Ready – Aim – Aim – Aim

Most people fall victim to what T. Boone Pickens calls the “Ready, aim, aim, aim syndrome.” They are more than willing to think about it and talk about it, but loath to pull the trigger and take action.” From “Finding Prosperity,” Bob McDermott, Honolulu Advertiser, Feb 2010

So here you are, still at the mall and still absolutely certain that you must have those fabulous red shoes. And, you’ve figured out two very important pieces of what it will take to achieve your goal:

  1. Where you are now (“You Are Here” declares the Mall Directory).
  2. Where you want to be (trying on shoes in the Red Shoes R Us warehouse).

Now what?

We all know that setting goals – knowing where you want to be and what you want to achieve – is key to success, whether your goal is finding financial prosperity, maintaining a healthier lifestyle, getting a new job, or buying those red shoes. And, we know that it’s equally important to have a plan and establish benchmarks on the way to our ultimate goal so that we can measure progress and stay motivated.

But whenever I read a book or listen to a podcast or attend a lecture about goal setting, I always feel like I’ve somehow skipped a page or got to the lecture late and I missed the part about HOW you take that first step. Because all the goal setting and planning and progress measuring won’t amount to much if you can’t – or won’t – take that first step.

Herbert Hoover once said, “Wisdom oft times consists of knowing what to do next.” If that’s the definition of wisdom, I should be a sage on a mountaintop. I have absolutely no trouble figuring out what to do next no matter what the task, the objective, the goal. It’s not the WHAT that gives me trouble. It’s the first step that can trip me up every time.

“The pathway is smooth. Why do you throw rocks before you?” Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers, Copyright 2006

Once you know where you’re going, do you set off with purpose, moving ever forward, keeping up your momentum, and sticking resolutely to your goal of getting to the shoe store? Or, are you easily distracted, wandering here and there, window shopping along the way, not paying much attention to where you are and how you got there until you have to stop and check the Mall Directory again?

Or are you a rock thrower? Do you focus on the reasons why you shouldn’t start? Do you find yourself actually creating obstacles to your success? Instead of just starting out, do you find yourself, instead, starting to question whether you really need those new shoes? Or maybe, you wonder whether you really should just focus on red shoes. What if blue shoes are a better choice? If you go to the Red Shoes R Us warehouse, you won’t be able to pick a color other than red. What if you pick the wrong shade of red.

I hate to admit it but I’ve tossed more than a few rocks into my smooth pathway.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Zig Ziglar

Here’s the ultimate irony. I make my living as a project manager and planner. I spend the better part of my day making plans, creating schedules, identifying goals and objectives, and tracking progress towards achieving those goals. Getting started and continually moving forward is essential to my success and the success of my clients. Not only do I have to make sure that the pathway is smooth, it’s my job to ensure that no one can even find a rock to throw in the way, let alone actually throw it.

But when it comes to my personal life, I seem to have an unlimited supply of rocks and I rarely hesitate to pick one up and give it a good heave.

Take writing this particular blog topic, for example.

I’ve had the title in my mind and the general idea of what to write about for weeks now. Weeks. I knew which quotes I wanted to use, the anecdotes I’ve wanted to share, the cracks in consciousness I wanted to open up for you, my readers. Ready, aim, aim, aim.

And aim, aim, aim, and aim some more – McDowell, what’s wrong with you? You love to write, you love to figure out the best way to express a thought, there’s nothing more fun than picking the quotes and turning a clever phrase, and letting everyone know by your obvious wit and humor how very talented you are and, oh but wait a minute, you can’t just sit down and start writing (rock), you have to have an outline of the topic first and then, oh no (rock, rock), what happens if you find a better quote but it’s too late to use it, and then you write something that isn’t witty or clever and not only doesn’t make your readers want more, but even worse (rock, rock, rock), you actually put it up on the site and your friends read it and then everyone realizes that you aren’t as smart or wise or clever as you think you are and, oh no, the worst yet (rock, rock, rock, rock), the entire planet will read it and realize you aren’t – do I dare utter it – perfect.

And now here comes the rock slide that completely crushes my smooth pathway, and I can’t go anywhere, let alone forward.

“Many people wait for everything to be perfect before they get going. Therefore, they never get going and they never get the rewards. From “Finding Prosperity,” Bob McDermott, Honolulu Advertiser, Feb 2010

When I was about 46, I once whined to a friend about the fact that if I started learning to play the bagpipes now (a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember), I’d be (groan, with lots of rock-tossing thrown in for good measure) 50 by the time I finally could really play with any proficiency. She of course patiently pointed out, “You’re going to be 50 anyway, McDowell.”

And that was six years ago and I haven’t even started taking lessons. That need to look perfect has long been my Achilles heel when it comes to getting started. Not only do I not get started, I don’t even get in the starting gate.

I was having coffee with a friend yesterday. We meet once a month to catch up. Like me, she also writes blogs on several topics, and so we naturally turned to the subject of how our blogging was progressing (hers was, mine wasn’t). We spent the next 45 minutes sharing tips and tricks for writing effective blogs, getting published, increasing our visibility – except that’s not entirely accurate. She talked about all of this while I mostly just listened. Because I hadn’t been able to get started on my next blog topic. And I found myself feeling envious of her and annoyed with myself. I mentioned that I was going to write a blogspot called Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, and she pointed out that she’s still waiting to read this one. “Remember? You mentioned you were going to write this article last month when we got together for coffee.”


When I got home, I kept thinking about why I hadn’t started yet. I tried visualizing sitting down at the computer and cranking this out —  and that’s when I saw and felt what I wrote above – the recriminating self-talk, the doubt, the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it “right.” My Achilles heel – the need for perfection – had once again stopped me cold. And it slowly came to me how ironic it was that I intended to write about how people sometimes have trouble getting started but I had not yet come to terms with why I kept taking aim over and over without letting the arrow fly.

“A thousand mile journey begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

Most of us have an Achilles heel of our own devising that keeps us from taking that first step towards achieving our goals. For us, then, our thousand mile journey must be one of discovery and self-realization. And the first step on this journey is paradoxically simple: You must start by exploring what it is that keeps you from getting started. Is it the fear of failure or, perhaps, the fear of success? Visualize yourself getting started and then get in touch with what you’re feeling and thinking with regards to this picture in your mind. Keep asking yourself, “What is underlying this?” Keep peeling the onion to reveal what lies beneath.

Next, try to discover what resources, emotions, or experiences you can draw upon to help you overcome the rocks you’ve placed in your path.

And last, find out what it is that will keep you going.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Are you ready to set sail?

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