3 min read

I’m seeing a pattern lately, both in my own thinking and the thinking of others, and it’s a confusion of goals.

When you’re making an effort to do or create something, you need to be clear on what your goal for doing or creating that thing is.

Let me give you an example: I’m starting a podcast to get better at thinking like a startup investor. That’s the goal of the podcast, and I’m clear on that.

Your goals will impact the way you create the thing. Since my goal is to get better at thinking like a startup investor, that directs how we structure the show, who the guests are, and what we talk about.

Sometimes, it’s possible to have more than one goal; besides wanting to get better at thinking like a startup investor, I also want to meet more startup founders.

Those goals are very aligned — the effort towards one goal will simultaneously help achieve the other. It works.

But many times, we try to pile goals onto an effort that are not aligned. And usually that stems from the goal of making money.

Let’s say I want to get better at thinking like an investor, but I also want to make money. I want to meet more startup founders, but I also want to make money.

These things that are not always at odds, but let’s look a little closer at what happens.

If I’m in a place where my most pressing need is cash flow, that will in fact change how I make the podcast. First of all, the “thing,” in this case a podcast, may be a really unlikely way to make money. And so, if your primary objective is to make money, you are probably better served at finding a different avenue for accomplishing that goal.

If I kept those two goals conflated, I may start optimizing for how to get sponsorship for the podcast. The fastest way to get sponsorship may mean that I have to change the format of the show, or who we bring onto the show. It may mean I bring on sponsored guests, or guests who aren’t the right fit.

We usually feel this conflict subconsciously before we do on a conscious level. We feel that our choices are for the purpose of one goal, but not necessarily the other. It creates cognitive dissonance. We then start to struggle and feel some resentment and lose interest in the “thing.”

This can all be avoided by being very clear about your goals. What are you trying to accomplish right now? If you have more than one goal, are they aligned? Will your efforts actually serve both goals simultaneously? If not, prioritize your goals and worry about the primary goal first.

For the record, I’ve done this as I’ve built Unreal Collective. Late in 2017, I had a real cash flow problem, but instead of trying to rush to pull together another class of Unreal, I picked up some freelance work.

I knew that if I was operating Unreal primarily for the purpose of cash flow, it would affect who I brought into the community, which would have a downstream impact on the culture of the group. But that decision has slowed down my ability to build out new aspects of the business.

I see this struggle with startups and artists alike. When your primary need is cash flow, be honest about that, and identify the best path forward for income. It may mean changing your initiative or creating an entirely separate initiative. Either is fine, as long as you understand and acknowledge that.

If you’re clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you eliminate cognitive dissonance and are more likely to see something through.