“It is a most mortifying reflection for a man to consider what he has done, compared to what he might have done.” - Samuel Johnson
Ever get so excited by an idea only to have it shot down by a well-meaning friend or family member?
“Oh, come on, be realistic,” the dream-crusher says.
We hang our heads a little lower and skulk off thinking, “Ugh, yeah. That will never work. What was I thinking?”
It’s pretty disheartening.
And, yet, we do the same things to ourselves All.The.Time.
Here’s what I want to tell you and your well-meaning, fearful friend - screw realistic.
Yes, you heard me right.
Do you think the change-makers, the innovators, and the creative geniuses we look up to got where they are because they were realistic?
We didn’t put a man on the moon because we were realistic. We don’t talk to people on the other side of the world through a little box because someone was realistic.
At some point, most of the things we now take for granted were unrealistic ideas and dreams for someone else.
Being realistic when it comes to our dreams, goals, and life is a sure-fire way to stay stuck on the treadmill of life.
I’m not talking about being brash and crazy with self-sabotaging behavior here. (I’m all for bold and confident, though.) I am saying, playing it “safe” and “small” actually isn’t so realistic, and will, in the long run, keep us treading water. Here’s the crazy thing: those “unrealistic” goals of yours might actually be more “realistic" to achieve than you think.
Tim Ferriss talks about this in The 4-Hour Work Week, where he explains: “It’s lonely at the top. 99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming."
Go figure. Score one for unrealistic.
There are a few other problems with realistic.
Realistic is boring and uninspiring.
No one comes to me all fired up about their really practical and realistic dream or goal they want to achieve. And, having the fire of "unrealistic" passion behind us, makes it more likely we'll keep going when the going gets tough.
Often, the hardest part of any goal, dream, or project is getting started. Taking that elusive first step. It’s the starting that stops most of us before we begin. Unrealistic goals inspire us to start the journey.
Unrealistic goals get us excited and pumped up. Unrealistic goals get us to open up and imagine. They stretch our mind and our capacity to see what else is possible. They push the limit and get the creative juices flowing.
“Realistic goals promote incremental moves; only unrealistic goals provoke breakthrough thinking," Says Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and a Marvin Bower Fellow at Harvard Business School, in The Harvard Business Review. He goes on to explain: "Performance is a function of expectations, since we rarely exceed our expectations or outperform our ambition. As humans, we are drawn to a bold, challenging, and unrealistic goal. Deep inside, we feel uplifted by the thought of climbing a mountain in a way we are not by the idea of scaling a molehill."
Life is full of unexpected surprises, ups and downs, and storms that threaten to knock us down. Why not set ourselves up for success and happiness to weather these storms by arming ourselves with dreams and goals that inspire and motivate us to keep climbing.
But, wait. Aren't our goals supposed to be S.M.A.R.T. (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)? Well, yes and no.
My preferred method? Chuck the S.M.A.R.T. goals. Be unrealistic in your dreams, your reach, and about what's possible. Be unrealistic about who you can be, how far you can go, what you can do, and who you can work with. You need big, overriding, unrealistic dreams and goals with lots of smaller realistic, attainable, and timely goals along the way to get you there and keep you in the game.
Worrying about what might happen if you allow yourself to have an unrealistic goal? I dare you to fail at your “unrealistic” goal. I dare you to come up with something so big and scary it’s “unrealistic”...and then to fail trying.
At the end of the day, there's no shame in trying and failing. But by trying for the unrealistic, even if you do fail, you'll be going further than you ever would with good old reliable realistic by your side.
I want you to stretch.
Because, here’s the thing, someone is going to do that thing you dream of, why not let the unrealistic person be you.
And then, guard your unrealistic dream fiercely, and don’t let the dream-crushers and naysayers get you down.
P.S. Feeling stuck? I'm hosting a free class online, and I'd love for you to join me!! Click here to learn more and register!