Often times the things that make a person successful in life are also what will make a business successful. A phone call I received this week reminded me of this. Several years ago, my wife and I attended a small church in Richmond, Indiana where the pastor asked us if we would be interested in being youth sponsors and starting a youth group. They had a group of kids in 4th to 5th grade and wanted to be sure they had a program for them to grow into. Being young and naïve we accepted the challenge.
We were pleasantly surprised when within the first few weeks we had a dozen or so junior high kids. I remember asking one young lady what she wanted to do in life. She told me that her goal was to graduate from high school. When I asked her what she wanted to do after that she told me she had never really thought about it. No one in her extended family had ever graduated from high school, so that was a lofty goal for her. As I talked to other kids in the group, I realized that no one in their lives were helping them to prepare for their futures.
I quickly realized that it did not make sense to teach these kids eternal things when they were not yet equipped for this life. We started to offer tutoring sessions twice a week and sessions where we taught mini-seminars on life. We had sessions on personal finance, personal hygiene, career options, lessons about being a good spouse in the future and other subjects. Often the things we covered were determined on the stories the kids were telling about their family life.
Within 3 months we had 75 kids attending on a regular basis. As the program evolved we gave each kid a ‘life plan binder’ in which they wrote their goals for their lives. Every week the kids got a hand out, usually with a worksheet that they added to the book. The goals of one young lady named Crystal included getting a high school diploma, becoming a nurse, finding a husband who respected her and owning her own home.
This week I received a call from this young lady. The last time I saw her was when I helped her family move when she was a young teenager. Her father had passed away when she was in the 8th grade and her freshman year her mother decided to move to Virginia. I remember having all of the possessions from their rented house trailer loaded into a U‑Haul with the exception of the refrigerator. When we put the dolly under the refrigerator to move it, so many cockroaches ran from beneath it that most of us ended up running from the trailer screaming. Her mom was not happy when we arrived in Virginia without the refrigerator but it had been a unanimous decision to leave it.
Her mom spent the next year drinking alcohol excessively. When Crystal could no longer handle the situation, she went to live with aunt and uncle in Nebraska. About a year later her aunt and uncle were tragically killed by a drunk driver. Rather than return to Virginia, she elected to enter foster care. After her second very bad foster family experience, she ran away with only the clothes on her back and her life plan binder. Over the next few years she worked while trying to finish high school, finally finishing at age 20. Her last semester she had to petition the school board to attend regular classes due to being age 20. She did this because she desperately wanted a diploma, not a GED.
She attended LPN classes and eventually got a job at a hospital in Michigan. She married a hard working young man who treated her well. She attended RN classes through the hospital where she worked and when she passed her RN boards she felt like she had fully accomplished her goal of becoming a nurse. She has a 16 year old daughter and a 12 year old son and 4 years ago when life was getting hectic she and her husband worked it out so that she could stay at home and care for the children. She has spent the past 4 years spending time with her kids and volunteering with a program that helps at-risk kids. In 3 months, they will make the last payment on their house and she will have achieved her goal of owning her own home, something that no one can ever take away from her.
I still have the binder that I used to take attendance back when we ran the program. I have added notes about what became of the kids as I heard from them over the years. Of the 75 kids, she is the 40th that I know of that earned some type of higher degree. One young man lived with my wife and I for his senior year of high school when his mom moved to Marion, IN and it was a challenge to get him to keep his end of the bargain when it came to educational issues. He later attended barber school while in prison and after being released went on to take the classes to get his certification to be an instructor. He now has his own barber shop and barber school in Marion and it is quite amusing to read his posts about his students on Facebook.
How did so many of these kids beat the odds and break the cycle of poverty? First, they had a clear goal that they absolutely believed they could achieve. Even though most of the people in their lives did not think they would accomplish anything substantial, they chose to believe. I later learned that many of the kids were thankful that we kept their life plan binders at the church as they felt their parents would just tell them to stop wasting their time dreaming.
One of the trends in corporate planning today is to set a BHAG – a “big hairy audacious goal.” This is fine, but only if you truly believe that you can achieve it. I have talked to many people who work for companies that constantly set goals that they felt were unreasonable which resulted in making them feel overwhelmed and apathetic.
Second, they had a plan to accomplish those goals. When the kids set goals we made sure that they knew what steps they had to take to accomplish them and what tools they needed to acquire. We had firefighters, nurses and even a coroner come speak to the group to explain what education they needed to acquire and what skills they needed to hone. The employees who do not buy into the BHAG, as I mentioned above, might have been on board and enthusiastic if the plan to achieve the goals had been shared with them.
Third, they stuck to it. Most of these kids did not take a traditional route to accomplish their goals. Most of them were dealt many setbacks along the way but they were able to turn what would be roadblocks for some into simple delays.
These three principles of setting and reaching your goals apply to each of our personal lives, our careers, our personal finances and our business. The first step of the process is to write down your goals and I would encourage each of you to begin by taking this simple step toward achieving your goals.