3 min read

A Case for Setting Ambitious-Ass Goals

"Shoot for the moon", said Norman Vincent Peale. "Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

We recently introduced our method of systemising actor success: the secret sauce that is The Actor's Training Menu. Clarifying our goals is the first step within this system, so it seems apt to have a lil' chat about goals themselves.

But before we get to the nitty-gritty of actually defining these bad boys, we want to make a case for setting "Ambitious-Ass Goals" and why we champion this so fiercely.

The practical

The practical underpinning is just math:

        Ambitious-Ass Goals = Less competition

Or, in graphical form:

SMART goals have their place, but we needn't take the "R" (being "Realistic") so seriously. As author/podcaster/human guinea pig Tim Ferriss states, "Doing the unrealistic is easier than doing the realistic". Or, from David Schwartz's The Magic of Thinking Big (a 10/10 companion to this piece), "Big ideas and big plans are often easier — certainly no more difficult — than small ideas and small plans". Ferriss adds: "It's lonely at the top. 99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for 'realistic' goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming."

In the business world, this notion was substantiated and popularised by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. After six years of research, Collins and Porras coined the term "BHAG" (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) to describe the commonality "exceptional and long-lasting" companies shared. From Collins: "BHAGs are bold, falling in the gray area where reason and prudence might say 'This is unreasonable,' but the drive for progress says, 'We believe we can do it nonetheless.'"

This belief is key — Ambitious-Ass Goals can't be attained without it. As Schwartz says, there's an uncanny way in which "the how-to-do-it … comes to the person who believes he can do it". He asserts further: "Capacity is a state of mind. How much we can do depends on how much we think we can do. When you really believe you can do more, your mind thinks creatively and shows you the way." Mindset matters most, friends.

The spiritual

Assuming we're now somewhat on board with the practical justification, let's take a look at the spiritual. If the word "spiritual" elicits the gag reflex, all good, swap it out with whatever works. We just mean to point to the bigger picture of this roaring adventure called life.

Bronnie Ware, a former palliative carer, has shared the most common regrets patients expressed in their final moments. Know what sat at number one? (Sorry amigos, spoiler alert). "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." How's that for a dose of perspective?

Ware goes on to say: "When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made."

When we encourage the setting of Ambitious-Ass Goals, we aren't automatically deferring to goals society or the media or our mum's hairdresser believe we should have. The intention isn't to "impress" anyone. Sure, winning an Olivier is an Ambitious-Ass Goal — and one society certainly applauds — but if it doesn't hold any real meaning to us, ain't one truly worth chasing. Oooh, controversial.

In the Dojo, Ambitious-Ass Goals are goals that set our individual hearts on fire. By definition, they're specific, niche, and often elicit raised eyebrows from others. They embody what so many of the dying regretted not prioritising: a life "true" to ourselves, "not the life others expected". The Ambitious-Ass-ness is in the mustering of courage to do so.

Benjamin Disraeli said, "Life is too short to be little". As far as we know, we only get one shot at this whole human existence thing. Do we really want to spend it settling for second best, or, if we do raise our hand to join Team Ambition, pursuing the neat cookie-cutter version? Wouldn't it make more sense if instead the eight billion of us unapologetically blazed our own paths — souls alight?

We almost wouldn't need to shoot for the moon, because our very own planet would be so damn shiny.


Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.