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“If it is difficult to accomplish something by yourself, do not think that it is impossible for man: but if anything is possible for man and conformable to his nature, think that this can be attained by you, too.”
–Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Since it’s about to be the year of the Red Fire Monkey, it’s time once again for my annual review, and deciding where the lion’s share of my energy will go in the next twelve months. I’ll spare you the tedium of rehashing 2015 by describing it with a single word: super fucking challenging.
While it was nice to do a bit of traveling and launch Digital Communion last year, little else seemed to work out the way I’d hoped or planned. But I know that it was challenging for you, too, so congratulations for making it through! And guess what? There’ll be obstacles this year as well. And when they arise?
I want you to bare your teeth and make your neck veins stand out and you RAGE AGAINST THE INDIFFERENCE OF THE UNIVERSE, GODDAMNIT!
That’s what I do, anyway. Now…
In the past, I’ve put a tremendous amount of work into compiling my list of goals based on the awesome template Chris Guillebeau–the guy who traveled to every country by the time he turned 35–created here. The problem is, I usually end up with an overwhelming number of goals in multiple categories to which I can never seem to dedicate enough time or energy.
So this year I’m changing things up. This year, I’ll only start with three goals in categories of my own that we’ll get into in a minute.
Enter The Thiel Test
Peter Thiel, author of the fantastic book, Zero To One, continually asks the powerful question: “What is preventing you from accomplishing your ten-year goal in six months?” Well, that’s a great question, Peter. An even better one is this: What if you don’t have any ten-year goals? What if you don’t have any five-year, or even one-year goals?
Then it’s time to steal a minute and write them down, because without them you are short-changing yourself. You are limiting your capacity to fulfill, to progress, and to achieve. In other words, you can’t be the best version of you without goals.
Let’s talk about why.
The Power Of Goals To Motivate
There are smart guys like James Altucher who emphasize themes over goals as a way to mitigate disappointment. He writes: “A goal is an expectation. A theme is a way to live.” And I get that, because I hate disappointment as much as the next fearful human.
But goals aren’t expectations. Goals are challenges. Benchmarks. Badges. I’d argue that just by pursuing concrete goals you improve and celebrate your own uniqueness. You develop your own version of supreme focus, and gather your own resources to make something new happen. And you carve out a tangible accomplishment from the oppressive 21st century stasis that would have you sit and watch cat videos until it was time to eat again…
How do you pursue a concrete theme in the same passionate, relentless, and tactical way? I mean, I want to jump out of bed ready to hump the day’s leg because of boundless energy and focus. Themes don’t seem specific enough to incite that kind of concentrated exuberance.
Look, if I didn’t have any plans beyond making my money for the day and figuring out what I’m going to have for dinner, life wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, living in Venice Beach is so good that thousands of homeless people make it their permanent-ish address year-round. And dedicating a couple of days every month to keeping things simple a la Seneca is a great idea.
However, I’m going to assume you want more for your life than just “wouldn’t be so bad.” You want a thrilling, broad human experience that allows you to drink up all the world has to offer, right? I know I do.
And if that’s the case, you need goals, my friend. We all do.
I don’t care if you want to call them themes or goals or “Tony Harrisons.” Perhaps they’ll be your reason to make a fist, educate millions, or conquer yourself. What’s important is that you have them.
Because the value of a specific goal, in the simplest terms, is that it is a stimulus to change and to grow.
How Realistic Are Your Goals, And Does It Matter?
“Realistic” is determined by a number of factors, but if you really want to position yourself for any degree of success (or multiple degrees), you should have varying levels of goals. This is the most reasonable way to plan for and to go about achieving them. Let’s call these the Sureshot, the Longshot, and the Moonshot.
The Sureshot – You can do this yourself, easily. Think of the taunts you might say to someone you’re trash-talking prior to an intense game of one-on-one. This goal can be achieved with your eyes closed, one arm tied behind your back, etc. You get the idea.
Now it’s not going to feel like an orgasm or anything but it’s a start, and you’ll build momentum by having accomplished what you set out to do.
The Longshot – You will need some help. Maybe you are assembling a small team, trying to be first-to-market, or competing in your first triathlon, powerlifting meet, or martial arts tournament. Tough, but achievable.
It will take a lot of hard work, a lot of great timing, and a lot of luck, but you can make it happen and it will feel great. (Incidentally, a lot of Sureshot goals are actually Longshot goals, particularly if you happen to be overconfident or stubborn.)
The Moonshot – You will need all the help you can get. 10x or greater improvement is achieved in this type of goal. Google calls this “Moonshot Thinking,” and I first read about it in Peter Diamandis’ excellent book, Bold. Extremely difficult to achieve.
If you can pull it off, you will only be limited by your imagination, because accomplishing a Moonshot goal will train you to believe that you can achieve the impossible. I think it’s healthy for everyone to cultivate a Moonshot goal. And you know social media would be far more interesting if we posted these ideas rather than the ten billionth bullshit, duck-faced selfie.
Put Your Goals In Their Place
So now you know all about goals and why they can make you better. We’ve divided them into three levels of clear and reasonable categories. Now what? It’s time to do an exercise where real goals are plugged in and given the Thiel Test. What follows are my three 2016 goals with analyses based on the descriptions above.
I’m putting these very personal goals out there for a few reasons:
1) To give you a snapshot of how I’m actually going about choosing goals this year.
2) To show you that goals can range from superficial to socially disruptive and still be valuable and appropriate.
