Video Update: What Happens When We Don’t Achieve an Important Goal?

This video update was recorded live after my recent half-marathon in Forest Grove, Oregon. A tired runner (me) and the sound of cowbells (for someone else who finished the race mid-video) is included at no extra charge.

If you can’t watch the video, here’s a short longer-than-usual summary.

If you’ve read along for a while, you know that I attribute a lot of my personal success to an intense process of goal-setting I undergo every year. I call this my Annual Review, and ever since I started doing it each December, I’ve made a great deal more progress during the next year than I initially thought I would.

For example, I originally intended to visit 10 countries a year and I ended up being able to go to at least 20 for three years and counting. I learned I could manage grad school, full-time work, international travel, service commitments, and other events simultaneously without stressing out or dropping too many balls. It’s not always pretty, but it works.

Last December during the review, I included a fitness goal of running either one marathon or two half-marathons in 2009. Well, here we are in September, and I finally got around to running my first real race. In my partial defense, most races in my part of the world take place around this time of year, so I’m not super late. But it’s also true that while I’ve been keeping reasonably fit all year, I’ve definitely struggled in the long-distance running department.

Because of all my travel, consistent training has been tough. I try to work out wherever I am in the world, but running a few miles a few times a week is much different than training for a marathon.

Until the day of my half-marathon, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. I ended up having a great race that helped me start off a busy week on a high note, but all the way until the halfway point I was wondering, is this going to work?

It reminded me of the question I’ve heard from readers a few times over the past year: what happens when we don’t achieve an important goal?

I do everything I can to achieve what I set out to do, but it’s true that once in a while, something doesn’t work out as planned. In the case of failure, I adopt a three-step process as outlined below.

1. Acknowledge disappointment. If something doesn’t work out, I don’t want to kill myself over it– but I also don’t want to forget about it right away. I take goal-setting seriously and I don’t want to fail. If it happens, I’m going to be a little disappointed, and that’s OK.

2. Revert to backups if possible. The goal of running two half-marathons instead of one full marathon is a good example of a backup goal. I don’t have any pretense that two halves equals a whole (they are very different events, and the full marathon is much more challenging for most runners). However, I view the two half-marathons as an acceptable backup goal. Because of everything else I’ve been involved in this year, I don’t mind accepting a substitute as long as it is somewhat comparable. Which leads me to the past point:

3. Compare to other goals at the end of the year (and reevaluate for next year). If I really don’t do something well that I had planned for, I may be disappointed, but I’ll try to put it in context of everything else I did manage to accomplish.

As part of this final step, when I fail to do something I deliberately set out to do, I re-evaluate that goal in the context of future planning. This begins with asking myself how important the goal is to me. Do I really want to run full marathons? What if I have to choose between visiting 20 countries a year and running 26.2 miles at one time?

In a case like this I can either a) keep the goal on the list for another time, or b) decide I don’t need to worry about it for now.

To take another example, for three years in a row I was frustrated with a side business I had built while overseas. The business was successful in a financial sense, but growth was stagnant and I found I lacked the desire to make the improvements I knew it needed. Three times I set important goals for the business, and three times it didn’t happen.

I finally gave up and just decided I would work on something I was more passionate about, which eventually became the site you are reading about now. With my ADD personality I work very hard at things I care about– and almost not at all at things I don’t care about. Thankfully, I care a lot about almost everything I am doing these days.


Overall, I want to have many more successes than failures– and I believe that is what you can expect when you take goal-setting seriously. My personal success rate is more than 80%, and I don’t know why anyone else’s should be less. Someone more focused than me should probably be even higher.

Even with a >80% success rate, however, some things will fall through the cracks from time to time. I love running, but I think for now I may need to accept that the half-marathon is my longest distance while I’m still traveling so actively. That’s OK with me. It’s also nice to finish a race tired and fulfilled– but not completely dead to the world for several days, which is how I’ve felt after the three full marathons I’ve ran.

Another person might look at the same scenario and decide that making any sacrifice in a fitness goal is not acceptable. They might have to adjust the other activity (travel) to compensate, or perhaps find a third variable that could be adjusted to allow both goals to flourish.

Most Important

Remember, no one else will ever care about your goals as much as you do. If you don’t take them seriously, who will? Sometimes one of them may not work out as planned, but most of the time you’ll surprise yourself with how easy it was.

By the way, as of the day of this post, there are exactly 115 days left in 2009. Are you on track to finish everything you hoped for this year? If not, there’s still time to take another look.


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  • Gilles says:

    Great! Congrats on running a half-marathon, you’ve got some great goals, good luck.

    I’m on a final dash to achieve my 2009 goals, I hope I make it.

  • Tisha Morris says:

    Great article! There is so much written on making and acheiving goals that I find myself getting bummed when I don’t acheive a goal and left wondering what happened when one of my goals goes unacheived. So, thanks for addressing this.

