Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)

“In two years, my business is going to expand nationwide,” I said to Rob, my good friend.

“Yeah, and how are you planning to do that?” Rob replied.

“Get good customers base, expand the product lines, hire salespersons.”

“You think it’s so easy? Your plan does not even sound convincing!”

“Well, it’s important to have a dream.”

“Yeah, keep dreaming.”


That conversation took place about seven years ago when Rob was still working for me in my wholesaling business in Australia. I did not end up growing nationwide. It was just a dream.

In all honesty, that dream was mainly comprised of unachievable ambitionsand insurmountable obstacles. I did not realise it then, but there were hidden motives behind my dream, behind my impossible goal.

I call them the Four Fears of Reality.

You see, it feels good to live in ‘potential’. It is a place to bask in the glory of our dream without having to worry about the rough roads to get there. We want to feel like we have already achieved that status, that wealth, that fame, that ‘potential’.

We love dreaming.

A dream is seductive and often addictive. But when reality hits, we realise it is just that, a dream. And we see how different it is from reality.

Are you ready to read more about it?

Fear of Responsibility

My seven years old daughter sometimes asked if she could fix things around the house. The latest one being our garden reticulation system. Of course, we said no. It was impossible for her to fix it.

The situation was different when I went to fix it myself. There was a real responsibility because I could do it. It was not easy, but it was possible.

When our goal is within reach, we have no excuse. It becomes a real goal. It becomes our responsibility.

We own it.

On the other hand, if we cannot even get close to our goal, how can we be held responsible?

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a reflection of my unconscious effort to avoid the heavy burden of responsibility?

Fear of Losing Face (this one is rather personal)

In Chinese culture, there is a saying: “Men can’t live without face, trees can’t live without bark.” This is a concept of face (mianzi). It can perhaps be most closely defined as “dignity” or “prestige”.

It is the utmost importance not to lose face because it is the same as losing dignity or prestige. And being a Chinese descendant, my parents had successfully embedded this mindset in my heart and soul.

What does it have to do with the impossible goal, you might ask.

In essence, when I fail to achieve an impossible goal, I don’t lose face. It is the perfect excuse. However, a real goal carries with it the power to make me lose face.

I cannot fail a real goal without losing my dignity.

And it scares me.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was a well-planned excuse to save face?

Fear of Real Work

When I set out to expand nationwide seven years ago, I also attempted to create an action plan. I studied my national competitors, learnt about products that would sell nationally, and tried to connect with the big players. All of those seemed like good ideas. I enjoyed every minute of it.

I learned then that those activities did not help me towards my goal. But they felt good. I felt like a big player myself. The goal itself was not real. And so all of my action steps were nothing but drops in the ocean.

I kept doing them though. I could not stop. I was addicted to my impossible goal and the feel-good activities I created along the way.

We tend to do things that do not contribute much to achieve our impossible goal. But we do them anyway because they feel good.

Remember, dreams are seductive and addictive. We want more of them, never enough, always more, and more.

All of these addictive dreams will disappear once the goal becomes a reality.

Real goals push away our addictive dreams, leaving us with boring daily grinds. Real goals produce real work, hard and stressful work. It is most definitely not addictive.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was for me to taste this pleasure of dreaming over and over again?

Fear of Real Change

Have you ever thought that an impossible goal often does not push you forward? In most cases, it does the opposite. It restrains you from moving forward.

I did not get anywhere while trying to expand nationwide. I did a lot of research, thinking, reading, and so on. But I stayed where I was.

I was too busy creating feel-good activities that led me nowhere.

Truthfully, I was scared of change. And my impossible goal helped me to stay put without feeling guilty. I convinced myself that I was moving forward. I was progressing in my mind. But in reality, I was not.

I was trapped in my own dream. Or rather, I trapped myself in my dream.

An impossible goal will move us around in our mind. Real goals bring with them concrete actions that yield results. Real goals will force us to move forward, in reality.

