Striving to make your dreams a reality? Start by writing down your goals

10 min read
11 Dec 2018

rom writing down your goals, to printing them out and framing them, finding ways to visualize your aspirations can be the first step towards making them a reality.

This article was written by the original owner of, Ryan Allis, and published on his website in 2012. Read more about why Ryan was happy to hand over his website domain to us here.

In a human lifetime, at least under current circumstances, we might each have 50 or 60 productive years. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, concludes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any particular field. If you do the math, that means five years, if it’s your full time job.

You will probably only have the chance to do about five or six things really well in your life. If you plan to have kids and want to be a good parent, you can subtract one “thing done well” for each child, which will leave many of us with perhaps three or four other things we can hope to truly do well in our lives.

Choosing which three or four things you’re going to do really well in life is critically important to your success and your ability to leverage your mind, your contacts, your relationships, and your capital, to make the world a better place.

Moreover, it takes about ten years to build a great company. But the greatest companies are not those built in ten years, they are those built over 100 years.

At Connect, we’re building a company in San Francisco that we hope will be thriving 100 years from now (just like Evernote). We’ve realized that the biggest impact in the world comes when you dedicate yourself fully to a cause for decades. You can pretty much do anything if you dedicate yourself to it.

The common denominator among driven young entrepreneurs: written goals

One common denominator I find among entrepreneurs who are truly driven is that they have committed their dreams and goals to writing, and have consciously created a purpose-driven life for themselves.

Goals are, of course, the things that we strive to achieve in the future. They give our lives a sense of purpose, direction, and definable progress. If we don’t have goals, often times we’re left wondering, “What’s the point? Why are we here? What are we doing?”

In this section, I want to share how I do “life planning” and the importance of documenting your goals, dreams, and aspirations. I’ve been following a methodology like this since I was 16 in 2000 when my mom gave me the classic 1937 book Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Print your goals out, and frame them.

We all have goals, dreams, and aspirations. But how many of us write them down?

Committing your dreams to paper can have a powerful effect. A study conducted by Gail Matthews, (PhD), at the Dominican University, found that individuals with written goals achieved approximately 50 percent more of their aspirations than those without written goals.

The study also showed that those who made a public “commitment” to their goals and were held accountable to those goals by a trusted friend were significantly more likely to succeed.

While some people do write down their goals, very few go a step further and print out their goals and frame them. Written goals are great, but written goals that are printed out, framed, and hung on the wall of your bedroom, your office, or your study are even better.

Those of us alive today have so many extraordinary opportunities to create our own lives and transform our world. But if we’re not clear about what we want to achieve, it’s often hard to take advantage of those opportunities.

The biggest goal I (almost) achieved

One of the first goals I wrote down, after being inspired by Hill’s book, was this: “I intend to build a company to a million dollars in sales by the age of 21.”

I wrote this goal down, printed it out, and signed it. I was almost 17 at the time, so I was giving myself about four years. At the time, I was earning approximately $3,000 per year from some freelance website building projects, each of which paid a few hundred dollars. I was attending school, playing baseball, running track and cross country, and was involved in all kinds of other time-consuming activities. I set that goal having no idea how I would achieve it.

Once that seed was planted, however, I found myself focusing my time, resources, and the people in my life on figuring out how to make it a reality. I ended up starting a company, iContact, at the age of 18, during my first year at UNC.

Did I reach my goal of building a million dollar company by the age of 21? No. I missed the goal by 18 days. I turned 21 on August 14th, 2005 and iContact hit $1 million in annual sales on September 1, 2005.

But I can tell you without a doubt that if I had not written down that goal four and a half years before that, there is no way I would have figured out how to focus my efforts to build a company that only missed the goal by two and a half weeks.

I don’t achieve all my goals, and I don’t expect to. As they often say at Google, “We’d rather have 60 percent of the impossible than 95 percent of the possible.” Personally, I believe that if you achieve more than 50 percent of your goals, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.

So, set them higher! As they say, if you shoot for the moon you land on the tree tops, but if you shoot for the treetops you land in the mud.

Create a vision board

When thoughts and goals become visualized, they are one big step closer to becoming actualized.

Writing down goals is critical, but the subconscious mind doesn’t just operate in words. Images are also a powerful way to plant the seeds of future achievements.

