Goals and Values

Posted on January 8, 2013

In spite of the title, this post is not about web analytics. Instead I’m using it to get some thoughts together about why I’m setting up my own company and what I want it to be.

A coach once pointed out to me the importance of aligning your goals with your values. If your goal is to win an Olympic gold medal and you value sleeping late at the weekend and spending lots of time with your family then you’re going to have a bad time. This is one of the reasons I gave up rowing; my values did not align with the sacrifices I realised I would have to make to reach my goals. I valued the feeling of being good at rowing too much to accept the beatings I would need to take to compete at the level I wanted to (it is an unacknowledged truth in sport that almost everyone loses almost all the time. 28 people lost in the 100m at London 2012 and you can bet that a decent proportion of them weren’t just happy to be there).

Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as writing down a list of values and then finding goals to fit them. As I get older and experience more of life I realise new things about what I value; either my values are changing (quite possible) or I’m just not very good at figuring out what they are.

Here are some things that I know I value (as I write them down I realise they are quite superficial):

1 The Feeling of Being Really Good at Something

Why don’t I say “being really good at something”? For two reasons; firstly because I don’t have a lot of experience with being really good at many things and secondly knowing when you are really good at something is quite tricky.

I am sure that in my life I have definitely been good at two things; maths and rowing. In both these areas it is possible to measure yourself against your peers so I have a pretty good idea of where I stood when I was practising both of them regularly. I would say that for both, I was at least three standard deviations away from the mean (i.e. top 1%). However, because I had a pretty good idea of where I stood in these areas I can estimate that the people who were actually really good at this stuff were at least another standard deviation above me in ability. Could I have caught up if I worked harder? Maybe.

Would I value being really good at something if I didn’t know how good at it I was? Almost certainly not.

Valuing the feeling has two advantages:

  1. It removes the need to figure out some objective ranking mechanism
  2. I don’t need to obsessively compare myself with others in order to feel fulfilled.

There is one major downside:

  1. Feeling good isn’t the same as being good. I might not push myself to be as good as I can be.

I’ll just have to hope that brutal self honesty keeps me on the straight and narrow.

2 The Feeling of Being Clever

A major motivation for me publishing my HTML5 pushState analytics hack is that I knew the community would think it was clever.

A weakness of mine is that I don’t enjoy some types of work that deliver excellent results because I don’t consider then particularly clever.

3 Commitment and intensity of purpose

I dislike doing things half arsed. I admire people who exhibit single minded focus towards a clear vision. When I look back on times in my life where I have been particularly content I have often been fully committed to a clear goal.

Conversely, when I have been miserable it has often been with the feeling of not really being fully engaged with what I was doing at the time.

4 Making a meaningful impact

If you were offered £1,000,000/year to stir paint for ten hours a day, would you take the job? I wouldn’t; I have better things to do with my time and I want whatever I do to have a meaningful impact.

Meaningful in this context is hard to define, what separates meaningful actions from futile ones? I think that for me it is to do with two things:

  1. A close matching between the task and my skills
  2. Helping someone with values in common with me. This is all about people; none of this takes place in a vacuum. The main joy of this type of work is getting good results for a person. For us both to agree on a definition of “good results” we need to have something in common.

It’s getting late and I also value a good night’s sleep. Writing this post has definitely been useful for me; you might have to put up with a couple more like this my dear reader.