Growth, not goals, leads to success.

https://images.app.goo.gl/pjooLDxW5zT5WMru5

tl; dr: Goal setting is a strategy to address growth gaps, but setting or achieving goals do not automatically lead to growth.

GROWTH, not goals, leads to success.

John Maxwell, in his 2012 book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, lists the following growth gaps that get in the way of success. Which ones do you identify with?

  1. The Assumption Gap — I assume I will automatically grow.
  2. The Knowledge Gap — I don’t know how to grow.
  3. The Timing Gap — It’s not the right time to begin.
  4. The Mistake Gap — I’m afraid of making mistakes.
  5. The Perfection Gap — I have to find the best way before I start.
  6. The Inspiration Gap — I don’t feel like doing it.
  7. The Comparison Gap — Others are doing it better than I am.
  8. The Expectation Gap — I thought it would be easier than this.

“I had believed that success would come to anyone who poured himself into his career. [But I realized] that the key was personal growth. …[I]f you focus on goals, you may hit goals –but that doesn’t guarantee growth. If you focus on growth, you will grow and always hit your goals.” (Maxwell, The 15, p. 2).

Goal setting is a strategy to address growth gaps, but goals do not automatically lead to growth. Growth, not goals leads to success.

“When I started my career, I was intentional about working, reaching my goals, and being successful. I had a strategy: hard work. I hoped that would get me to where I wanted to go. But working hard doesn’t guarantee success. And hope isn’t a strategy” (The 15, p. 1; emphasis mine).

“Hope isn’t a strategy.” Most of us assume it is, but it isn’t. Hope is a value, a catalyst. Hope helps us be resilient and keep going despite obstacles. But in, and of itself, hope isn’t a strategy. It is the foundation for being strategic. Growth — intentional, planned, goal-driven growth — IS a strategy. 

The first law of growth Maxwell discusses is one that is premised on self-awareness: The Law of Intentionality. The subtitle for this chapter is: “Growth Doesn’t Just Happen” (p. 2).

The parallel that comes to mind is: “Life doesn’t just happen. Living might, in an automatic, unintentional, unaware, non-growth-oriented manner, but living & LIFE are two different things. And moving from unintentional living to an intentional life involves addressing, mindfully & with a laser-sharp focus, what Maxwell calls “growth gap traps” (p. 2).

Here are the 8 growth gap traps he discusses. Which ones can you identify with? What will you do differently from today in terms of your behavior and changing your belief system to address them and remove career success barriers?

  1. The Assumption Gap — I assume I will automatically grow.
  2. The Knowledge Gap — I don’t know how to grow.
  3. The Timing Gap — It’s not the right time to begin.
  4. The Mistake Gap — I’m afraid of making mistakes.
  5. The Perfection Gap — I have to find the best way before I start.
  6. The Inspiration Gap — I don’t feel like doing it.
  7. The Comparison Gap — Others are doing it better than I am.
  8. The Expectation Gap — I thought it would be easier than this.

As I reflected on these, the traps my mind fall into were’t hard to identify: no. 6, and no. 7. I procrastinate, a lot: ‘I don’t feel like it, and I will do it tomorrow /when inspiration strikes, or, much more often, when I absolutely have to’ (2020 taxes, anyone?). And one of the thinking traps that leads me to procrastination is comparison: ‘others have already been doing what I want to do for so much longer, so what is the point?’

Why am I writing about addressing growth gaps?

As we celebrate college and high school graduation for the class of 2021, the joy that is slowly growing in us that we have seen the worst of the pandemic, and the hope that young adults in the U.S. find meaningful next steps in their academic and professional careers, I want to point them to this strategy that I wish I had learned in my early 20s: focus on growth. Focus intentionally on growing — in your skills, in your character, in your understanding of budgeting & finances, in your spiritual practice (however that may look for you). Set goals to break down a specific activity (I will practice x for 45 minutes every day) but focus on how you are growing from completing that goal / activity.

When I started my Ph.D., my goal was to finish (which I did). Implicitly, of course, my goal was also to grow — and I did — but there wasn’t any intention behind my growth. Growth was the byproduct, something which would happen automatically if I met my goals.

Now I realize that the approach would have needed to be the opposite: growth needed to be the intention, and goal-setting to address the growth gap traps the strategy to grow, all of it bolstered by hope, and grit, and perseverance, and faith. Today, the growth gaps I decided to address (in a baby step) was in inspiration & comparison — “I won’t write this post because I don’t feel like it” (which is code for: “I am scared and am avoiding an action that makes me feel vulnerable and open to criticism”), and “what is the point of me writing when there are millions of others doing such a better job of it?” (which is code for: I don’t believe that my voice matters”).

This latter issue with lack of self-worth is a problem Maxwell dedicates an entire chapter to this topic in the book 15 Invaluable Lawsof Growth, titled “The Law of the Mirror: You Must See Value in Yourself to Add Value to Yourself.” I will pick up on that discussion in another post. For now, I want to leave you with the following action item:

In the comments section below, identify one growth gap trap you see in one of your favorite persons in the world (could be you, or your friend or partner). Then, write in brief one specific and doable daily activity you would suggest to this person in order to help them close this gap and why you think this strategy would be efficacious for this person.

Summary:

  1. There is a difference between an implicit assumption that goals lead to growth, and an intentional growth-focused plans that will lead to goal completion in an organic manner.
  2. Growth gaps can be identified and addressed.
  3. Growth, not goals, leads to success.

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