Do you remember going to the gym right after the New Year? It was packed. You couldn’t get onto your favorite machines. The cardio room was a sea of sweaty faces determined to make this THE year they finally lost weight.
What about those other resolutions?
Go to bed earlier.
It’s February now. How are you doing on those resolutions? I was at the gym this week and was struck by its emptiness. Where did everyone go?
Another one bites the dust.
Most of us lose steam on our New Year’s resolutions well before February comes along.
I’ve been thinking a lot about goal setting and what I want to accomplish this year.
Because of my younger brother’s death right before the holidays, I’m behind in my own 2013 goals.
I’m okay with it though because I’m thinking differently about how I’m approaching my planning this year.
Two weeks ago I flew home to California to attend my brother’s memorial service. I had a lot of anxiety about going. We had to delay the memorial by month because of the police investigation into Bart’s death and holding a memorial nearly five weeks later felt like ripping a bandaid off a wound.
How would I handle all of the people wanting to talk about Bart?
What would I say about his life?
What if I started crying and couldn’t stop?
My worries were unfounded.
My mother made it her mission to make sure that Bart’s memorial was more of a celebration of his life than a teary goodbye.
My brother’s favorite foods were served at the reception: Chipotle burritos, pizza, pasta salad, chips and salsa, diet coke and chocolate cookies.
His favorite jazz music was playing in the background. My sister put together a kick ass slide show with photos of my brother from his all too brief 38 years.
Then we told stories.
I was amazed at the many ways people remembered my brother. We shared stories about his love of sports, his obsession with fitness and his competitiveness even as a little child.
We talked about how important family was to him and how he constantly badgered our dad to eat better and get more exercise.
We talked about how much he loved his alma mater the University of Virginia and his fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi.
His friend Tom talked about Bart’s love of movies and his ability to quote whole passages from some of his favorite movie characters.
If you want to know what goals to set think about how you want to be remembered.
The memorial was an oral history of all the things that mattered to my brother.
A few days before I left my parent’s house my mother asked me to look through a few of Bart’s belongings she had set aside for me to take home.
My brother’s bi-polar disorder often made him messy, disorganized and incapable of following through on plans.
I wondered with some trepidation what my mother was planning to give me.
Out in the garage was a large plastic tub with hundreds of baseball cards neatly catalogued and archivally preserved. I also found dozens of pristine comic books still in their original plastic covers.
Bart had been collecting baseball cards and comic books since high school. I knew this but I had no idea how serious a collector he really was.
The collection was worth thousands of dollars and my mother gave me her blessing to sell it to when it comes time to send D2 to college.
Suddenly it all made sense.
Bart had a Masters in Library Science and was getting a second degree in Information Sciences when he was killed. Research, meticulous cataloguing and archiving was something he knew how to do well and he used those skills to do something that brought him joy.
Going through his comic book and baseball collection made me see him in a different way.
It was clear that Bart spent a lot of time on the things that mattered to him: his fitness and his collections of music, comic books and baseball cards.
I wonder had he lived longer would he have more fully realized his incredible talents.
I think so.
On the plane ride back to home I reflected on the celebration of Bart’s life.
If you’ve never had someone close to you die, one of the worst things beyond the initial shock is going through your loved one’s belongings.
It’s a visual reminder that the person you knew and loved is truly gone.
Their belongings are a catalogue of what mattered most to them.
On that long flight home I started thinking about how many times I had set goals that weren’t very well thought out or that I had no intention of keeping but were carried over from the previous year.
Sometimes I set goals that in the scheme of my long-term plans weren’t very productive.
Sometimes I set goals that were too ambitious or that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to fulfill, like going to business school.
It took me years to get my act together. For years I talked about how I wanted to go to business school.
I thought a lot about it but never took any action. My inaction really bothered me but I just couldn’t get myself organized to apply to school.
The wrong goals drain your energy and take up mental space.
I eventually got my MBA a few years ago but it was only after Dr. D. called me on the carpet and told me to either do it or quit talking about it that I finally got off my duff.
So here’s the question.
If you have year after year of unfulfilled (or unfulfilling) goals what does that say about the decisions you are making and how you spend your time?
Look back at the goals and resolutions you made for the last few years.
How many did you accomplish?
What’s been the impact on your life?
What didn’t you do?
What’s been the impact on your life?
Too many of us set bullshit goals without really thinking about what truly matters.
Thinking about goal setting in the larger context of your capital “L” life is heavy.
When you think about your legacy and how you want to be remembered, suddenly the decisions you make and the goals you set start to look a lot different.
But don’t freak out.
The point is don’t clutter your mind and life with lots of activity and stuff that ultimately doesn’t help you get to your higher purpose (what ever that may be).
So this year while I don’t have my plan all figured out, I know this: No more bull shit goals.
Focus on the few things that will help you do what you love and care about. Focus on the things that make you better.
A better friend.
A better stamp collector.
A better mother.
A better gardener.
Just make it make matter. Make it worth remembering.
Your turn. How do you go about setting goals for yourself? What’s worked for you and what have you learned along the way? Share your thoughts in the comments. I’m listening.