Finding your Story with Goals

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I am a consultant for a financial software company. I teach our clients how to configure and use the system they’ve bought from us. I’ve done this for just about four years. By now, I know what I’m doing and could – if I was so inclined – walk into a session having done only a cursory review of the session agenda we provided them. But I don’t.

Before every session, I always review the agenda. I don’t do this to review functionality or to satisfy a need to feel over-prepared. I do this review to create a mental roadmap for the session, an outline of how each point relates to the next. Every client is different and will use this system in different and unique ways. As a result, my session will be most effective if it is tailored to their specific needs. I call this process “finding the story.”

The story is the narrative I’ll use to anchor our discussion for the entire day. It is a framework for what we’ll accomplish. It is also almost always rewritten on-the-fly.

Things change. Once we start talking about a particular topic, I often find that something I thought wasn’t going to be important really is, or something I thought would be critical isn’t a concern at all. Within the first hour or so of every session I will have certainly gone off-script. In fact, it’s the days where I stay on-script for a while that make me uncomfortable…

So why do I bother finding the story in the first place, knowing that it will be rewritten almost immediately? Because it provides a starting point and the biggest hurdle is often getting going in the first place. Because it provides a coherent structure and making a change to a coherent structure is easier than making up a new one from scratch, especially when under pressure. Because the story isn’t a set of rigid constraints, but rather a dynamic narrative that can be adapted to meet changing needs.

Recently, I’ve started thinking of goals in the same way. For too long, I thought of GOALS (yes, usually in capital letters) as specific, usually substantial, milestones on a journey from here to there. They were things you either achieved or missed. The only way they could be changed was if you abandoned them – and your target destination – completely.

Now, though, I’m seeing things differently. I no longer see goals as a rigid set of accomplishments or milestones. Instead, I see them as points in the dynamic narrative of my life. They are the way I define my story. As I go, this story will change, and so the underlying goals will change with it. But along the way, they’ll provide that dynamic framework for getting starting, making changes, and seeing how far along I’ve come. And that’s a story I can get behind.

See you at the finish line!

-The Jack of Spades

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