream is rarely just an action or a success story. It’s a life-change, a way of being, a new set of circumstances, a transformed self or environment.
By analogy, you might have the goal to lose 30 pounds. Good. It’s concrete and seems reasonable. But the thing that makes it actually achievable is the investment strategy.
You probably won’t last if you’re entire approach goes no further than, “I’m going to cut down on sugar.” Sure, that’s a helpful step, but it’s not a strong strategy. An investment strategy consists of a deeper design—which is why diet plans are better than our own aimless nutrition ambitions. Thinking in terms of investment will probably look like agreeing to a predetermined meal plan, setting up safeguards, designating landmarks along the way, incorporating accountability, and developing a detailed schedule. An investment mentality makes achieving goals more manageable. And manageability, over time, toward a reasonable goal (or even a seemingly unreasonable one), ultimately contributes to the Dream.
In this example, the Dream might be an overall healthier lifestyle—one in which exercise isn’t a chore and eating right comes naturally.
An investment strategy is made up of many subgoals and other pieces, guiding and supporting you toward a goal. The combination of several of these strategies will help to bring about a greater Dream.
Goals are Algebra. Investments Are Calculus.
Setting goals for yourself is a good practice. It gives you something to aspire to, to work toward, to wake up every day and chase after. But looking at the bigger picture—think a lifetime of transformation compared to a year of resolutions—it is more helpful to think in terms of investments than goals.
Goals are important. They can be long-term (“Write a popular fantasy series,” “Build a company,” “Own a restaurant”) or short term (“Publish an ebook,” “Develop a product and business plan,” “Master 20 new recipes”).
Really, goals and investments are part of the same pie. They’re more like two different ways of thinking about your dreams. Different depths.
Goals are static points. They are algebraic expressions. Time + Energy + Money = Goal Achievement.
Investments are continuous change. They are calculus. What happens to Long Term Goal I as Short Term Goal I and Short Term Goal II move and change?
For those not mathematically inclined, achieving your goals is measured by landmarks on your roadmap. You pass many near, small landmarks before you reach your final, grand landmark—and maybe each landmark along the way affects how fast you go and the route you take to reach your destination. Your investments are measured by the changing pace and evolving direction of your journey to your destination.
Goals are fixed.
Investments react to the environment and appreciate over time.
Perhaps another way of thinking about it is this: your investments are the collection of many smaller goals and how together they help you achieve your big endgoals and, ultimately, your Dream.
Move Toward Investment Thinking
While it is essential to have goals, just as it is essential to formulate concrete steps and landmarks to get from here to there, thinking in terms of investments is a more comprehensive way to consider how your smaller, short-term subgoals work together to propel you toward your long-term goals.
Thinking of goals first leads us to ask the question: What do I want to do?
Thinking of investments first leads us to work backward, to ask: What is my Dream? Where do I want to end up? Where does God want me to end up? How will we get there?
It’s a deeper, fuller ways of thinking about “success” and making the Dream real. When we ask the investment question first, we will be led directly toward the goals we should set. When we ask the goals question first, we may never have the foresight and wide vision to see how it all works together.
As I noted last week, my writing goals this year are 1) maintain my blog to the tune of at least two posts per week and 2) publish an ebook.
But I didn’t start with those goals. I started with an investment strategy toward a Dream.
Working Backward from the Dream
The Dream is to be a prolific writer (it’s more specific than that, but that’s the gist of it). The investment strategy is the plan of action to get me from where I am now (a hobby blogger) to where I want to be.
With that strategy in mind, I have short-term tasks in the form of yearly (and monthly) goals. In this case, they look like the two resolutions above.
If my hypothesis is correct, and I believe it is (though there are plenty of factors that could throw it off), then blogging at least twice each week and publishing an ebook will work together to be greater than the sum of their parts. Not only will I have 104 blogs and a book online; I’ll also have a year of consistent practice, a stronger writing habit, a portfolio of writing to draw from, and potentially a heftier platform and readership. Pair that investment scheme with other plans related to things like marketing and growing intellectually and spiritually, and we’re well on our way to the Dream’s perfect storm.
In 2016, my writing goals were simple: 1) write more and 2) make money from my writing. They were good goals, but they weren’t based in any kind of investment strategy.
If I had the Dream of being a millionaire in 10 years, it wouldn’t work very well to set vague goals about making and saving more money. I would need an investment plan with a reasonably reliable rate of return. I would need concrete action steps—how much money to save each paycheck, how much and in what markets to invest, a budget to tell me how to spend and when.
The same is true—though perhaps a little less scientific—for all of our Dreams.
If your Dream is to live an emotionally healthy life, the goals of curbing your anger and seeing a counselor will of course be helpful, but an investment strategy might commit you to a regular therapeutic routine, a proven and reasonable meditative discipline, and a steady flow of books and accountability that would keep you not only on track, but on pace (or even accelerating) toward your Dream.
The Dream is beyond any one goal. It is the culmination of goals. The Dream is not entirely in our control. Goals are achievable and measurable.
Working backward from the Dream, we need an investment strategy that will help us determine what are goals should be.
To get to the Dream, think investments first. Goals will come second.