The Myth of Goals?

I interview a lot of successful people. Almost always I want to know about their dreams, goals, and plans in life. What I’ve found is that most people’s lives don’t follow the path they lay out and instead we are gifted with opportunities to change course and try something completely different.

One of the key things I wanted to understand from the millionaires I interviewed was their perspective on and use of goals. So much is said, written, and made of goals I wanted to know their thoughts.

Here are some excerpts from my book, “21 Questions for 21 Millionaires” with their insights. See for yourself and form your own conclusions about goals. I certainly was surprised by what I found. In a subsequent post I'll provide questions and answers on the same topic from my interviews with Olympians.

My questions are in bolded text, their answers follow. To learn more about each millionaire and read their full stories, get a copy of my book here.


Matt Given - Serial Entrepreneur

Did you ever say, “Making a lot of money is my goal” or “Before I die I want to make X amount of money”?

No. I never had a number on the wall that said if I get there I’ve made it or anything like that.

It was just more doing stuff that I found interesting and following the next step in what I felt was my business maturity process.

I don’t think I’ve ever been one to follow the axiom of put your goal on the wall and look at it every day and you’ll achieve it. I never said, “I want to make this much money,” or “I want to do this” or “I want to do that.”

I think it’s more about looking for the next challenge in the maturity road, I guess.


Jeffrey Luftig - Consultant, University Professor

Did you ever expect your business to grow to the level it did?

It would depend when you asked me. The day I started it, I didn’t see it as a business. I saw it as a way to do some consulting and teaching and make a significant amount of money in a relatively short period of time. But “significant” changes throughout time.

I didn’t think I would have 35 employees, that we’d have satellite offices all over the world, and that I’d be flying around in my own plane; no I never saw that. I wasn’t surprised when it happened, but I never saw it.


Jeffrey Hill - Consultant, Philanthropist

Did you have written down goals?

Not really.

Did you ever set out to be a millionaire?

No. My economic goal centered on where my dad came from. I thought $100,000 was all the money [in the world]. Then my goal was to have enough money so that money was not an issue in my life.

I didn’t need to have lofty goals. I didn’t grow up with a lot of things. My family had a lot of love and we worked hard.

Do you have goals now?


But you didn’t along the way?

I did as I got older.

You asked me if I did when I started. No, I didn’t. Did I have the goal of being a millionaire? I had the goal of being successful. I didn’t know what that was.


Heidi Ganahl - Founder Camp Bow Wow, CU Regent

Did you ever set out to be a millionaire?

I always wanted to be very successful. I wanted to be a great leader or a female entrepreneur. I always had that drive, but when I set out to become a millionaire was after I lost the million dollars from the [life insurance] settlement. I knew I had to earn it back, so my whole goal has been to create a company that is worth at least a million dollars.

You had a business plan, but did you have written down, specific goals? “In year one I want to make this much, in year two this much, the company this much, me this much.” Did you have it crystallized?

For my Camp I did, for the franchise part of it, no.

You just fell into that?

By the seat of my pants.


Steve Rosdal - Co-Founder Hyde Park Jewelers

Did you build the business step by step or did you have a master plan in mind?

I had no master plan. I was playing volleyball.


Vance Andrus - Lawyer, Serial Entrepreneur

Did you have written down goals along this journey?

I never did. I always just stayed awake and alive.


Barry Hamilton - Founder Red Canyon Software, Real Estate Investor

Did you have written down goals, concrete goals, that you wanted to achieve along the path?

I never went through that exercise of planning what kind of car I wanted to drive. I know a lot of people do and they’re successful with it. They’ve got their “dream board” on which they put pictures of cars, boats, homes, etc. and use that as motivation. I’ve never been like that.

I think I’m probably a little bit different. My goal was to be worth $1 million when I was 30 and $10 million when I was 40. Those were the only goals I ever had.

I don’t really set concrete ideas of where I needed to be.

I’m much more of a person who goes with the flow of karma and energy where it takes me, kind of like a feather in wind. I try not to fight where my next opportunity is coming from or where my next vacation is going to be.

I know I’m different from the guys in EO in that regard because they set that ultimate goal. I’m more into living life at the moment, right now. This 10 seconds of reality, enjoying it, and that’s what I try to embrace.


Theresa Szczurek - Co-Founder Radish Systems

Did you have written down goals throughout the building of Radish?

