About a year ago, I had a fruitful and enjoyable trip to South Africa and Namibia. The trip included a lunch with longtime friend and fellow professional speaker, Nick French, who used to live in Singapore. Nick has a challenging life at home but meets each day cheerfully and with hope. He told me a story he heard about long-term goals framed around a cake, which has been memorable and powerfully effective.
As a leader, you’re probably acutely aware of a series of cascading goals you are looking at from a short to medium, and possibly over the longer term. Short-terms goals are often infused with urgency; and the sum of the results often feed into what I call the medium term goals. So short-term goals could include completing a new IT installation at work; meeting a quarterly sales number and so on. On a personal basis, it could be finishing some do-it-yourself home improvement project over a weekend, or losing some weight over a space of a month. Medium term goals could include winning that promotion; passing a distance-learning degree programme and so. However, a deep sense of urgency is often lost when looking at long-term goals.
It’s not an issue of time management at times, but more to do with a loss of ‘goal management’. Things get in the way. The pay-off seems too far away and so on.
For short-term goals, what I have found useful is to constantly imagine completing the task or reaching the target; and the payoff; coupled with a series of commitments on a daily basis. Going for a daily run for exercise for example is MUCH easier than actually getting from our desk to putting on those running shoes. So having the commitment, visualising the payoff can help. With my staff at work, I often used to say, “What are we going to achieve TODAY?” Yes, not tomorrow or next week. By framing daily tasks and habits, it creates a sense of urgency to need to accomplish something within a frame of a day.
For the medium terms goals, what I’ve discovered helpful is to have an accountability partner. It has to be someone you respect, someone who would hold you accountable to yourself, and someone you meet on a regular basis. These factors help needle you along in that particular goal, as well as being a sounding board to your doubts, fears and issues met along this journey. This is where a mentoring programme or a less formal mentor relationship can reap huge benefits.
So back to Nick and his cake. He said “Life is like a round cake, sliced into eight slices of equal size. Now, imagine each slice represents about 10 years of your life, with the average lifespan of a person to be around 80 years. Remove two slices; the first slice – representing your early childhood years when it might have been hard to see what your life ahead might be like. The second slice removed represents your final decade on earth. For many, their health or other issues might prevent them from enjoying life as they should. You now have six slices. Which slice are you on now? And how many are there left?”
Now when life was explained like this, I couldn’t help wondering about the fact that life is short. When I turned 45, the age where most people who aim at becoming chief executive officers become CEOs, you suddenly realise that you have lived more years than there are left to live. It’s a powerful and sobering thought. The clock is running out. But back to the cake. Which slice are you on right now? And how many slices are left?
You study, maybe get lucky enough to get a college education, travel a bit, and start working on a career or business, in your 2nd and 3rd slice. You might get married, have a family, progress up the ladder of life and obligations on your 3rd and 4th slice. On your 5th slice, you start seriously looking at semi-retirement options, or maybe worry more about retiring well. The hobbies, friendships and passions of your youth seem far away by now. So, what’s your legacy going to be? How or what have you planned to do to leave this place a better one than you found?
Looking seriously and urgently into your long term goals is definitely something that can be framed around the simple story of the cake and the eight slices. I encourage you to reflect on the cake with family and friends; set some long term objectives tomorrow, and then start doing small or not so small things today to work towards that distant future. Remember, you only have so many slices of cake.
About the author:
David Lim is Asia’s Motivational Mentor, and best known for leading the 1st Singapore Mt Everest Expedition.
Since 1999, he has given over 700 motivational and leadership presentations.
Engage him with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.