I have a few friends that I hang out with that are always the first ones to have a new, cutting-edge, and inspirational concept. They might talk about a neat idea for a website, a Youtube video series, or a fun and interesting job – problem is that’s as far as it goes. They never follow through. I like to think of them as “idea guys”, people that come up with with awesome and new ideas but never carry through with them. They simply lack the motivation.
I’ve thought a lot about where people go wrong when they have interesting ideas that they give up on. I’ve been guilty of this too – last year a friend and I came up with a really neat idea for a video game. We talked extensively about the plot, the gameplay, and designed some concept artwork. Yet as pumped for it as we were, our passion for the idea slowly faded. I still have a notebook full of what we were aiming for. It really was (by my assessment) an awesome idea.
I believe a lot of reasons for people lacking motivation for their ideas or dreams is that initially, they think too broadly at the beginning. If you want to start your own business, the amount of steps you have to make might seem incredibly large. Licensing, money, experience, and the various other legal and monetary steps can hit you as overwhelming. This is probably the point where most people decide that the stress and work of getting to that point is too much. We live in a society that emphasizes quick payoffs (instant gratification) over long-term planning. It’s no surprise when browsing the internet to hear about another victim of a get-rich-quick scheme. We all, given the choice, would love to get rich with minimal effort. Life shows time and time again that things simply do not work that way. Effort and planning, with a little bit of risk thrown in the mix, are the pathways to success.
Exerting Effort and Properly Planning
A big roadblock in goal-setting is a lack of skill involved to achieve the goal. Thinking about the video game idea again, while we both had some basic programming knowledge, we lacked key skills to complete the project and it essentially killed any hope of us continuing. Looking back, I have no idea why. We could have set an initial goal of increasing our programming skillsets until we felt comfortable to begin directly working on the game. No knowledge is ever useless – even if the project had failed, we would have gained skills that we could have used for a different idea or even possibly for a career. This is what I mean by effort: the willingness to learn and broaden your horizons to achieve your goal. Most ideas start with the ending. The problem is what’s required to get there.
Likewise, planning it all out is equally as important. Instead of treating a goal like a jigsaw puzzle where you attempt to randomly put it together through guess work, start listing out the different tools, skills, and materials you will need. Sit down and have a brainstorming session. Make sure you write it all out and have it handy. Identify the biggest obstacles first. Decide if you can realistically overcome them. If you believe that you can, break that obstacle down further and identify the knowledge or skills required and what you would need to achieve them. Whenever I have a project at work to complete, the first step I handle is the hardest one. I treat task management like an inverted pyramid – the most important and difficult tasks are handle first and I work my way to the easier ones.
Finally, be realistic. In other words, figure out what not to plan. You can’t be the King of Russia because I’m going to go ahead and assume you aren’t a native Russian. Oh, and they haven’t been a monarchy for eighty years. Keep it all in check. More realistically (pun intended) we all have very far out dreams of being millionaires living the easy life. That may be on the cards eventually, but it takes intermediate success often over years before that can happen. There was a time when Wendy’s and Arby’s were just small restaurants making enough money for the owners to feed their families. Nothing happens instantly. So yes, hang on to your awesome hopes and dreams of making it big, but keep your immediate expectations in check. If you set your immediate expectations too high, you can get burned out very quickly. It’s okay if it takes a year to get the ball rolling.
One other thought I want to be careful to add: no goal is too small. Perhaps right now you just want a career. Maybe you want to learn how to tap dance or play classical piano. Whatever the goal is, if you’re serious about it, figure out how you are going to do it. Learn the skills necessary. Get the education necessary. If flipping burgers earns you enough money to make it through college, then there’s no shame in flipping burgers. Goal-oriented behaviors are about progressing – in whatever way you can.
Uncertainty and Flexibility
One final note: life is unpredictable. Be flexible. Plan for yourself, but anticipate the chance that those plans will be altered. Maybe those business classes you are taking to start a restaurant will reveal a passion for math you didn’t know you had and before you know it you’ll be the next mathematics professor at UCLA. Perhaps our idea for a video game might have gotten turned into a novel had we continued with the idea. You can only prepare for yourself, not the world around you, and adjusting your goals is in no way a failure. Just continue to make sure that you are working towards something. Nobody wants to be the guy who is thirty-five and still living in his mom’s basement.