“In two years, my business is going to expand nationwide,” I said to Rob, my good friend.
“Yeah, and how are you planning to do that?” Rob replied.
“Get good customers base, expand the product lines, hire salespersons.”
“You think it’s so easy? Your plan does not even sound convincing!”
“Well, it’s important to have a dream.”
“Yeah, keep dreaming.”
That conversation took place about seven years ago when Rob was still working for me in my wholesaling business in Australia. I did not end up growing nationwide. It was just a dream.
In all honesty, that dream was mainly comprised of unachievable ambitions and insurmountable obstacles. I did not realise it then, but there were hidden motives behind my dream, behind my impossible goal.
I call them the Four Fears of Reality.
You see, it feels good to live in ‘potential’. It is a place to bask in the glory of our dream without having to worry about the rough roads to get there. We want to feel like we have already achieved that status, that wealth, that fame, that ‘potential’.
We love dreaming.
A dream is seductive and often addictive. But when reality hits, we realise it is just that, a dream. And we see how different it is from reality.
Are you ready to read more about it?
Fear of Responsibility
My seven years old daughter sometimes asked if she could fix things around the house. The latest one being our garden reticulation system. Of course, we said no. It was impossible for her to fix it.
The situation was different when I went to fix it myself. There was a real responsibility because I could do it. It was not easy, but it was possible.
When our goal is within reach, we have no excuse. It becomes a real goal. It becomes our responsibility.
We own it.
On the other hand, if we cannot even get close to our goal, how can we be held responsible?
Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a reflection of my unconscious effort to avoid the heavy burden of responsibility?
Fear of Losing Face (this one is rather personal)
In Chinese culture, there is a saying: “Men can’t live without face, trees can’t live without bark.” This is a concept of face (mianzi). It can perhaps be most closely defined as “dignity” or “prestige”.
It is the utmost importance not to lose face because it is the same as losing dignity or prestige. And being a Chinese descendant, my parents had successfully embedded this mindset in my heart and soul.
What does it have to do with the impossible goal, you might ask.
In essence, when I fail to achieve an impossible goal, I don’t lose face. It is the perfect excuse. However, a real goal carries with it the power to make me lose face.
I cannot fail a real goal without losing my dignity.
And it scares me.
Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a well-planned excuse to save face?
Fear of Real Work
When I set out to expand nationwide seven years ago, I also attempted to create an action plan. I studied my national competitors, learnt about products that would sell nationally, and tried to connect with the big players. All of those seemed like good ideas. I enjoyed every minute of it.
I learned then that those activities did not help me towards my goal. But they felt good. I felt like a big player myself. The goal itself was not real. And so all of my action steps were nothing but drops in the ocean.
I kept doing them though. I could not stop. I was addicted to my impossible goal and the feel-good activities I created along the way.
We tend to do things that do not contribute much to achieve our impossible goal. But we do them anyway because they feel good.
Remember, dreams are seductive and addictive. We want more of them, never enough, always more, and more.
All of these addictive dreams will disappear once the goal becomes a reality.
Real goals push away our addictive dreams, leaving us with boring daily grinds. Real goals produce real work, hard and stressful work. It is most definitely not addictive.
Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was for me to taste this pleasure of dreaming over and over again?
Fear of Real Change
Have you ever thought that an impossible goal often does not push you forward? In most cases, it does the opposite. It restrains you from moving forward.
I did not get anywhere while trying to expand nationwide. I did a lot of research, thinking, reading, and so on. But I stayed where I was.
I was too busy creating feel-good activities that led me nowhere.
Truthfully, I was scared of change. And my impossible goal helped me to stay put without feeling guilty. I convinced myself that I was moving forward. I was progressing in my mind. But in reality, I was not.
I was trapped in my own dream. Or rather, I trapped myself in my dream.
An impossible goal will move us around in our mind. Real goals bring with them concrete actions that yield results. Real goals will force us to move forward, in reality.
Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was me hiding behind my fear of change?
“Fred, you are still here,” Rob suddenly appeared at the door.
“Yes, I am still here,” I replied.
“I thought you would be conquering the country by now.”
“Haha. Well, that was two years ago. I am now into other things.”
“Selling more safety gears to the workshop next door.”
“That sounds more promising, want me to come with you?”
If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. (Dale Carnegie)
As previously published in The Ascent: Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)