Unpacking Goal Setting

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Some time back, I wrote about my struggle with packing lightly. Unable to give up “just in case” items caused me to always be delayed by my inevitable need to gather my luggage at baggage claim. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the chance to finally make the dream a reality was nigh….

But would the baggage of my own dysfunction hamper my efforts? Today, an update and (what I hope are) some applicable lessons.

Allow me to set the scene… I would be going on a road trip with my friend Dana, then flying home, solo. Realizing that this could be the chance to make my dream come true, I planned a capsule wardrobe and packed very carefully. Full disclosure: the destination was quite casual, weather cold – snow cold, so I took what was essentially triplicates of the same outfit; jeans and a black turtleneck sweater. Since excessive choices tend to be my downfall in packing, the limited variation in agenda really set the stage for success. Additionally, Dana would be driving home about 5 days later and could bring any overflow with her, if necessary, which meant I really did have a chance of making this happen.

The night before leaving, I did a careful prepacking run to see if I was on target. Things were looking pretty good, but not certain, due to a few full-size toiletry items that would exceed carryon regulations. Since Dana had the ability to bring those home, she agreed to, which got things back on track.

The next morning, my carryon suitcase, backpack and I confidently arrived at the airport. After navigating security and having a surprisingly good quesadilla lunch, I was ready to board the plane.

So far, so good.

I positioned myself against a wall, about 25 feet from the gate desk. From this vantage point, I could easily hear the boarding call and be ready to spring into action.

And that’s when it happened. The gate agent began making their pre boarding announcements. He indicated that our very small plane was completely full, and they needed people to check their baggage (which would then be available at baggage claim at the final destination) since there wasn’t enough overhead space.

Now it might be helpful for you to know that where I am positioned, I can not only hear the gate agent, but it’s an adorably small airport, so he’s basically looking at me, while making this announcement.


He says that if “at least 18 people don’t willingly check their bags” they will have to take them as they are boarding.

It might also be helpful for you to know that I am a compulsive helper. I love to help. I live to help. Helping thrills my heart and gives me purpose. I will help, unasked. I will help even when no one actually needs my help. Helping is in my DNA. And not helping is simply not an option.

Double gulp.

So now, I have a choice… do I try to hold the line of my own goal pursuit, or do I need to be a hero (this is, of course, a massive overstatement and a wrong use of this term, but in this moment, feels totally legit).

I look around to see if anyone meets the call.

Meanwhile, I text Dana (who is aware of and fully supportive of my goal) to let her know the situation. She tells me to be strong.

No one responds to his request, so he makes it again.

I let Dana know I am weakening. She reminds me of how important this was to me.

She’s completely right, but I am also beginning to sweat.

No one steps forward.

A third time, with more intensity on his part.

I text Dana and explain that I am almost ready to spontaneously combust. She reminds me that I can do hard things.

So, I stand there, trying to stay committed to my plan (more sweating) and likely beginning to look like a weird safety hazard.

The gate agent then says that they will be taking luggage from folks in later boarding groups. Now I feel sweaty, guilty and privileged.

I keep telling myself this is important to me, and the end will be worth it. More guilt, more sweat, but I am beginning to feel a little excitement that this might actually happen.

A few minutes later, my carryon, backpack and I board the plane and get seated, significantly damper than when I started, but exceedingly proud. I report the success to Dana who rewards me with various loving emoticons.

As I get settled in, a few things occur to me about goals.

  1. Goals are, by their very nature, meant to stretch and press you. In this case, although the goal wasn’t important in the grand plan of the universe, it was important to me. Most bigger goals have mini goals within them. In this case, accomplishing this goal meant I had made solid strides with planning and organization, follow through and self-restraint. The takeaway here? Pick the goals you commit to carefully. You really need to care about them when the going gets tough (i.e. – when the gate agent is staring directly into your soul while he makes a heartfelt appeal).
  2. The way you see yourself can be an unexpected obstacle to reaching your goals. This lesson was the biggest surprise of this whole experience! When one’s identity is so caught up in a single data point (for me, in this story, it was seeing myself as a “helper”) it can end up veering into dysfunction. While they needed people to comply with the “ask,” I alone wouldn’t have moved the dial on that. They needed at least 17 other people to step forward. (And please note, that had this not been so important to me, I would have happily complied as I do think it is essential to be a team player in society).
  3. You still need support, even as the finish line comes into view. There’s no doubt in my mind that without Dana’s encouragement, I would have folded like a card table. Having her remind me of the goal and helping me stay focused was crucial in reaching it.
  4. Goal setting (and accomplishment) is a muscle that must be strengthened. I am the first to admit, this wasn’t the most important goal that had ever been set, but it was important to me. You gotta walk before you can run, so having practice with setting and achieving smaller goals strengthens you for bigger things to come.

A short flight later, I exited the plane and swished past baggage claim, bemused by my own silliness, but also bursting with pride. A few minutes later, I recounted the story to my driver (Kerri) who was darn near as pleased and proud as I was, by my success.

And that’s when I realized the final lesson about goals. They are even better, when shared with people you love.