You Can’t Fail if You Know Where You’re Going

Like Bob Ross, we should always know what the goal we’re working toward looks like. Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Super 8

Have you ever watched “The Joy of Painting”? Every episode of the show is available here on YouTube if not. Growing up, Bob Ross was an inescapable fixture in the Mendelson home. My oldest brother, Eric, wanted to be an artist, and the second Ross’s show went on, no one could get near the television until it was over.

Pretty soon, I started watching the show with my brother. One thing I found that was always consistent with Ross’s paintings is that he started with the big picture clearly in mind. He knew what he wanted, why he wanted it, and how he was going to get there. Then, as the show went on, Ross would add the little details, stepping back to reveal the finished painting to the viewer at the episode’s conclusion.

That’s the way we should be in life: You should always know what the goal you’re working toward looks like and exactly how to get there. You shouldn’t do anything without a plan or be able to describe your goals, and what success looks like.

Now, if that sounds obvious, it should. The problem is, you don’t encounter the obvious too much when working with people.

This is especially true in marketing and advertising, where it’s easy to drown in bad, or too much, data. The problem with a spreadsheet is that people are irrational and are going to do what they’re going to do. It’s not what you know about them that necessarily determines your success, but how you adapt to their needs that matter.

But you also encounter this lack of vision elsewhere too. More than a few times this past year, I’ve worked with incredibly wealthy people who were successful in other fields and thought that by being successful elsewhere, they’d be just as successful in this new endeavor without any plan or knowledge of the field they’re getting into. Don’t be that person. Past success doesn’t guarantee future success, and you should always be working toward a defined finish line in anything you choose to do with your time.

Here’s the funny thing though, there’s no one size fits all approach for getting to that finish line. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me. That’s why a lot of the advice in the marketing and advertising industry is hilariously bad. It’s written to sound like it could apply to you and everyone else, but it works for no one.

So what do you do? Well, that’s a really long answer. But I can leave you with one bit of advice today that you can apply as soon as you’re done reading this.

Let’s assume you know what you want. That’s great. Many people don’t. Before you can then determine how you’re going to get what you want, I want you to do a SWOT analysis. Something that is exactly as fun as it sounds, but incredibly valuable just the same.

Writing down, on paper preferably, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats will help you determine the best way to get to your goal. You can use your strengths to go after the opportunities you’ve identified while avoiding things you’re not so great at — your weaknesses — and prepare for potential challenges along the way. Writing this out, by hand, is a great way to put you and your subconscious mind to work toward achieving your goals. I don’t care if it sounds lame, but if your heart and mind aren’t on the same page, you’re going to have a lot of trouble achieving what you want to in life. And even if you do, you may find you’re not happy when you get it.

The other advantage to doing the SWOT analysis is that it will help you weigh the outcomes against each other. Are there more opportunities than threats? Then you can proceed on your way. Are there more threats than opportunities? Can you attempt to manage those threats, or do you need to change your plans entirely because those challenges are too great to overcome?

Did you ever hear the question about how to fill a jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand? Which do you put in first?

You go with the rocks first. They take up the most space. Then the pebbles. The pebbles will find their way into the holes and crevices created by the rocks. And then, finally, you put in the sand. These tiny little specs will use the architecture set in place by the pebbles and rocks to fill in the rest. What you have then is a jar filled to the brim.

If you start with the sand (your tactics), you are left with no room for the rocks (your goals and objectives) and the pebbles (your strategy).

Sure the sand may get you what you want temporarily, but if you don’t have the solid foundation of rocks and pebbles beneath it, nothing you build will last.