i3 | January 31, 2022

Goals vs. Dreams

Jake Sigal
Man standing in the fields, holding a ladder

I stopped having dreams years ago. I don’t think that makes me a cynical person, but I’m not sure. At some point, my dreams shifted into large goals achievable by making small, incremental improvements toward being a better version of myself. My definition of a goal is the pursuit of a worthwhile idea (which is something I borrowed and modified from Earl Nightingale).

I’ve wondered if the reason I don’t have dreams is that many of my goals are directed toward an achievement that some people would consider a dream. Is saying something is a dream versus a goal, a distinction or a difference?

Do goals need to have a minimum probability of success before they stop being goals and start being dreams?

I think that many people block themselves from being happy, as they are always looking for what they don’t have (and probably will never have). If you’ve watched “Squid Game,” you know what I’m talking about. I saw an inspirational image shared on LinkedIn which included the message, “Your job is someone’s dream job.” Entrepreneurs are a strange bunch, where often the challenge is the reward. However, knowing when to quit — Buffett’s Rule 8 — and sometimes as a function of a very low probability of success, is a skill needed to survive as an entrepreneur. That’s why goals for entrepreneurs have a “high enough” probability of success. If the probability is too low, does the goal become an unattainable dream?

Dreams without a means to achieve them will likely lead to disappointment and sadness.

Can goals be limiting where dreams can push one further?

In my first company, one of my first mentors — and now current New York Times best-selling author Josh Linkner — once told me that if I changed my sales goals into sales opportunities, it would enable me to think about sales as a maximum opportunity. I needed to stop thinking about sales as an all-in win or loss. Getting 70% of that opportunity is a lot better than trying to aim lower, toward a 100% or failed goal as it provides a win when falling slightly short as well as more upside to surpass previously unattainable limits.

I’ve always thought about the concept of not putting limits on yourself, and in many cases, Red Bull is right. Goals can sometimes seem like limits.

The value of goals vs. the value of dreams

I’m also an oddball with my belief that ideas are cheap and that execution is everything. I don’t mean to say that someone’s dreams are worthless. Perhaps what I’m really saying is that dreams without a means to achieve them (as an adult) will likely lead to disappointment and sadness.

Related to my earlier points about the minimum probability of success for a dream to become a goal, and where the minimum threshold is for a goal before it’s considered a win, how should goals be valued versus dreams?

Perhaps goals have a tangible value and dreams have an emotional value.

Is that a distinction, or a difference?

i3 magazine January/February 2022 cover

Subscribe to i3

i3, the flagship magazine from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, focuses on innovation in technology, policy and business as well as the entrepreneurs, industry leaders and startups that grow the consumer technology industry. Subscriptions to i3 are available free to qualified participants in the consumer electronics industry.