Goal Setting: the path to both success and failure

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

You went through the top drawer of my old dresser at Nana and Papaw’s house a few weekends ago. You pulled out treasures in the shape of old ticket stubs, actual printed photographs, pocket knives, buttons, ribbons, medals, and assorted other trinkets from my childhood and teen years.

The treasure hunt lead to stories and memories, some long forgotten: a trip in the 3rd or 4th grade while living in Tampa to see the Washington Redskins practice for their 1984 superbowl against the Oakland Raiders where I met Joe Theisman and got Coach Joe Gibbs autograph, a ticket stub to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where I watched freestyle wrestling, a ticket stub to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1994 in Nashville. Worthless pieces of paper, but not in terms of the memories attached.

You dug deeper into my old dresser drawer and pulled out a folded piece of college-ruled notebook paper. We unfolded the paper together and found a list of goals I’d written down for myself as a freshman wrestler in 1989. You kids lost interest pretty quickly, but felt my heart rate elevate and then slow as I remembered how to control my breathing and emotions. It’s an old trick I learned as a wrestler that has served me well as an adult dealing with hard times and as a professional when under pressure.

I read through the list, stared out of the window in my old bedroom out to Glenn Hill Drive where I used to run sprints, jump rope, and sometimes just walk after dark to clear my head and control my nerves.

Wrestling was all I ever wanted as a kid. I had big goals.

Somewhere along the way my high school coach talked to us about the importance of goal setting. He taught us so much, but that session on goals has always stuck with me – now nearly 25 years later.

I read through the list, broken into sections: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. The things I wanted to accomplish each year. The memories flooded my mind, bringing certain things up from the subterranean depths of where the hard memories or small things get lost in our lives. I read the list over and over and went back to those places:



  • Win Freshman regionals – yes
  • Wrestle Varsity – yes
  • Go to State – no


  • Make 112 – yes
  • Beat Mark Churchwell – na
  • 1st or 2nd in Region – yes
  • Place in State – no
  • Make Tennessean Midstate Team – yes


  • Win Region – yes
  • 1st or 2nd in State – yes
  • Midstate Team – yes
  • Regional Outstanding Wrestler – no



  • Win Region – yes
  • Outstanding wrestler in Region – yes
  • Win State – yes
  • Undefeated – no
  • Captain Midstate Team – yes

17 goals written down by 14 or 15 year old over 25 years ago and kept in my underwear drawer ever since. I contemplated the wisdom I had then, as immature as I may have been. I ended up accomplishing 12 of the 16 goals (throwing out “beat Mark Churchwell”. He was the only kid who beat me as an 8th grader. He moved away and I never got to wrestle him again.)

The important things I took away as I stood in my old childhood bedroom staring at my handwriting from when I was 14 years old were still the importance of writing it down, making the goals incremental and progressive, and making them high reaching – all the way to the top. By the time I considered my Senior season goals I wrote down the biggest possible achievements I could imagine: win state, go undefeated, captain midstate team, be the best wrestler at any weight in the region. As a kid I knew how to “shoot for the stars.”

Of those final big goals I accomplished 4 of the 5 senior season goals: Win region, outstanding wrestler in region, win state, and captain midstate team. I missed “go undefeated” by 1 loss. I went 43-1 my senior year, that 1 loss coming at midseason and representing the reality check I needed to get through the rest of the year  without losing again. Not achieving that smaller goal still bothers me when I think about it, but it doesn’t diminish having accomplished the bigger goals at all. In fact, it helped, though I didn’t see it back then. Failure in your goals isn’t defeat. Rather, it’s a wake up call or the motivation you need to work harder.

The truth is, if you’re accomplishing all of your goals all of the time you aren’t setting hard enough goals.

I couldn’t have known at 14 that at 18 I was going to accomplish what I wanted. But I was willing to risk the journey and admit what I wanted.

There are going to be bumps in the road for dreamers/believers/achievers.

The thing about goals is that you have to set them in writing, make them big, make them progressive, so that you can have small victories along the way to the ultimate goal. My ultimate goal was to win state. The smaller more short term goals I established in 1989 set the roadmap for me to follow to that destination in 1993. “Make 112” as a sophomore goal was just as important as any of the others along the road.

My wrestling goals ended with “Win State”. I never considered college wrestling goals, so when it college came along, I walked away from the few scholarship offers I had and was finished. I hadn’t put anything on the line and it was easy to walk away. No one blamed me or called me a quitter because I never claimed to have more goals. Who knows where my wrestling may have gone if I’d committed to college goals as I’d committed to high school goals.

“Grown ups” often aren’t as willing to dream big – Or put our pride on the line by saying what we want.

We’re beaten up too much.

Too jaded and tired and discouraged.

But I like people with big goals. They make me better. They force me to keep stretching and pushing myself. Contentment with your life is good. And so is a desire to be the best you can be.

As I stared out of the window in my old bedroom surrounded by framed pictures and medals and memories of something I accomplished almost 25 years ago, I thought about the life ahead. For me. For each of you.

I wondered what goals we’ll write down.

Which ones we’ll accomplish, and which ones we’ll fail in the attempt and what we’ll learn from each.

Take Baby steps towards life’s marathon and the ultimate victory that awaits us in Heaven.

Write the goals down. Look at them. Measure them. Follow the path towards something great. Even if you don’t show them to anyone else – you’ll know and feel more committed.

Know that you’ll fail at some. But know that staying on the path will ultimately lead to more successes than failures.

One day, when your hair is grey, your children may find the goals you set in writing when you were young and want to know why and how you chased them.

I love you,

– Daddy