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Want to achieve your goals? Keep asking ‘Why?’

October 24, 2019

By Martha Sullivan, CPA, CVA/ABV, CM&AA, CEPA
Partner, Succession Planning Practice Leader

Martha leads HK’s succession and exit planning services division and is a regular contributor to Wisconsin’s InBusiness digital magazine.

Every year, I am blessed to be able to participate in one or two conferences for professional development and education. These events are always a mixed experience between the travel, the lodging in new and unfamiliar places, the people, and the content. If you’re like me, the experience likely has four distinct phases:

Anticipation — You’re looking forward to learning and experiencing something new. Seeing new faces, the change of scenery, and the chance to think about something different for a change sounds very appealing.

Consumption — You are into it — the sessions, the networking, the time back in the hotel catching up on the “day job.” Depending on the nature of the conference, you may be on the run from sunrise to sundown, consuming literally and figuratively throughout the long day(s). Consuming it all is often very inspiring, like that decadent dessert at the end of meal. You are gathering fabulous ideas for ways you can grow, thrive, excel, and improve.  There’s an energy that comes from the whole experience, like a sugar rush.

Exhaustion — You’re stuffed. You consumed and consumed and consumed. The brain has been active throughout the time you were consuming. All the active listening — in sessions and in networking — means your brain’s been engaged in ways it usually isn’t daily. The days were long and all during that time your subconscious was likely keeping score of all the other “to-do’s” piling up.

Ball dropping — As you walk out of the last session, the matters lurking in your subconscious start making some noise. Your brainpower shifts harshly back to the day job. All the kick-tail ideas you had just hours ago slide to the back of the bus.

Sound familiar?

Some friends and I were talked about this pattern while we are at a planning conference. We agree that one of the key benefits of attending conferences is to be able to pause and think about ourselves as opposed to what normally fills our days, such as taking care of business — customers, employees, suppliers, and our family. The conversations and content are our booster shots to power and reenergize us.

For example, two sessions focused on marketing plans and execution. The first was a deep dive into one aspect of good marketing plans. It was filled with practical and pragmatic advice on what should be done, and I walked out of the session knowing exactly what I could do. The second session was workshop-style, where participants were asked to articulate one goal and five things that had to happen to accomplish it. A demonstration was then given on whether it was any good. We mimicked what we should do in a more complete way back at the ranch.

Great stuff! Yet, we never seem to have time at or after the conference to figure out how we’re going to use the information, skills, and connections we gathered. We don’t have a plan.

Pretty darn ironic given that this recent conference was about helping business leaders plan and prepare to buy, build, and/or sell their companies. The shoemaker’s children have no shoes. The doctor is the worst patient.

However, this time I resisted the temptation back at the airport and on the plane to dive into the unanswered emails or tune out with a mindless magazine or game on the iPad. I devised a new twist on the game of “I Spy” called “Why I.” The purpose of the game is to set the stage for my own meaningful goal setting and planning. I needed to pause, think, and consider how well my goals, actions, and values are aligned.

“Why I” challenges my status quo — personally and professionally — without judgment. For example, I asked myself:

  • Why I work?
  • Why I work this job?
  • Why I am involved with a given cause or philanthropy?
  • Why I am in given relationships or not in others?

Some of the answers are obvious. I still forced myself to answer that inner child incessantly asking “why?” again and again. Why I work? I like money. Why like money? I want to be sure I have a nest egg. Why? I don’t want to live in my kid’s basement eating kibble. Why? Independence, flexibility, self-reliance. Besides, kibble sucks and there’s a whole world out there I still want to explore.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

Once arriving at the fact that kibble sucks, I can start to envision what I specifically want the future to look like. What do I want on the scale of kibble to caviar? What do I want to see and explore? In short: What are my goals?

The fact of the matter is, I’m still working on defining and updating my goals. This work takes time, patience, and discussion with those whom I share my life. But it is powerful. Writing these things down and talking about “Why I” and my goals makes them more real. It generates buy-in — from others who can help and/or join me in the adventure and, most importantly, from myself.

I encourage you to join me in the challenging and fun game of “Why I.” Find your “Why I” buddy and challenge each other to a round or two. You’ll be amazed with the results.

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