If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You, They’re Not Big Enough

January 4, 2022

by Stephen T. Messenger

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Every year in January, much to my wife’s chagrin, I outline a list of twenty personal, audacious goals that I want to accomplish by December. These objectives require a significant level of motivation to achieve. At a minimum, they involve a deliberate and sustained effort over time.

As I put the finishing touches on this year’s list, I both felt the satisfaction of challenging myself along with the immediate stress of having to meet these goals over the next twelve months. The question always comes back to why I place this stress onto my year—and believe me, it is incredibly stressful!

Goal setting is a fundamental tenant of leadership. If you have no idea where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. However, these audacious, personal goals help mold me into a more holistic leader at work along with improving as an individual, husband, and father at home.

I divide my personal goals into four categories of learn, encourage, work out, and grow.

  1. Learning helps me think broader and more deeply, building mental capacity over time.
  2. Encouraging is about family and community, intending to forge deeper relationships.
  3. Working out is geared towards getting stronger and training my body to deal with the stressors of life.
  4. Finally, growing is about improving my spiritual, emotional, and financial health.

(To be clear, none of these twenty goals are work related; they are all personal achievements. Work goals stay in the office where they belong)

I also throw in a bonus category to challenge myself to get out in the world and see something new. These always include taking the family with me and enjoying time together.

Your goals must be bold and audacious. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first female elected head of state in Africa. As a young woman, she repeatedly questioned Liberia’s ability and desire to stand up for equality, and she set a goal to solve this problem.

Along her journey, she faced prison, death threats, and exile. Yet she never gave up on her dream to improve the nation in the face of naysayers and setbacks.

Along the way, she graduated from Harvard, participated in numerous levels of government, won the presidency, and ultimately earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Her goals in life were always larger than what was possible and fraught with peril. Audacious goal setting is a scary journey to embark on but one that bears incredible success.   

My annual goals can’t compare to President Sirleaf’s, but collectively they provide a roadmap to improving my life mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It provides focus and forces me to invest time and energy to achieve these goals.

Once you determine what your goals are, you can efficiently use your resources to attack those priorities. You can plan your year and ensure you’re not wasting the precious commodity of time, but instead harness the power of the calendar to meet goals.

A personal goals list will not get you promoted or earn a better paycheck in itself; it will make you a better leader and direct your focus. You’ll see sustained growth in multiple areas and achieve more than you thought was possible. Over time, your capacity will grow across a wide range of skillsets as you seek to be more than you could ask or imagine.

One note: rarely do I achieve every task on my list. However, the energy put into working towards these goals bears tangible benefits in many other areas. For example, last year I had the goal to read twenty-six books. However, I was heavily involved in a degree program, and my personal reading took a back seat to academic reading and writing.

While I didn’t achieve my original goal, the books I did read helped shape my academic lens and assisted in many of the assignments. A task strived for and not completed still bears great fruit. Oftentimes it is the journey, not the destination.

Goal setting is hard. Great leaders pick goals to improve their personal habits, which leads to gains across the spectrum of leadership. This year, I challenge you to select some bold and audacious goals. You’ll see benefits over time as you steadily work towards accomplishing more than you thought possible.

Dream big and scare yourself!

This is your year! 

Leaders read, think, discuss, and write about leadership.  Your first step should be to sign up for The Maximum Standard’s weekly email where you’ll get a leadership vignette delivered for free every Tuesday morning — type in your email below! 

This could also be your year to get published in the Maximum Standard—we’re always looking for authors.  Lead well this year!  

2 thoughts on “If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You, They’re Not Big Enough

  1. This personal goal-setting practice explains a lot about who you have become Steve. Proud of you. I am not as good as you at this process, but I have been enamored with the concept of personal growth as an act of stewardship. I try to remember my life is not my own to spend, but rather, is entrusted to me to invest. My categories become: time, treasure, talents and relationships and my particular pursuits involve growing one, more or all of them in some way. You have inspired me to do some goal-setting of my own in 2022!


    1. Jon, always great to hear from you. I really value your leadership and our conversations from Scott. I love the “time, treasure, talents, and relationships” comment and how to use them as acts of stewardship. I know this mindset is why I so enjoyed talking to you. And love seeing you as a great father on Facebook! Keep it up and THANK YOU!


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