Copyright Lasse Christensen (Creative Commons)
The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.
Why would setting your goal too low be a danger?
Human beings love the idea of a challenge. The whole “space race” was such a challenge – being the first country to land someone on the moon – and it was quite successful. The competition, the challenge of doing something that was seemingly impossible, everything combined to create a sense of community amongst the various nations. This community spirit allowed people to think and act differently, to expand the horizons that they thought were there and to peer into into areas that were previously protected by signs that warned “Beyond here there be dragons”.
The challenge and camaraderie that spawned as a result of the desire to aim high, literally, brought together people and nations. Ideas and passion can do that.
NaNoWriMo is an example of setting a goal quite high. An achievable goal to be sure, but still something that is a stretch to accomplish. While it’s target of 50,000 words in a month is nothing that will bring a nation together, it is a goal that can ignite passion in a single individual and help motivate them to achieving the goal. Setting a goal and working your way towards it in a very visible manner enforces accountability and helps to ensure that you “have some skin in the game”: your reputation and your self-esteem.
If you set a goal too low, however, if your goal is too simplistic and too easy to reach then you have a tendency of, not doing your best work. You coast to the finish line, barely content with having achieved the goal. There is no rush of adrenaline, no elation at having supposed your target, just a dull, roaring silence. It is difficult to be motivated by doing something that comes easily.
John F. Kennedy emphasized this point at Rice University in 1962 when he said:
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
Igniting the human spirit is what a well-set target can do for you.