Setting Goals: Lessons from Pompeii…and Elephants?


It’s hard to go more than about an hour these days without hearing Bastille’s song “Pompeii” on the radio.  The song is about the ancient Roman city that was buried under up to 20 feet of ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.  It’s sung from the perspective of one of Pompeii’s approximately 20,000 residents who was outside the city at the time of the eruption.

As you listen to the song, you can hear the disbelief in the survivor’s voice.  As he walks around the city that was once a bustling hub of business, agriculture, and architecture, the survivor tries the same tactic most children employ in Hide and Seek:  he closes his eyes and pretends he can’t see the devastation, hoping that if he can’t see it, it really can’t be true.

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Eventually, the truth catches up with the survivor and he’s left to wonder where to begin to restore Pompeii to its former glory.

Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

He’s completely overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start.  Does he begin by cleaning up the rubble (the immediate concern), or does he begin by addressing the larger issue (the proximity to an active volcano)?


Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed big dreams and declared I was going to be do awesome things when I grew up.  Between the ages of 3 and 5, I was going to be Wonder Woman; I even had a homemade Wonder Woman outfit, courtesy of Mom.  When I was around 10, I was going to win a gold medal at the Olympics in gymnastics.  When I was in my early teens, I was going to be the first woman to play Major League Baseball, and I was going to play first base for the Yankees.  When I was in college, I was going to be the Secretary of Defense (although I would have settled for Secretary of State).

Maybe one day I'll be Wonder Woman when I grow up.
Maybe one day I’ll be Wonder Woman when I grow up.

As it turns out, I’ve yet to accomplish ANY of those big dreams I had as a kid, although I’d say SECDEF isn’t totally out of the question yet.  To be fair, I think I have some legitimate reasons for not reaching those goals.  Regarding Wonder Woman, well…I’m not Amazonian and my calves are far too thick to rock those red boots.  Regarding the Olympics, I quite frankly lack balance and grace and other gymnast-y qualities.  And as for playing in the MLB, I did try out for a professional women’s baseball team when I was in high school, but failed to actually hit a ball out of the infield.

Dreams smashed.  I’m still trying to figure out what I’m gonna be when I grow up.


Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to achieving big dreams is that even when people embrace their big, challenging vision, we lack a practical step-by-step plan for how to get there.  So we close our eyes like the Pompeii survivor and wish and hope that we will magically achieve our goal and the city will rebuild itself.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.  Although grand vision is important, to accomplish big things, you need a plan.  Here are a few recommendations on how to achieve your goals, whether they be shooting-oriented, fitness-related, or aimed at other avenues of awesomeness.

Figure out what you really want.  This is where that grand vision is so important.  In his book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John C. Maxwell states that “Vision is everything for a leader.  It is utterly indispensable…Because vision leads the leader.  It paints the target.  It sparks and fuels the fire within and draws him forward.”  To accomplish great things, you must determine what it is that you REALLY want deep down in your core.  Not like what you kinda-sorta-maybe-a-little-bit want.  What you really want.  What you can’t live without.

Figure out what motivates you, and reward yourself for success.  Any grand vision worth achieving is going to take a boatload of hard work to get there; therefore, you need to understand how your personal motivation process works so you will know how to push through when the road looks challenging or you’re tired of trying.  Are you motivated by experiences?  Promise yourself you’ll go on vacation when you win a major match.  Are you motivated by material things?  Promise yourself you’ll buy that iPad when you finish your Master’s degree.  Make sure the size of the reward matches the size of the challenge, but under no circumstances should you get that reward if you haven’t met the goal.  Be serious with yourself — no cheating!

Set realistic bite-sized goals and establish a timeline to reach them.  What’s the easiest way to eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  What’s the easiest way to achieve an enormous daunting goal?  One smaller, time-bound, achievable goal at a time.  If your goal is to win the 3-Gun Nation championship, unless your name is Daniel Horner or Jerry Miculek, you probably shouldn’t set that goal in 2014.  Maybe 2016 is a better timeline for that.  But between now and then, set several intermediate goals to help you get there.  Then break each one of those intermediate goals into even smaller chunks that you can complete as a regular part of your practice.  The point is, don’t try to eat the elephant all at once.  You’ll get full and puke and probably quit.  Eat the elephant a little bit at a time; give yourself time to grow, and before you know it, the elephant will be gone!

Mmm...elephant.  Deeee-licious!
Mmm…elephant. Deeee-licious!

Remove obstacles to your success.  I previously wrote an article about a pair of pants I keep in my basement.  They’re an extra pair of Vertx that I wear to 3-gun matches, and they are permanently affixed with my inner belt of my competition rig.  They’re there so that I have no excuse whatsoever not to practice dry fire when I’m in my basement.  My gear is there and ready to go; no excuses.  You have to do everything you can to get out of your own way, and move other things out of your way, in order to achieve success.  I learned this lesson from my Dad growing up.  He always told me, “Don’t tell me why you can’t; go out and find a way that you CAN!”

Record your progress and be accountable to others.  You have to write it down.  All of it.  Begin by writing down your ultimate goal, then put it somewhere that you will see it every day.  Read it to yourself.  Out loud.  Every day.  Believe it.  Then mark out your intermediate goals on the calendar.  Record every practice that you execute, and celebrate every intermediate goal that is met by the timeline.  But most importantly, you have to find somebody to keep you accountable.  It can be a fellow competitor who trains with you, or it can be a cheerleader who applauds your success.  Your road will be challenging, and you will get tired and frustrated; you’re gonna need someone to help keep you on track.

Don’t close your eyes and pretend you don’t see the challenge before you.  If you really want it — really, really want it — fix your eyes on the goal and get at it, one bite at a time!



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