Yes. Sometimes they were clearer than others, but we definitely had a clear, written business plan, which we revised annually and turned it into an operations plan of how to guide the firm.

I have had personal goals since my early 20s.


John “Jack” Odom - Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

Did you ever have written down goals for becoming a doctor?


For the amount of money that you wanted to make?


You never had written down goals?



Mark Sanborn - Professional Speaker, Author

Did you have a visualization of where you wanted to be or written down goals?

I’m not the best guy to talk about written goals. I believe in the power of goals, but I have been far more successful personally with having a very clear sense of direction and seizing opportunities as they evolve.

I knew I wanted to be a speaker. I knew I wanted to be a successful speaker. But I didn’t have the goal of “I’ll be making X number of dollars by this date next year.”


John Simcox - Founder JC Keepsake

Did you have written down goals?

Yes, all the time.


Bill Begal - Founder Begal Enterprises

Do you have written down goals, or did you as you were building your business, of what you wanted to accomplish in life?

No. Regrettably, I’m not the most disciplined paper work person.

I think part of my success was some of my gutsy decisions. Kind of like a kid on skis when they’re young: boom, down the slope. They don’t know any better.

I think some of the early decisions and gambles I made helped me to get to where I am today. Now with my business partner…some of those decisions I made then she would never let me make today.


Doug Krug - Serial Entrepreneur

To what did you listen and what did you trust?

Spiritual guidance. The belief that everything was there for the opportunity in it and that the question to run on is, “What is the opportunity here?”

Not all of the decisions, just because an idea comes into your head, are to move forward with it. Sometimes the answer is “this is not a fit…”

It has been an incredible journey of listening and a big piece of it is, and this is the hardest part to articulate, the thing about having goals. It is important to be clear what we want. It is equally important to not be attached to it.

We need the beacon of clarity as to what we want, but as we move toward what we want, we have to listen to everything else, all the other messages on the way to getting there. Because it may turn out that what we thought we wanted wasn’t really what we wanted.

When you opened the record store, other than the business plan, did you have a written goal?


When you started Enlightened Leadership, did you have a goal for how many books you wanted to sell?



Cynthia McKay - Founder Le Gourmet Gift Baskets, Business Coach, Therapist

Did you have written goals?

No, no written goals at all.


Lane Nemeth - Founder Discovery Toys, Serial Entrepreneur

As I interview people I ask, “Did you ever have written down goals?” “Did you use visualization techniques?” Folks are telling me no.

I agree.


Bryan Willis - Owner ET Investments

Did you have written down goals?

Most of my goals as far as a career were pipe dreams. I wanted to make $100,000 a year by the time I was 30. I have no idea where I came up with that or why I did, but I wanted to.

And I hoped to have a million dollars by the time I was 40. But I didn’t write any goals down. I just wanted to be able to support a family. I don’t know why I even had those other goals in mind. I don’t know that they were really goals; they probably weren’t.


Shawn Kane - Owner, Kane Consulting

Did you ever have written down goals?

I wouldn’t necessarily say written down goals. It was more personal targets I wanted to hit. For instance, “Within three months, I want to have five new clients. Within six months, I want to have those clients referring me to other clients.”

It wasn’t that I wrote the goals down. I’m not necessarily a writing-goals-down-oriented person. It’s more like, “This is the way I see it, that’s what I want to do, I’m going to do it and get it done.” And it gets done. I give myself a certain timeframe–[I don’t] necessarily write it down–and check it every month.


Judith Briggs - Men in Kilts & 1-800-GOT-JUNK Franchise Owner

Even back when you graduated college, did you have specific goals of money you wanted to make or places you wanted to live? Did you write goals down?

Up until about a couple of years ago I did not.


Rob Emrich - Serial Entrepreneur

Did you set forth a plan? Did you write down specifics of what you wanted the foundation to accomplish?

Yes, for sure. Everything I start, I start with a plan.

Do you have written down goals at the start?

Yes. I write down goals for myself for the year, for five years, or ten years.

Every project you’re involved in, you have specific goals?

Yes and a plan on how to get there. It changes frequently, but I always have a plan.


Richard Zuschlag - Founder, Chairman of the Board Acadian Companies

As you were younger and then as you were building the business, did you ever expect or want to become a millionaire?


Did you ever have written down goals, concrete financial goals?


Did you ever have a system of success in mind that you followed or did you make it up as you went along?

Made it up as I went along.

Goals = Success?