  • Sean says:

    I firmly believe goal setting is one of, if not the most important factor to achieving any of the things you may want to do in life. However, the hardest part about this is sticking to them. I like what you said about not killing yourself over a missed goal, but also not forgetting about it either. All too often I will forget about it too soon, which leads to me never reaching the goal.

    Are you running the PDX marathon in a few weeks?

  • Martin Wiedenhoff says:

    Hi Chris,

    I do the same thing with my entire family. We set yearly goals for me, my wife and the family. What helps us achieve most of our goals is

    1) Classify them into
    a) Important / urgent
    b) Important / non urgent (can be shuffled around during the year)
    c) Forget about anything that is Unimportant / urgent and Unimportant / non-urgent

    2) Book the events early so there is no way backing out. I registered for my two health projects in January although they take place months later!
    Keeps you focused and determined whilst training every day ๐Ÿ™‚

    3) Have a cookie jar to fuel your dream goal with $1 and $5 bills each time you do an action that supports your goal. Example: each time we do a family activity I put $2 per person in the vacation budget towards our next trip. The more we put in the jar the more choices we will have!

    Besides that you are right about being able to move on when you realize that one goal or objective does no longer fits the TOP 10 list. I actually tend to feel good about when somebody confirms that my goal was way out of reach since I could have wasted a lot of energy and time trying to achieve it ๐Ÿ™‚

    Listen to your gut feeling and then act on it as if you had one year left to live

    Good luck

    Montreal, Canada

  • Nathan Hangen says:

    Nice time Chris, amazing how you fit it all in. As I train for triathlons and try to achieve my business and personal goals together, it can be difficult. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes I have to remind myself that although setting goals is great, being realistic is important…none of us are superman.

  • Cody Limbaugh says:

    Congratulations! Well done!

    I enjoy the perspective of being journey oriented rather than goal oriented. I try to view goals as mileposts in the journey. They are rewarding when achieved and help direct and focus one toward excellence. If a goal is missed, it simply means the route has changed or the journey is temporarily slowed- it is an opportunity for learning and growth.

    By the way…has anyone introduced you to CrossFit? It can dramatically reduce your training time to prepare you for your runs! It may provide a way to get more done with less time – plus I think you would appriciate the open-source non-conformist approach they take with life.
    I will not hijack your post here but if you would like to learn more shoot me an email and I can share the websites and info.

  • giulietta nardone says:

    Hi Chris,

    Twenty countries a year & a half marathon sounds great to me! Congrats. Like the point you made about your previous biz. Sometimes we don’t achieve a goal because it’s not really a goal we want to achieve. It’s important to figure out if it’s really your goal or someone else’s.

    Often a goal finds me! Those unexpected ones can be the best kind. I just add them to the list pre-checked off! Great feel good exercise.

    Giulietta, Inspirational Rebel

  • Janice Cartier says:

    I am smiling Chris.. Great minds and all … I just posted about your terrific annual review this morning…and here you are talking about it too.. congratulations on the half Marathon and all your other completions…More cowbells for all of us, and really cool medals…All best, Jan

  • Chris says:

    Hey guys, thanks for the great comments.


    No, I’m not running PDX. I’d be up for doing another half, but they only have the full 26.2. I just learned that another friend of mine is walk/jogging it, though, so I may help him out for 10 miles or so. Hope to see you there if you’ll be around.


    I’m not familiar with CrossFit per se, but I do cross train — if that makes sense.

  • MoneyEnergy says:

    Congrats, this is a great example showing how much more we can push ourselves. I’ve struggled with balancing single-minded focus on a project vs. trying to achieve several things at a time – are they necessarily mutually exclusive? If anything, I’ve also set smaller goals for myself than I could have really achieved. That’s good when you’re just starting out perhaps, and you need the immediate encouragement of achievement, but at a certain point you want to learn when to really ramp it up and push at your full potential. Thanks for the great reminder!

  • Jonathan Frei says:

    Great article. I feel like I set a lot of goals that I never follow through on. Glad to have a good method of dealing with the unfinished goals that doesn’t make me feel like a slacker.

  • Etsuko says:


    Congratulations on achieving another goal!

    I’ve been thinking, who is it to tell how many goals you are allowed to have, how much you’d put in in each goal, etc.?

    Recently a colleague accused me of not giving my 100% to my day job, because she learned that I have created my own business. I appreciated her honesty in sharing her feelings, but I also felt that it doesn’t really make sense. It wasn’t like I was inconveniencing her by having my own business – she admitted that it doesn’t have anything to do with my performance. She just felt resentful that while she’s giving her 100% into this job, I don’t seem to be doing that – because I have other things going on and this day job is just one of the things I do. Her comment just really got me thinking.

    I guess, Chris, you did talk about people getting upset about others who do what they are passionate about, so maybe I just had the first experience of getting the direct feedback of that kind.

    Your post is always so timely and inspiring.


