Made famous a couple of decades ago by management and leadership gurus like Tom Peters, BHAG stands for big, hairy, audacious goals.
I was reminded of my love hate relationship with goals by Dan Pink while listening to a podcast of his speech to the 2014 graduating class of Northwestern University. His comments during his thirteen minutes talk are funny, smart and mostly counter-cultural. Pink reminded me of a story and also some things I think are axiomatic about life.
First the story.
A few years ago, my husband and I met a man who was working to get into Hollywood, as an actor. Not all that uncommon an ambition in California, but at that time, Duane was in his mid-seventies. His wife had died, he was filled with regrets for time he spent on his job ignoring his wife and family. Sad and lonely with only his little dog for company Duane focused on a dream he had had as a young man, become an actor to get to the academy award ceremony.
Duane was ridiculed, berated, rejected and humiliated by every individual he was able to reach when he explained he wanted to interview for an acting part. Without exception, letters emails and calls went unanswered; those he reached had the same reaction of ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, you’re way too old.’ To date, Duane has landed parts in five movies over the last several years and has appeared at Hollywood Comedy Club, live. Check him out here.
When you dream, dream big. Big hairy audacious goals, like Duane. Despite countless reasons to quit, he didn’t. Who knows, we may see him at an upcoming academy awards ceremony.
Make sure your goals have plenty of room for surprises and maybe accidents.
Last summer and fall I did a marathon series of book signing events following the release of my first novel. Sometimes for large crowds, more often, for small or no crowds. During the events in which there were a few or a lot of people, the most fun for me was when I stopped speaking and opened up the room to questions, questions about anything at all.
One of the questions I was asked most frequently was some variation of this one: How do you get to be a writer? Sometimes the question had to do with characters in the novel; like ‘are they based on you and your life?’ At other times, the questioner wanted to understand the technical aspects of writing or ‘where do you find the courage to write about things that are obviously private and personal?’
But the fundamental question was actually, ‘How did you get here?’
My reply invariably began with a disclaimer. Exactly what I used to reply to very young star- struck-hospital- administrator- wannabe’s when they asked how I got to be a Hospital Director. Something like this: ‘It’s a long story but the brief answer is…’ The ellipsis never included that Hospital Director had always been my goal because it had not- it just happened while I was trying to fix the world.
During those events last year, it was the same thing. Exactly. ‘I’m here and delighted to be here but it isn’t something I planned, it’s something that happened.’
As a kid I never knew what I wanted to do-only that I wanted to do make a difference, a big difference in my life. My biggest fear, I would explain to my listener who was by now,sorry that he had asked the question, was that I would stand before the God I did not think I believed in only to realize that I had wasted my life, wasted what I had been given.
Don’t be surprised if you end up being someone you once disliked, with intensity.
The career in academic health care was an accident-I ended up there because the very few years I worked as a critical care nurse taught me that the system was broken and I wanted to fix it. Most of my colleagues were living out their goals- their career had planned from the very start. And so when I replied the way I did to those young master’s degree students, their jaws would drop, literally. ‘What?! You did not plan this, work for this from your first days in college?”
“No, I didn’t-as a matter of fact, I didn’t like managers, I thought most of my bosses were…well, suffice to say that I did not hold a great deal of respect for most people in management.”
Remember big, hairy, audacious goals?