Making Ripples: Stretch Goal Setting

Set stretch goals. Don’t ever settle for mediocrity. The key to stretch is to reach for more than you think possible. Don’t sell yourself short by thinking you will fail.” – Jack Welch

A Win that Started with a Vision

On July 20th, 1969, 240,000 miles from earth, a message was sent, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was Neil Armstrong relaying the completion of a mission to land on the moon. It was a vision and a challenge that was cast on May 25th, 1961, by then U.S. President John F. Kennedy. “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” JFK’s vision that was presented to a joint session of congress was a reminder that now is the best time to begin executing anything that we deem too difficult to attain. To think this big and take action, we must first believe. 

Do You Believe?

Anything achievable must first be believable. Before presenting his vision, JFK had to believe it was possible to reach a milestone that had never been attempted before. Let me assure you that believing in something is risky. Risk is inherent to believing. Even the best-laid plans carry risk. I think of how risky marriage vows are because they are made without any prior knowledge that those committing can or will fulfill those promises. “……for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, till death do us part.” It takes believing (and at times blind excitement) to recite such promises. Both parties believe that their love for each other has the necessary capacity to handle the load of promises they make to each other before the marriage journey begins. 

In JFK’s case, there was no prior knowledge that any man had or could ever land on the moon. And while history does play a part in informing the future, sometimes the future must first be created for history to exist. Believing is always fought by “what if.” What if it never happens? What if no one else believes it? What if I run out of resources? What if something bad happens? For example, on January 27th, 1967, as the mission to the moon was in full effect, a fire broke out on a launch test pad killing three astronauts. 

Believing activates the imagination to create a picture worth discovering through action. As we live in a world where data overload is almost imminent, it is getting harder to utilize the imagination as the center for creativity and pictorial representations of our thoughts and ideas. What do you want to see in your life up ahead? What level of belief do you carry every day? What are you telling yourself about what you want to see? If you could only believe, it would be possible to achieve. And this belief led two brothers to build their first plane in a bicycle shop. 

The Art of Pioneering

The Wright brothers were pioneers of flight. They produced something unprecedented in an era when automobiles had been discovered, but the flight was considered unfathomable. Many before Wilbur and Orville Wright had tried and failed- some even died. But that did not deter the brothers from embarking on something that was branded in their souls. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright, planted this seed in his sons when he brought home a toy plane created by a French experimenter. Coming from the obscurity of Dayton, Ohio, didn’t help the brothers either. Why would anything great come from an insignificant place?  

Stretching Against the Odds

The odds were stacked against the brothers. None of them had any previous experience in anything to do with flight. They didn’t have any financial backing either. In fact, the Wright brothers owned a bicycle shop not too far from their house. That bicycle shop became the place from which they would build a plane. 

The absurdity of building a plane in a bicycle shop cannot be overstated, but without concern for criticism, they stretched and pressed forward with their dream. While other potential aviators focused on creating something powerful enough to overcome the wind, the brothers studied the birds in the air to learn how to use the wind to their advantage. The curiosity about birds drove the insight for the brothers to create the shape of the plane that we see today. 

What was a historic moment on December 17th, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when they were able to take off, fly, and land, started in a modest bicycle shop. Furthermore, where the United States Government had spent about $50,000 on failed attempts at flight, the Wright brothers had succeeded while only spending about $1,000, which entirely came from their bicycle business. Who would think today’s planes we see and ride in started in a bicycle shop? 

Final Thought: We all have a bicycle shop. An ordinary, perhaps mundane place where we don’t expect anything extraordinary to happen. Like the Wright brothers, our minds need not be held captive by the ordinary nature of our lives. We can break out of the ordinary by dreaming big and starting where we are. Believing, like JFK did, that a man can moonwalk is key to conditioning the mind to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Stretch goal setting will kill complacency and inspire growth. Don’t despise your bicycle shop. Create a stretch goal that will turn it into a place where great things take place. 

Keep on Keeping on!

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