Contributed by: Lewis J. Walker, CFP®
‘Tis the season for setting goals. New Year’s resolutions. To-do lists. For some, such urgings, whether from a spouse, parent, boss, or adviser, are a groaner!
As a kid, my mom, teachers, and mentors would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a teenager, you are just trying to figure out the “growing up process.” At 17, on the verge of “adulthood” under most state laws, how in the world do you really know, beyond hazy maybes, what you want to be, do, or accomplish by the time you reach the ripe old age of 30?
All I knew was that I was determined to be the first one in my family to go to college. Choice of college or major? I had no idea and did not decide until the last minute. When it came time to depart for school, I boarded a Greyhound bus and off I went.
In high school, as a cadet officer in the Civil Air Patrol, I fell in love with aviation, but growing nearsightedness precluded military flying. Often goal formation is governed by things beyond our control. When I finished college, the military draft loomed. Opting for the U.S. Air Force, I achieved a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and a designation as a Transportation Officer. There’s a lesson. I knew I liked certain things, flying to interesting places, travel and adventure, and I followed my “likes.” One may not have a detailed and specific goal, but a sense of direction, likes versus dislikes. How often have you settled on one goal largely to avoid something else?
As a young officer I ended up in Vietnam, a transportation officer at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, as the war was heating up. I saw what happens when men and women are put in harm’s way with no real strategy to win. However, I learned lessons in leadership with an appreciation for life, while starting to realize that I had a low tolerance for bureaucracy. While the Air Force dangled a promotion to Captain, I knew a military career was not for me. (I still appreciate those that pursued a career in military service. God bless them!)
Goal formation often comes from experience as you figure out what you are best suited to do, even as the next step seems hazy. Post-Air Force I joined a large airline, got married, used the G.I. Bill to earn a M.B.A. from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, became a dad, moved to Atlanta with a regional airline, and we had another baby. Life’s next turn came when the new job in Atlanta proved to be frustratingly bureaucratic and I left in less than a year.
My next goal was simple: Stay in Atlanta! Goal setting may be influenced by “place.” I saw a growth boom in Atlanta, and an opportunity in real estate investments led to my career in financial planning, as a self-employed business owner, remembering that I do not like bureaucracy.
Part of goal setting is to learn by experience what you do well, and what you do not do well, avoiding tedious, boring, and energy-draining activities. Your aspirations for the future are a function of your past and present. The key to success is simple: learn what you do well, and do more of it.
My good friend, Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality: Planning Your Life and Living Your Dreams...at Any Age You Want (4th edition; Wiley, 2014), does not like the word “goals,” which I agree, can sound clinical and too specific for one still pondering. Mitch prefers “possibilities.” I have used the term “challenges.” Considering your past and where you are now, looking out over the next year, five or ten years, or even beyond, what possibilities do you see? What challenges, positive and negative, do you envision? Given each possibility or challenge, what alternatives are available to meet each situation? Let’s discuss the resources (financial and human capital) available to power the best potential alternative. Lastly, what are the desired outcomes? What do you expect, want to experience?
Goal discernment and goal setting is a function of good questions, queries made within yourself and those posed by trusted advisers and mentors. Talk to wise people who ask good questions, those who lead you through a discovery process. You have learned through life lessons something about your talents, skills, and knowledge. Gallup defines a strength as raw talent + skill + knowledge. Goals should be a quest to maximize application of your strengths. When you failed to actualize a goal, most likely you were working from weakness, following someone else’s agenda.
Possibilities? Challenges? Aspirations? What do you see for 2017 and beyond? Exciting way to think about it, don’t you think? Happy New Year!
Lewis Walker is a financial planning and investment strategist at Capital Insight Group; 770-441-2603. Securities and advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of SFA which is otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group. Past performance is not a guarantee of future financial results.