How to Set Unplannable Goals

When pursuing a one-off goal, traditional goal-setting may be impossible. Rigor, however, isn’t. Surprisingly, actors and performers hold the answer to progress without plans.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #252

Trade Goals for Aspirations

Actors have aspirations, but not goals. In their industry, success can’t be planned. My friend Steph’s aspiration is to be the most amazing singer, dancer, and actor Broadway has ever seen. His plan looks like this:

Step 1. Learn to sing, dance, act.?

Step 2. Audition.

Step 3. Get a part as the lead in a Broadway musical.?

Step 4. Become the most awesome performer, ever.

Inspiring on paper. Transferable to real life? Not likely. Thank goodness, business careers are more stable. Goal-setting is possible, right? Wrong! A recent Harvard MBA’s plan was:

Step 1. Accept job offer at SuperBig Bank.

Step 2. Make $200,000 starting salary.?

Step 3. Become richer than Midas.

The plan seems more reasonable. But, of course, it isn’t. Three weeks into the job, SuperBig Bank got bought by SuperBigBailedOut Bank and he got laid off. Wah ha! Joke’s on him!

At least Steph knows deep down that acting success doesn’t come that predictably.

When you have unplannable aspirations, don’t waste time making up arbitrary yearly, monthly, or weekly goals. You’re trying to create a roadmap where none exists. Steph has no roadmap to fame and fortune, but he aspires to work as an actor. That aspiration becomes a compass. In any given moment, he can use it as a touchstone to know if he’s getting closer or further from his dream.

Obsess on where you want to go. You don’t know what path you’ll take, but use your aspiration as a compass to know direction to go from where you happen to be today.

Series of Experiments

You need movement to go in a direction. In an unplannable world, you move by experimenting. Decide what you think will get you closer to your aspiration. Then do that, but treat it as an experiment. Set a time limit, then find out if it brought you closer or further from your goal. Over time, you’ll learn what works for you.

For example, to grow your small business, you could pursue partnerships, try direct sales, or use distributors. Try each as an experiment. Learn where the opportunity lies and shape your company accordingly. A chain of doctors’ offices could become a provider of Internet software services. In an experimental world, you never know.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.