Goals are only guesses

Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner™ and creator of the Sketch Guy column, appearing weekly in The New York Times since 2010.  The following article is reproduced with permission from his weekly newsletter and his website can be found here.

Greetings, Carl here.

Can you do me a favor?
Please list for me your financial goals.
Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Okay, stop.

Did you feel that?

Even I can feel it.

And what I feel when somebody tells me to list my financial goals is weight on my shoulders. I can feel tension in my neck. I can feel this emotion bubbling up in me, saying: “I don’t know!”
Well, guess what, if you felt that too, you are not alone.

I have asked hundreds, if not thousands, of people about their “goals,” and almost universally, the question seems to generate emotional weight. For many, it’s literally roll-your-eyes dread. “Not this again… ” they say.

And yet, the research is pretty clear that having goals is helpful.
So how do we deal with this?

I’ve got a couple of ideas I think might help.

1- Goals are guesses.
As the self-declared King of Permission Granting, I’m granting you permission to relax when it comes to goals. Just guess! No one knows exactly what you’re going to be doing 17.5 years from now—so there is no sense in laboring over a false sense of precision. Just guess.

2- Goals are flexible.
It’s possible to be completely committed to a goal and, at the same time, open to changing it. Don’t change your goal just because it turns out to be harder than you thought to reach it. But you can change it if it no longer represents what you think you want to do. Remember, it was a guess.

3- Goals are yours.
Not your neighbor’s or Instagram’s. Yours. And since they are yours… you don’t have to worry about them being wrong! The only goals that are right for you are your goals.

4- Think big goals and micro-actions. Having a big, scary goal gets you out of bed. Repeatedly taking the next smallest step keeps you moving.
Please, keep this in mind because I guarantee I won’t be the last person to ask you to list your financial goals.


P.S. As always, if you want to use this sketch, you can buy it here.