How Your Big Goal Can Mess You Up

It’s time for some tough love.

I begin with my own, painful lesson. It happened during my morning run, as I was happily jogging by a favorite spot. Suddenly another runner came up behind me, passed me by and kept on going, leaving me in his wake.

I felt myself tense up. My competitive spirit immediately rose within me. My blood began a slow simmer. Why? Because anytime anybody beats me at anything I tend to feel the same way.

I hate it.

No, I mean it. I really, truly, hate it.

My normal response would’ve been to speed up, to try to match this guy step for step and then pass him, leaving him to wonder how he could possibly have tried to overtake such a fast and mighty being.


But then, as I watched his easy, long, graceful strides, it hit me. The guy was just faster. As I looked around I actually realized that there were many, many faster runners than me. Furthermore, no matter what I did there would always be faster runners than me. I’m just not built to be the best at it.

The reality stung for a moment. But then…I felt liberated. After all, if I couldn’t be the best runner around, then I could just focus on being the best runner I could be.

Knowing and accepting I’d never be the best at it actually made me free.

Know what else? I’m also never going to be the strongest person in the world. I won’t be the smartest, nor the prettiest. Despite my efforts I won’t be the best writer of all time nor will I have the most money in the bank.

And…brace yourself here…chances are neither will you.

In fact, it’s impossible. None of us can be better than every other person at every single thing we do. Even when we master a hobby or a sport or hold some kind of record…even when we are the most dashing person out there…



Someone else eventually comes along and steals the spotlight.



I make this point not to bring you down, but to free you up. In the competition of life we just can’t be the best at everything we do.


We can be our best at everything we do. We can beat our own records.

Great leaders do it. They  make choices about the things that truly feed them, set new goals to achieve new heights, work on making themselves better and stronger.

We can do it, too. We can do more, experience more…be more. We can do it with integrity and grace.

  • We can go after a big promotion because we can do the job well and it will grow us as a professional…not because we want to be the smartest, richest person in the world. We won’t.
  • We can try out the game of golf because we think we’ll have knack for it and it’ll be fun…not because we want to beat out Tiger Woods. We can’t.
  • We can try to run a half mile further than last week because we want to push ourselves to a new level of fitness…not because we want to pass every single person on the route. We’ll kill ourselves.

Now, let me be clear. You just might be better than anyone else at something – or you might feel you’ve got what it takes to get there. If so, go for it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive for amazing things.

What I am saying is that none of us can be the best at everything. If we try to be the best…the strongest, prettiest, richest person on the planet… we’ll not only wind up frustrated, we’ll also kid/kill ourselves in the process. It’s not good for us. In fact, it can really mess us up.

We can’t compete with the world. Instead, we must compete with our own status quo, growing ourselves, finding new levels of success and happiness.

That’s what I tried to remember after that runner kept on going ahead of me…and I took a right turn and sprinted up a new hill for the very first time.

The other thing I knew? That at some point, it would be okay to stop.

forrest two

This week…

Free yourself. Recognize that you can’t be the best person of all time at everything you do.

But you can be – and continue to become – your best you.

After all, everyone is on their own, special path. And even if the guy in front of you has some kind of edge this time around, you can still kick butt in our own way.

And you will.

Now go do good…and do it well.


18 responses to “How Your Big Goal Can Mess You Up”

  1. Susan Paul, BSW Avatar
    Susan Paul, BSW

    Yes, it’s important to keep our goals in perspective. You’re right It’s always pretty when push past our limits; the quality of work produced and our health will suffer. I feel exceed expectations especially when I focus on my strengths and do what can be done given the circumstances. I like to say “do you…you do that best” and God will handle the rest.

    Thanks for toady’s the dose of realism.

    Be Well,

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      I love that “do you” line…perhaps I might even use it myself! 🙂 Thanks very much for your comment!

