“Someday I’m going to climb Everest.” In the early 1940s, professional beekeeper Edmund Hillary shared his seemingly insurmountable goal with the world. At this point, no climber had successfully reached the Everest peak. The mountain’s difficulty level echoed loudly through 30 frozen bodies lying on its route. Louder still was the public criticism for Hillary’s impossible goal.
Yet, even in the heaviness of public shaming, he succeeded. On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay solidified their place in history as the first people to summit Mount Everest.
Hillary learned to stop playing small, but it was no easy feat. Likewise, overcoming your own Everest will take intentional planning and awareness.
Many leaders never admit their biggest goal because of invisible barriers. What if we told you that you can dissolve those barriers and unleash your greatest dream today? To run free toward your goal, we need to define the villainous elephant in the room: goal shame.
Goal shame is embarrassment about the things you want to achieve. Sometimes it results from internal thoughts like, “Who am I to do this?” or “Who am I to attempt something so big?” Self-doubt, fear, and insecurity fuel this internal shame. Imaginary naysayers add to the embarrassment. Your faith may contribute to your goal hushing. The Christian pressure to “be humble” might remind you not to want too much.
We all face goal shame. Instead of succumbing to it, try eliminating three bad habits and adding three empowering actions to your daily life.
Bad Habit 1: Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic
Aspirations are fragile. Your inner critic is capable of wreaking more havoc than a whack-a-mole. Self-criticism and self-judgment keep many leaders from greatness.
Another way to describe the inner critic is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome says, “I don’t deserve this. It’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.”
When we focus on the gap between our current state and the goal, we let imposter syndrome win, and progress stops dead in its tracks.
Empowering Action 1: Begin Measuring the Gains
Instead of measuring the distance to your goal, start focusing on how far you’ve come. Here’s the difference:
In the past, on my way to speak at an event, I’ve caught myself thinking, “They’re not going to like me. They’re not going to think I’m funny. What if they hate me?” Imposter alert! I hit myself with pre-criticism before I even stepped on the field.
With the measuring gains approach, I flip this bad habit on its head. Instead, I tell myself, “Oh my gosh. Look how far I’ve come. The very fact that I get to stand in front of an audience and speak is a privilege. This is not drudgery. It’s an opportunity.”
The difference in this inner dialogue helps me smash through major barriers. I can either run on autopilot and let the inner critic show up, or I can intentionally choose confidence and optimism. Start measuring your gains. You’ll find the same freedom.
Bad Habit 2: Stop Listening to Cynics
There are people in your community who will try to cut your goals off at the knees. This attack says more about your naysayers than it does about you. The disappointment in their own lives leads to a razing of others’ dreams. While it would be unwise to earmuff every external comment, you need to filter through the noise to divide the personal attacks from the practical critiques.
On the Everest ascent, you must stop listening to cynics. Be wary of the trolls who are uninterested in your growth, and remember, if it’s anonymous, it’s probably not worth considering.
Empowering Action 2: Enlist Coaches
As you quiet the critics, you’ll need to replace the voices with coaches. In other words, find people who are in it for you. This support system will include equippers, coaches, and encouragers that are committed to your betterment.
When you share your dreams with others, you’re giving them power. This is why it’s vital to heed caution when choosing your core team of coaches.
Coaches come in all shapes and sizes. You may select formal executive coaches, informal mentors, and close friends with a history of constructively speaking into your life. The key is in the construction. Deconstructive coaches are not invited to the progress party.
Bad Habit 3: Stop Playing Small
I wonder how many prospective Everest climbers chose to place their boots on an anthill instead of scaling the cliff face. There are two major reasons someone might play small:
- Fear of Failure. Big goals are intimidating. They require risks and the willingness to enter our discomfort zone. It’s safer to not try than to try and fail. This risk management keeps us playing small.
- Fear of Success. Buried deep inside, many believe they aren’t worthy of achieving huge goals. When this negative thought takes root, it can lead to self-sabotage. Psychologist Gay Hendricks says, “I have a limited tolerance for feeling good. When I hit my Upper Limit, I manufacture thoughts that make me feel bad . . . I do something that stops my positive forward trajectory.”
It’s unconscious sabotage with very real and painful results. You may be completely unaware of your own Upper Limit problem. This is another reason enlisting coaches is essential to your goal achievement.
Empowering Action 3: Own Your Goals
Contemplate the measure of success for a baseball player. In reframing failure, Donald Miller says, “If [a batter] fails 70% of the time, he will end up in the Hall of Fame. I think life gives you even better statistics. If you fail 90% of the time on ambitious goals . . . you’re going to end up in the human being hall of fame.”
If you believe you’re not supposed to fail, you’re doomed. When you realize failure is necessary for progress, you can own your goals. You won’t reach the peak by simply wanting it. You must own your summit. It has to be integral to who you are, who you see yourself as, and where you see yourself going.
Goal shame will strengthen your limits. Owning your goals will shatter them. As you go on with your day, keep this in the forefront of your mind: Successful and selfish are not synonyms. If you feel the effects of goal shame, you’re not alone. And you hold the power to defeat it.
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