3) To plant some seeds of accountability for myself as I progress through the year and go about tackling my goals.
And won’t it be fun to revisit this blog post in December 2016 to see how well I fared?
Actually, this could backfire completely: I might not achieve any of my goals! Fortunately, another of my lesser goals–one that didn’t make this list–is to stop worrying that everything will work out fine. Because it won’t.
And that’s fine.
My 2016 Goals
1. Put on 10 lbs. of lean muscle.
This is my Sureshot. Just about anyone can put on 10 lbs. of lean muscle, so hopefully the dude who’s been studying the game for almost twenty years can, too. Will it be the best use of my body’s energy? Most likely, no. But it will look and feel awesome, and the ripple effect of that adjective on my psyche will be immeasurable!
I remember being about 15 and reading this in Randall J. Strossen’s brutal Super Squats:
“Men who have been unable to register significant gains with other routines were suddenly gaining twenty pounds of muscle in a month or two. If you have trouble visualizing these results in bodybuilding terms, look at twenty pounds of lean beef in the butcher shop and picture that much mass added to your chest, shoulders, arms, back and legs.”
Powerful stuff for a kid trying to get big. Powerful stuff for a 37 year-old kid trying to achieve a certain look. As I always tell Nic: “The only drama I want in my life is when I take off my shirt.”
Thiel Test: This could be completed in less than six months, but I actually want it to take longer. I don’t want to have to make eating my life (since I haven’t taken the plunge into PEDs or HRT yet), and I would rather add the tissue slowly so as to only slightly disrupt my body’s set point. I also can’t afford to get fat what with the modeling and acting and what have you.
I mean, I could get really specific and demand that all ten pounds go to my hollow upper chest or milquetoast calves… But that would turn this goal into a Moonshot, and I already have my hands full with one of those, as you will see.
2. Sell my first screenplay for 5% of the production cost.
This is actually super ambitious for a Longshot goal. I’ve made it even more difficult for myself by including an actual percentage that I would like to receive for the screenplay, which, for a first-time writer, is pretty naive–though not impossible. This might actually push it into Moonshot territory, but here we are, so let’s keep going.
Additionally, this seems to suggest that I would only be satisfied with an actual sale, which isn’t the case. I’d be happy to option this screenplay off to a production company, assuming there were some sort of guarantee that they were actually going to make the film (also pretty naive).
To further stack the odds against me, this was my first screenplay, one I wrote after buying the Screenwriter’s Bible and plotting out my script according to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It was good enough to make the top ten percent of Gordy Hoffman’s Bluecat Screenplay Competition (“Jack 7 Is Offline”), but I’m certain the number of first-scripts sold isn’t high.
Thiel Test: It’s a tall order. First it has to be good enough to sell, which is incredibly subjective. I would have a lot more leverage in shopping it around if it actually placed in a screenwriting competition, which it hasn’t so far. Of course, being green and overconfident, I only submitted it to the top five contests in the world in 2015, which are notoriously competitive.
The way forward seems to be to continue to edit the script, get as much feedback from industry professionals as possible, re-submit it to festivals and query agents, and see what happens. I will also probably need to make some new professional relationships, as they can be just as important (if not more so) than the content itself.
3. Start a plant-based food company that will change the world.
Moonshot, without a doubt. You can tell because the sentence ends with “change the world.” In fact, just looking at that goal on the page makes me think, “So you’ve been in L.A. for a few years?”
Here is the founding principle behind the company: If I can change the way people eat, I can help to improve the world. My vision involves fresh daily produce and vertical farms that can be 3D-printed and scaled to urban centers all over the world in order to help heal billions of people. This is as Moonshot as it gets. For me, at least.
People are sick. They’re broken. And I want to help heal them and put them back together with a new definition of health and ways to achieve it. This will be fraught with its own challenges along the way–mostly the human kind.
Thiel Test: At the moment I’m working on an extensive writing and video project that I hope to complete by the end of February. This will then have my full attention, because it will be impossible to realize without it: I need to build a team, expand my social circle, virally spread the word, and learn about a billion more things in the process. This will be a massive undertaking, and certainly far beyond the realm of anything I’ve ever done.
In order to get the project off the ground, I will be doing a pared-down version of the business in order to establish a profitable proof-of-concept. Shortly after, you will certainly be seeing a Kickstarter or some other crowdfunding campaign that I will promote everywhere–probably toward the end of summer.
What To Do Next
As I stated earlier, goals are stimuli for change and growth. But don’t get overly attached to them. Your goals may change as you complete them, become enamored with others, or fail, utterly, in your attempts. All outcomes are possible, and you can learn to be okay with that.
I like to think that every year I add another piece of twisted armor that keeps me from getting too wounded if I don’t achieve exactly what I set out to do. Success and failure have been equally great blacksmiths in that regard.
Now I want you to do something bold. I’d love to get a decent conversation going about your goals. So I’m going to challenge you to be as vulnerable and brash as possible… and share them.
1. Sit down and list your three goals: a Sureshot, a Longshot, and a Moonshot.
2. Share them with the community in the comments field below.
3. Check in often and let us know how your progress is going.
The Japanese have a beautiful word, “ikigai,” that means “a reason for being.” While your goals don’t define you, what you think about and what you spend your energy doing certainly do. If you struggle with your own ikigai–as I have–give this little exercise a shot. You will be able to create some momentum by deciding on a Sureshot, and probably surprise yourself in developing a Moonshot.
Your goals matter because you matter.