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Enjoy the ride.

Success.

Part timing, part preparation, part opportunity, and part luck. As human beings and entrepreneurs, we have a tendency to focus on our goals. This is after all what we’ve been taught for most of our lives – to set goals, and push forward to achieve them.

Goals are funny things, though. They are not absolutes, like the number of hours in a day, set in definite terms and scientific rules. They are fluid, ever changing and evolving, just as we are.

Many entrepreneurs set goals, and this is an important process. To get something off the ground and gain momentum, you must have some idea of where you’re headed. But many of us get stuck on our journey when things aren’t progressing the way we anticipated. We fixate on our goals, striving and pushing toward them with an almost reckless pursuit at times.

This does not serve us.

I’ve been asked quite a bit recently about the organic, unfolding nature of business. How one can set long-term goals effectively, without endlessly focusing on them and dismissing any results that fall short as “failures.” I myself have been guilty of this habit at times, and it is destructive – both to your mindset, and to your ability to actually reach your goals.

So how can you cope? How can you set long term goals, and not allow the pursuit of those goals to play a destructive role in your business?

You begin by understanding the nature of a business.

Just like goals and human beings, businesses are not absolutes. They are constantly in evolution, shifting, changing shapes and forms. This is the true nature of business, and with each new stage come new goals, opportunities, challenges, and lessons.

It may be helpful for you, on your journey, to think of your business as an oak tree.

In the beginning, you plant an acorn. You envision the tall, mighty oak towering overhead one day – this is your goal, your entire reason for starting a business.

If you were able to peer under the ground, within a few weeks you would see changes in the acorn. From a seemingly solid little nut, cracks form and a sprout emerges reaching toward the sky. This is the very early stage of your company, but take note – the acorn had to split and change for the oak to sprout. Your vision and your goal likely will as well.

Soon the sprout emerges from the ground, and begins the journey into a real tree. This is when the oak (and your business) are at their most vulnerable. Being exposed to the world, to the elements, to reality presents new challenges and opportunities. You must overcome fear to emerge into this stage and begin to take root.

The seedling grows, and over the years shapes into a small tree. It has grown stronger, no longer living in a harsh and unforgiving world it has adapted to life outside of the nut. It provides shade, beauty, and bounty as much as it can. This is your business in adolescence – when you’re gaining ground, become self-sufficient, and growth becomes more routine.

Eventually the small tree becomes a mighty oak, hundreds or thousands of years old. It has finally achieved what you intended, but it will not stop growing. The mighty oak will continue to grow until it dies, much as your business will have to continue to grow once you’ve reached your goal.

It is easy to get impatient with an oak tree.

You planted the acorn, why can’t you just have the 600 year old oak right now?!?! But ask yourself – if the acorn were to turn into a mighty oak today, what would you be missing out on?

The joy of seeing it first sprout, the shade of a young oak, the journey it took from nut to tree that hardened it into something capable of sustaining itself at those heights. Indeed there is much beauty in the growth of an oak tree, just as there is beauty in the growth of your business.

You can’t water an acorn like an oak.

If you get too caught up on your ultimate goals, it can be destructive. We have already established this. But why? Why is it such a bad thing to get fixated on where you’re going, rather than where you are?

Because you are where you are, not where you are going.

If you poured gallons of water on an acorn, it is very likely the nut itself would rot. If you watered a mighty oak with a few tablespoons of water, it would likely die. You have to nurture your business for where it is, not where it is going or where it has been.

This is why an obsessive fixation on the ultimate goal is unhealthy. We push too hard, we grow too fast, and not only do we miss the beauty of our young business but we sabotage our own success.

The secret to setting goals is in releasing them.

You have to be okay with what your business is today, and nurture it for what it is today. If you’re brand new, stop focusing on the money you have to make by X date and start enjoying the birthing of your business. If you only have a few clients, enjoy the free time to work on creative pursuits in your company. If you’re maturing and ready to hire staff, enjoy the interview process without fixating on training or HR policies. If you’re thinking of selling your company, enjoy taking stock of what you’ve accomplished and finding the right person to take it over.

Stop and smell the roses, and remember – success is a journey, not a destination.