If you talk to any elite athlete, for example, you’ll invariably find that they visualize what they’re going to do before they do it. Have you noticed how great basketball players, when they stand on the free-throw line, often mimic the motion of shooting the ball a few times before they actually take the shot? If you want to run 9.79 seconds in the 100-meter dash, you’re going to visualize yourself doing that over and over and over in your head before you actually attempt the feat.

I like to use Vision Boards to create powerful visual attractors for my goals. Vision boards are white poster board sheets covered with images that you print out or tear out from magazines or newspapers about what you want to make manifest in your future, and in the world’s future.

I’ve been doing this exercise every few years since 2009. To create my vision board, I start with a list of categories—family, health, education, travel, and so on. I search in magazines and on the Internet to find a handful of images that represent the things I want to see in the future within each of these categories.

If you’re a little overweight and want to get in shape, maybe you put up a picture of someone whose body inspires you. Choose an image that is achievable for you. If you’re five-foot six and have a more compact body type, don’t use an image of a six foot plus basketball player!

If you are single and looking for a long term committed relationship and family, maybe put up a picture of some children. If you want to go to a great grad school, create a diploma with your name on it from the school of your choice. If you want to see the world, choose pictures of some of the places you intend to visit.

Once you have printed or torn out your images, cut them to size and paste them on your vision board. You don’t have to do this alone. Creating vision boards is a great exercise to do with a partner, or some close friends, or a small company, or a division of a company.

Sharing life stories, dreams, and hopes is a powerful way to bond with a team, and revealing your goals to others creates a greater accountability for achieving them.

As a manager or a leader, there’s no better way to intrinsically motivate a team member than by aligning your company’s success with their personal success.

Once you’re done, what’s next? Hang it in your bedroom, of course! I actually got mine framed, and I’ve taken it with me as I moved from Chapel Hill, to downtown Durham, to San Francisco, and to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When thoughts and goals become visualized, they are one big step closer to becoming actualized.

Consider your life purpose

As an entrepreneur building a business, you’re going to go through immensely challenging operational struggles and very difficult times. You’ll only find the strength from within to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds if your motivation is authentic, real, and deep.

You can’t build a business just for the pursuit of money, because money alone will not give you enough motivation to get through the decade necessary to really build a company that can make a difference in the world.

Spend some time thinking and meditating on your raison d’être – your purpose of life, your reason for living – and figure out what constitutes the core motivations for what you do and the core motivations for who you are and who you will become.

Know in advance who you want to become, and then you can begin to direct your life rather than letting outside factors control you. “Direct your life to your definite chief aim,” as Napoleon Hill said in his 1928 book, Think and Grow Rich.

Regardless of the mission, find something you’re passionate about and build a business to pursue it relentlessly.

Use the company you build to pursue your life purpose

I found my motivation, and now I’m working on building a company that directly aligns with my goals to make the world a better place.

After we sold iContact in February of 2012 to Vocus, I spent a couple of months continuing my final contract with the new acquisition, and then I had a choice between moving out to California and starting a new company or working on investing in companies around the world.

I’ve been passionate about investing in companies in East Africa in particular for the last three years through my angel investment fund, Connect Ventures. My plan at the time was to live in New York for the summer, spend a lot of time in Africa, and find investment opportunities—potentially even work at a private equity fund to find companies to invest in.

But after going through the Singularity University executive education program for four days in April 2012 in Mountain View, California I decided that I would begin building a new company called Connect.

On day two of Singularity University I got the idea to create a map that would enable you to visualize your contacts coming from multiple different locations: from Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, your iPhone or your Gmail address book.

What we’re doing at Connect is building a company that brings together all that information and allows you to visualize your contacts on a map of the world. We’re primarily building the software for touch devices, particularly tablets and smartphones.

Our mission at Connect is to build a platform to organize human relationships for the touch generation, and in turn hopefully make the world more open and connected. It will probably take a good decade before we’re even able to begin to make a true dent in this motivating mission, but for me, it’s what I’m passionate about.

Regardless of the mission, find something you’re passionate about and build a business to pursue it relentlessly. By starting with the end in mind, you can ensure that what you’re planning for today and what you’re building for the next few years will enable you to create the opportunities that will allow you to fulfill your highest ambitions.

Let who you are and what you believe come out in all that you create. And as you find this motivation, as you figure out what you’re passionate about, as you write down your goals and print them, as you write down your life purpose and you determine the change you seek, start a company to make that real, and your life will be transformed. 

Main photo: Unsplash/Ian Froome

*This article was originally published on October 17th, 2018 and updated on December 11th, 2018.