Be Careful What You Wish For

Ever wonder if writing down your goals really makes a difference?  I get chills when I think of just how this played out in my life.

We moved around a lot over the years – mostly to pursue new career opportunities. Our last move was from the outskirts of Phoenix, AZ (5th largest city in the U.S.) to a very small town in a very rural county.  How rural?  Think, no stoplights and less than 14,000 people within a 3,208 square mile area. That’s right, not one stoplight in a county that is physically more than twice the size of Phoenix.

In the midst of packing for the move, Sue asked me to look through some old files to decide whether to pack or discard them. That’s when I found the note… more than 30 years old, documenting three long term goals I had written down as part of an AT&T leadership development program.

I actually had no recollection of writing down these goals, so it was interesting to see what was so important to me as my career was just getting underway.

The first goal – to make $100,000 per year.  I actually remembered having this goal….and reaching it a lot faster than I thought I would.  Naturally, I then set my sights higher.  I was definitely blessed with amazing financial opportunities throughout much of my career. There’s a lesson or two here… but we’ll come back to that.

The second goal – to travel the world.  I didn’t remember writing this one… but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve always felt the pull to explore.  It took a bit longer to reach this goal.  I think I was 40 years old before I traveled further than México and Canada. Now, I treasure the time I spent, and the wonderful friends I made, in travels to over 30 countries.

The third goal (and a big surprise to me 30+ years later) – to live on a ranch.  Wait… what?!?  I really couldn’t believe that this was one of only three goals I had written for myself so long ago. I had no recollection of writing it and (at least consciously) had not thought about it for several decades. Yet, here we were preparing for our move to a rustic, 12+ acre property (just a stone’s throw from an amazing river for fly fishing) with spring-fed ponds, a 40 year old (unfinished) barn, four sheep, a llama and room for Sue’s new horse barn, paddock’s and dressage riding arena.

I actually felt chills when I read that note… and still do when I think back to that moment.

For me, it’s a great example of the power of setting personal goals.  Investing the time to think about what’s important to you and writing your goals down can be very powerful. Probably much more so if you don’t file them away and forget about them for 30 years.

Here are some steps you can take to set (and achieve) your goals.


  1. Right this moment, without giving it too much thought… write down your top three goals – the most important things for you to accomplish over the next 20 or 30 years. Got it. Great!
  2. Now, commit to investing an hour on your own this week to actually give this a lot of thought. Put it on your calendar so you won’t forget. When you are ready, go someplace that puts you at ease… someplace that gives you energy rather than sapping your energy.  Review your list. Do you still feel these reflect what’s most important to you?  If so, you’re good to go.  If not, take the time now to work through this until you feel good about your long-term goals.  It’s okay if you find you need more than three… just don’t let the list get too long. Five should be your limit.
  3. Put time on your calendar to come back to this sometime in the next 30 days. This time change your focus.  With your long-term goals in mind, think about what needs to happen within the next 5 years to keep you on track to achieve each of your long-term goals.  Add these 5-year goals to your list of long-term goals.
  4. Almost done. Within the next week or two, make time to create goals for the next 12 months.  Think about what you need to accomplish this year to put you on track for success with each of your 5-year goals.  And, you got it… add these to your list of long-term and 5-year goals.
  5. Final step. Put time on your calendar (at least once per year) to review your goals. How did you do with your 1-year goals?  Do you still feel good about your 5-year and long-term goals?  Use this time to either re-align your plans and actions with your goals… or to realign your goals.

I would love to hear your stories about the power of setting goals.


Ric Leutwyler
Ric Leutwyler
MY work journey has taken me from dishwasher to CEO, from fast food to cloud based technology, from Davenport, Iowa to more than 30 countries around the globe. Along the way I have enjoyed leading, learning, contributing, mentoring, strategizing, innovating and giving back. One important lesson learned along the way is that there are opportunities to make a difference in all aspects of our lives. This has made the journey all the more rewarding.

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  1. Ric, I appreciate your goal-setting suggestion especially since it was backed up by a real story. Can I suggest one tweak? Limit yourself to one goal – at least to start. 3-5 goals for some people may feel overwhelming and find their way into the bottom of the desk drawer. 1 goal is hard to forget and ignore. Now, let’s see, what’s my one goal. . . .

    • Thanks, Jeff. Your approach might work better for some people. I find it too limiting. Whatever works, right!?!

  2. Thanks for a great story. My goal when I was earning $4,800 a year was to earn $10,000. I laugh at how conservative I was. I have visited all 50 states and will be visiting my sixth continent this month. I wish you continued great travels.

    • Thank you for sharing, Mary.its amazing how much our priorities and goals can change over time. Safe travels.

  3. Great advise. Thank you for share.
    Independent of the field, we all have aspirations in life and, to get there, we must set goals to achieve by trying to overcome them. Goals help us understand where we want to go and what path to take when we have to make choices. This is why it is very important to always have them in front of us without looking away.
    I think we should live by our intentions because this helps focus attention on the short, while goals tend to define long-term programs. Finally, of course, it is the goals we pursue that shape and determine the person we are becoming. To reach a goal, however, it is necessary to remain focused on it, and this happens through intentions.
    Someone also suggests that we choose what we want to suffer in order to define our goals. I find it an excellent indication. In fact, every result requires a certain commitment, and every effort is nothing but the product of our suffering.
    The process that I learned to follow to decide which things I wanted to accomplish was to do the following:
    think of all the possible goals;
    identify what was important and aligned with the most important things in my life;
    reduce the time budget to be dedicated to the realization of the total of the chosen objectives, so as to oblige me to concentrate on those that were the most significant among them and create me margins to manage daily accidents.
    Martin Luter King said a wise thing, in my opinion: “power is the ability to achieve goals. Power is the ability to make changes.” In the course of life we must also be capable and aware that sometimes we must align the our objectives to the circumstances.

    • Thank you for sharing, Aldo. I certainly agree that focus, time management, intention and sacrifice are all key to achieving big goals.

  4. Ric I love this. When I was about twelve me a two other friends. We all wrote about what we wanted to do in life and buried it near a tree near a creak. Sadly both of my friend are not longer with us. I wanted to be a writer and move back to the country. I do get to write and I am moving back to the county. It seems that when we set goals early on the mind may forget but the soul knows and keeps you on the path. Again I love this.