  2. Scott H. Avatar


    Great self observation. Ever wonder why we are so competitive? Why do we think that bigger, faster, and more are valid desires? There have been some pretty funny commercials lately that show a guy in a suit and tie sitting down and talking with small children about what they think; “What’s better, faster or slower?” Of course they all scream “faster”, but as I reflect on the deeper issues of life I have to say sometimes slower is better. What if that sunset lasted just a few more minutes, or that time with a loved one was not over so quickly as they rushed off to their next “goal” in life. Maybe I’m getting old, but next week I’ll celebrate 35 years of awesomeness with my wife in San Francisco, and part of our talks will center around how to pursue joy in the last third of our life. We’ve decided that the pursuit of happiness is not all there is to this life. Our marriage is indeed awesome, but parts of it are hard, and brings us closer to holiness than happiness. I hope we’ll find more ways to serve others before ourselves as a better way to true purpose, meaning, and joy. I know, this may be too deep for a blog post, but just thought I’d encourage a time of being in still water which let’s us run deeper, not faster. Inspiring book on less not more by the way; Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. Came out in 2007, but is a valid read. Thanks for encouraging us to “do good” in our own ways.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      This is so wonderful, Scott…thanks so much for sharing what you’ve learned through the FIRST 2/3 of your life (though I’m betting you might have longer if you live such a great attitude!). Your comments are very special and appreciated…

  3. Robyn Avatar

    Exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks Deirdre.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      So pleased to hear it – and my pleasure! Thanks for the comment…

  4. Patricia Costa Avatar
    Patricia Costa

    Thank you once again Deirdre for your honest sharing and wisdom. Once I realize that I just need to be the best me takes a lot of pressure off. And who needs pressure? To quote the words of the song by Frank Sinatra which you are probably are too young to remember, “I Gotta Be Me!”

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Well you can’t go wrong with a quote from Old Blue Eyes! Thanks for your great comments…appreciate them!

  5. Natasha Avatar

    I feel the exact same way when I’m running, it’s a secret competition that no one else knows about lol! This is something I work on a lot…competing with myself, not worrying about where I “should” be. It’s totally freeing to let go of the need to be the best and to shift the focus onto enjoying the challenge of hitting a new personal best.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks so much for your great comment, Natasha! My problem is I tend to make EVERYTHING is a secret competition. Can I get to the light faster than the guy next to me? Can I beat the person walking into the store? Can I get all my emails answered the fastest? Sheesh…no wonder I get so exhausted! 🙂

  6. Denise McMahan Avatar

    Thanks for the great post, Deirdre. I love the idea of “being the best you.” That is something meaningful to shoot for and completely within our reach. No one else can beat you and being you! I also like Scott’s claim that slower is better. Taking in the moments that count. That’s really compelling to me.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks so much for taking the time to post your comment, Denise…much appreciated! And I agree with you about Scott’s comment…slower is definitely the way to go. I just have to work REALLY hard at remembering it 🙂

  7. Hanna Cooper Avatar

    Deirdre, this post means the world to be today – you can’t know! I had a big goal yesterday which turned into a big mess and your post is helping me see a different way to look at it.

    My guess is that everyone reading this blog is someone who values doing good & big stuff in the world, and holds high standards. It’s when those high standards get turned around, inside out or upside down that we (or at least I) get in trouble.

    How to honor the competition, drive, and energy of wanting to excel something and not have it bog us down – that’s the key to me. And really, truly – thanks for this post.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Wow Hanna – thanks so much…I’m so pleased this came at the right time! And I’m right there with you – those high standards are what get us success, but they sure can mess with our heads sometimes!

  8. Rick O. Avatar
    Rick O.


    Excellent post. I like how this comes right after Marcus Buckingham encouraged all of us at AFP’s International Conference to build on our strengths. At the very least, I already have everything I need to be the best Rick O. I can be!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks so much, Rick, for taking the time to read the post and provide such kind words…best of luck being the best Rick O. ever!!

  9. Heidi Hancock Avatar

    I love those little moments of clarity – when you take the right turn and up a new hill. What a great way to take all that competitive energy and instead of driving in a straight line, forging your own path. Here’s to forks in the road and sharp right turns!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks Heidi – a metaphor as well as a literal lesson, yes? Appreciate the comments!