Define your Primary Aim, Life Aspirations, and Authentic Goals to Focus your Business
Does a lack of clear business goals cause you to work for the needs of your business instead of the business working to serve your needs?
Niche Retail was a company that many would consider a fast-growing successful company. Gino Wickman, in Traction, quotes Tyler Smith of Niche Retail as saying “We got addicted to the money and the size” (Check out my post on The Growth Trap to learn the dangers of growth addiction). Smith had started a lifestyle company but Wickman concluded the company had “grown too fast and they couldn’t get out of their own way.” Smith and his company later shut down Niche Retail.
Building your business might have at first seemed like a dream. You had the opportunity to build a business from scratch that was custom-fit to you. It would allow you to achieve your personal goals.
At least that how the dream started. But as it developed somehow the dream became a nightmare. There were opportunities for growth and profit that slowly made your focus fuzzy. You were working harder and harder. With all this work, why wasn’t your dream being achieved?
You went from chasing dreams to chasing the next deal. In the process, the focus moved from your life to the life of the business. It’s never too late to become master again.
Clearly defining your business goals is essential whether you are just starting out or want to reclaim your original dream.
Two of the best models to do this were developed in a couple of books:
• The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
• Facilitating Financial Health: Tools for Financial Planners, Coaches, and Therapists by Brad Klontz, Rick Kahler, and Ted Klontz
There are similarities in their two models but they use different perspectives to help you define the reason for your business. Using both models gives you a well-rounded primary aim with a strong linkage between your business and personal goals.
Life Aspirations Exercise
This exercise comes from Facilitating Financial Health by Klontz, Kahler, and Klontz. They define life aspirations as “lifetime goals or dreams that are so big and expansive that completion dates cannot be attached to them.” You must define your aspirations before you can define goals to achieve those aspirations. Those goals are then broken down into specific tasks.
The authors recommend thinking through two hypothetical scenarios to help clarify your life aspirations.
Scenario 1: Pretend that you can be granted anything you want.
• What have you always dreamed of doing or becoming?
• Look at each of your answers for the question above and then ask “Why do I want to do this? What desire will it satisfy?”
• Phrase each of your answers with the words “to be.” This helps clarify your underlying motivation. It established the “why” behind the “what” that you identified.
Scenario 2: Imagine what people would say about you after you passed away. For example, this may be what they might say at your memorial service.
• For this scenario, they recommend that you ask yourself “What do you hope each would say about you and your life, what you did, and what you became?”
• Boil down what each person said into brief phrases describing your characteristics. Use phrases that start with the words “to be.”
The final step is to review the list of “to be” phrases to identify the ones that are most true for you. These are your life aspirations. These will help you develop your authentic goals. We’ll define those next.
Authentic Goals Exercises
Now you can develop goals that are consistent with your life aspirations. The steps to identify your authentic goals also comes from Facilitating Financial Health. The steps to develop the goals are:
- For each life aspiration, list some actions or things you might want to do, be, or have that would move you closer to fulfilling that aspiration. This is a brainstorming exercise so list everything that comes to mind. You can work through its reasonableness later.
- Cross off any goals that don’t excite you and fill you with enthusiasm.
- Rank the remaining goals from the one that excites you the most to the one that excites you the least.
- Check each goal for authenticity and attainability. The authors use the acronym TEST to make sure each goal is:
True: fulfills one of your life aspirations
Exact and specific
Sensible: It might be challenging but it must be attainable
Time-based: Pick a start date
- Now write more specific tasks that you would do to accomplish each goal. The more specific your tasks and the time frame for completing them, the better they are.
The “TEST” acronym is very similar to common guidance that goals should meet the requirements of the acronym SMART:
Where the TEST acronym departs from the SMART acronym is by making sure your goals are true to your life aspirations. You have limited time and resources so you want goals focused on the aspirations you truly want to achieve or become.
It’s essential to make sure your goals align with your life aspirations. Any other goals may be distracting you from those valuable aspirations.
Michael Gerber’s Primary Aim
Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth Revisited, uses a similar process to identify your primary aim. Your primary aim is similar to your life aspirations. He says your primary aim answers:
- What do I value most?
- What kind of life do I want?
- Who do I wish to be?
- What do I want my life to look and feel like?
Like the life aspirations exercise, he uses a memorial service to clarify this aim. In his exercise, you have recorded a story of your life that is played at the service. He says your primary aim is what you would like that story to say. Quotes from others may reflect their biases. You are completely free to write your story.
He then continues with one of his greatest quotes, “I believe great people to be those who know how they got where they are, and what they need to do to get where they’re going. Great people have a vision of their lives that they practice emulating each and every day.” Like authentic goals, primary aims provide purpose and energy. As Gerber also says, they provide “grist for your day-to-day mill.”
Your primary aim determines the strategic objectives and strategies of your company. Gerber defines the strategic objective as “a very clear statement of what your business has to ultimately do for you to achieve your Primary Aim.”
Aligning Your Business Goals with Your Authentic Goals
If we don’t define our primary aim, what we let our business become will define our life. The goals of our business must align with our personal authentic goals. We define our work or our work defines us. We become what we do.
Many owners want too many good things because they haven’t committed to what’s best. You can’t have it all. An old saying is “The person who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Wouldn’t it be better to get the largest amount of what you want the most?
I’ve developed a free Aspirations and Purpose worksheet that you can download here. Use it to clarify your life aspirations and how they translate to the purpose for your business.
I wish you well in your quest and commitment to focus.