Goal Setting: Good Enough is Not Good Enough

Recently, I was fortunate enough to witness a case study in goal setting. I spent an entire week in a mediation CLE with 19 other people. It was lead by Judy Mares-Dixon and I highly recommend her course. Only 4 of us were lawyers, which I think is a really great way to experience mediation training because you get a lot more perspective on the issues people face and how people approach conflict and dispute resolution. I had a great time learning new approaches with these people, but as usual, the greatest element of learning didn’t hit me during the course—it hit me a week or so after. The most important thing I learned (at least so far) is that people don’t set their goals high enough.


Of course I didn’t interview each person in the course, but we did spend a week working together closely and getting to know one-another and I think I can safely say that the majority of the students were trying to learn how mediation was done, period. They wanted to know how to set up a practice and do the work. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it sets the goal at merely good enough. If our goal in any new endeavor is merely to “achieve” the status quo, then we’re not using our efforts to their the full potential leverage.

Good Enough is NOT Good Enough.

Most of us go through life in a style much like a running back trying to fight his way back to the line of scrimmage. How much more fun and return on investment could we experience if we set our goals beyond learning “how it’s done” all the way to “how we can move the ball forward?”  We fight and struggle and work our butts off merely to “achieve” parity—just to do it the way it’s been done or maybe even match a “best practice” standard.  “Best practices” are almost never the “best” practice, because surely someone is going well beyond “best practice.” “Best practice” standards are really just a “high average.” You can do better, probably far better. You just have to recognize that your goal needs to be set beyond merely good enough, beyond “best practice” all the way to achieving, implementing, and sharing your personal genius through whatever it is you’re trying to do.

In my mediation class, I had several goals. First, I wanted to know the best practices so I could set that standard as a baseline. Once identified, those metrics become springboards. What can I do to take this beyond the status quo? How can I take things a step, or 5, beyond the way it’s always been done? How can I launch those ideas into the world and move the ball beyond the line of scrimmage and maybe even pick up some new ground? I’ve set things in motion toward that goal rather than toward the “smaller” goal of status quo. When you do this, “falling short” of your goal is probably “good enough”—at least for most people.

If you’re in law school, are you setting your goals the way everyone else seams to set theirs, or have you consciously written your own? Do you want to work your ass off to get on the law review so you can spend hours of your valuable time cite-checking some professor’s obscure article that only 20 people might ever read, or are you using that time to become a subject-matter expert in your own chosen niche and start building your personal expert brand before you graduate? Are you trying to be in the top 10% your class so you can get a high salary job in a prestigious firm trading moments of your life for the grunt-work handed down by someone who doesn’t appreciate anything other than your billing totals, or are you using the time to learn how to provide enough value in your own area of interest that you won’t ever have to depend on a boss’s whims? Are you learning all the new tools of law practice so you can just learn how to do something, or are you learning those tools with a mind toward spring-boarding yourself into a leadership position in some area of practice or new practice model?

It’s not arrogant for you to recognize, pursue, and share your “personal genius” (a term first shared with me by my former Associate, Christina Roberson—thanks Christina!). In fact, that’s why each of us is on the planet. There is a spark of divinity in each of us that we can choose to build into a roaring flame and share our light with everyone around us. You just have to recognize what YOUR spark is and one way to recognize that is to set your goals beyond good enough. When you set your goal beyond the status quo—beyond the way everyone else does it—beyond good enough—you are forced to ask how you can make it different and better. That question eventually exposes your spark of personal genius and launches you into leadership.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angietorres/4564135255/)

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  • tea

    Love this post…I am a certified Franklin Covey trainer and have worked with literally hundereds of people on goal setting. I am always amazed at those who choose to play it safe and choose what the world considers right and good, thinking short term versus looking at their own unique set of values and trying to set goals around those. So, for example, if you value financial security and you are that law student and the best way to get that seems, in the short term, to make law review and work unending hours destroying, many times, your zeal for the law, your personal realtionships and even your joy. However, if you dig deeper into financial security as a way of life, not short term, you would want to become the “expert” in an area, market that expertise, build a long-term practice around it and have others working for you in the shorter term to garner you your desired financial security.

  • Grace Byrd

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today!

  • I just re-read this post. The tone that seems to exist when discussing law students’ goals is completely unnecessary. Your point is that everyone’s goals need to be specific. But it’s pretty clear that you think the goal should be to start marketing one’s self to open their own business:

    Are you trying to be in the top 10% your class so you can get a high salary job in a prestigious firm trading moments of your life for the grunt-work handed down by someone who doesn’t appreciate anything other than your billing totals, or are you using the time to learn how to provide enough value in your own area of interest that you won’t ever have to depend on a boss’s whims?</blockquote