  • Teresa says:

    I find your writing so motivational, Thanks for the excellent writing, work and encouragement..and congrads on the 1/2. I know how hard they are!!

  • Mike Masters says:

    My current big goal is to ride my bicycle to Alaska from Southern California. Right now I am on Vancouver island pondering if I am still going to do it!? I am physically capable but I have lost my place to stay in Ketchikan really the purpose for going… Very disappointing…
    In the past I would have been crushed but I now understand the flexibility of goals, which you call backups. Goals change because you and life changes but no worries. I am going to shoot across Canada instead and if I don’t beat the weather the goal will change again!
    BTW I am a marathoner and the Furman First three day training program helped me run my first marathon under 4 hours. Excellent program.

  • Coach J says:

    I love the idea of an Annual Review. I think that may become a part of my New Year’s routine. Thanks!

  • Gordie Rogers says:

    Thanks for this Chris. It’s good to be reminded that even great people in their fields don’t always achieve. The main thing is that they don’t dwell on it. They learn to move on quickly.

  • d00d says:

    I got to mile 26 of my first marathon and collapsed. I had to go to the ER. It sucked.

    But then I finished another marathon against the odds (leftovers of Hurricane Ike canceled the official event at 10 miles, but I just ran 26.2 on my own). It was delicious; delayed gratification at its finest.

  • Foxie says:

    Love this! I’m *huge* on goal setting, but sometimes…. Well, life just gets in the way. I had high hopes of getting further on in my car build, as well as boosting savings quite a bit and contributing more to retirement… Instead, I picked up /another/ project car, that I wholly adore.

    The best laid plans are the ones that are the most flexible and can change and adapt to new situations. I picked two things I’d like to do to my car now, and should be able to knock those out by the end of the year. While not as much as I originally hoped to do, it’s going to be enough for me, all things considered.

  • Tyler says:

    “Have a cookie jar to fuel your dream goal with $1 and $5 bills each time you do an action that supports your goal. Example: each time we do a family activity I put $2 per person in the vacation budget towards our next trip. The more we put in the jar the more choices we will have!”

    I love this idea. Just another self motivational type of tool. Maybe it has to do with the cookie jar and my current longing for a cookie.

    When I set goals I like to make sure I can tie them together. When you find ways to interconnect them, you can pursue all of them simultaneously without worrying that your spending too much time on one or the other.

    Have you considered running marathons in other countries. Maybe there’s an opportunity to pursue your travel and running goals at the same time?

  • Mike says:

    Good perspective on goals.

    My hair wouldn’t look that neat after 15 minutes of playing basketball. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jean-Philippe says:

    Great for you Chris!

    But I have to ask: how do you manage to keep your hairdo perfect after a half-marathon? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Mike says:

    Nice job Chris… 1hr 40min and you don’t even look like you broke a sweat! haha

    I’m running my first half-marathon this Dec and hope to look as fresh as you did after yours!


  • Wyman says:

    You runners are another breed. My brother fell off his roof onto a rock garden and broke his hip up very badly. Lots of screws, etc. to put him back together. The doc said it was the end of running. Six months later he was back at it.

    He use to run 100 miles accross the tops of mountians. Now be runs and puts out flags for only 20 miles before the race and takes them down after. Running is his passion.

    Fill you life with things you love to do and it wouldn’t matter if you miss one or two goals. 97% of people never write their goals down much less check on them at the end of the year. Keep it up. You live an awsome life that inspires us all. Wyman

  • Aaron says:

    Great post about holding yourself accountable and planning for the disappointments. It made me think!!!!

  • Jennifer Moore says:

    Chris, you are an inspiration! WTG on meeting your goals (at the very least at a level with which you are comfortable!)

    I just started my business in November of 2008. When I did, I had some general short and long term goals in mind, but I did not initially do an annual review. I think I will start doing so in the new year. Start fresh, you know?

    I’m a big believer in GTD and mini-goal setting, baby-stepping, etc. I’m also quite fond of Covey. His book, _First Things First_, was a big eye-opener for me and was probably what actually pushed me to start my business, even though I still have a full-time job (I need it, for now.) I gave my copy away, but I think I’m going to get myself another copy and really work with it. It’s great stuff!

    I love your blog, too. You have a very eloquent way of laying things out, and you are a huge help.


  • Jill says:

    I’m so impressed that you ran a half marathon–congrats on that accomplishment! Thanks for sharing your strategy for goal setting–great info!
    Take Care,

  • Vince says:

    I know how you feel. My goal was to be an All American wrestler in college. That when you place 8th or higher at the NCAA tournment. Only the elite of the elite place that high. In fact I believe that only 10% of all college wrestlers will make it that high. The furthest that I got was being a Back up to a national qualifier. Did it suck? Sure did. But the one thing that keep me going was that I did everything in my power to make my goal come true. I may not have acheived my goal but I can look back and feel good that I worked my ass off and could not have done anything different.


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