Perhaps my impossible goal seven years ago was me hiding behind my fear of change?


“Fred, you are still here,” Rob suddenly appeared at the door.

“Yes, I am still here,” I replied.

“I thought you would be conquering the country by now.”

“Haha. Well, that was two years ago. I am now into other things.”

“Such as?”

“Selling more safety gears to the workshop next door.”

“That sounds more promising, want me to come with you?”


If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. (Dale Carnegie)

As published in The Ascent: Why Real Goals Are Scary (And Impossible Goals Are Addictive)

Two Toxic Failures And A Poisonous Win

I was sipping my morning coffee when I felt somebody tap me on the shoulder.

“Morning, Fred,” Zach, the cafe owner smiled. “You’re super early today.”

“Ahh yes, I have a lot in my mind,” I replied.

“Do you want to tell me about it? I am a good listener,” he said.

“Are you sure? I won’t say no to that.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, my work has been less than spectacular lately.”

“Ok.”

“Honestly, I feel like a failure.”

“How long have you been feeling like this?”

“Ever since I lost my biggest customer last month,” I said. “I am a senior sales executive but I feel defeated and helpless.”

“Let me tell you a little secret, I am an expert in failing.”

“Haha, ok, I’m listening.”

“There are three things I am going to tell you. I call them: ‘Two Toxic Failures and A Poisonous Win’. Remember Fred, they might seem normal.” He looked rather serious. “But they are as dangerous as venomous snakes.”

“You mean we don’t see them as out of ordinary?”

“Exactly!” Zach sat next to me. “The first toxic failure is called ‘I Will Fail’. This is the time when you believe you will fail regardless of the situations.”

“Ahh, that is how I feel now. Hmm, it does feel normal.”

“Do you know why? Because you are telling yourself that. Your self-talk convinces your mind.”

“Yeah, I’ve been telling myself how much of a failure I am. So, you’re probably right.”

“You said you feel defeated and helpless. What makes you think that?”

“The world is obviously against me. I worked hard but I still failed. It’s not fair. What else can I do? It’s better if I stop trying.”

Zach poured himself a cup of coffee. “Fred, the world is neither fair nor unfair. Sometimes we get lucky but misfortunes happen too. You don’t get a special exemption, you know.” He sipped his coffee. “Staying where you are, doing nothing, will only yield nothing, nill, zero. Moving forward, on the other hand, carries with it the possibility of a brighter future.”

“The way you put it kind of makes sense. So, I don’t know if I will fail or not, but I need to try because doing nothing will yield nothing.”

“Yes, that’s the gist of it.”

“What’s the second toxic failure?”

“Haha, not so fast. I want you to go and dwell on it first.”

“Seriously?” I sighed.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I went to work thinking about how I kept blaming everything around me when I lost that customer. I blamed the product, customer service, bad timing, even my aftershave cologne for not smelling ‘right’. The more I thought about it the more I realised how utterly ridiculous it was.

The world was not against me. I could move forward.


The following morning, I was back at the cafe, eager for the next lesson.

“Fred, you’re back. Are you ready for the next toxic failure?” Zach smiled at me.

“Yes, I am,” I smiled back.

“The second one is called ‘I Have Failed’. This is the time when you still blame yourself for your past failure and it paralyses you. It is different from the first toxic failure which is ‘I Will Fail’.” Zach stopped for a second. “I Will Fail’ looks at a bleak future where everything is against you while ‘I Have Failed’ is about past failure and regret holding you back.”

“Whoa, I was doing that yesterday, here in the cafe. Regretting, being glum and gloomy.”

“Remember Fred, the past is physically unalterable. What we said and did, and everything else, happened because all the factors that were required for them to occur were present at the time. You cannot change the past, but you can change your perspective on it.” He poured more coffee into his cup. “Learn from it. The past has happened. Now it is merely data for your perusal.”

“That’s amazing Zach, I never thought about it that way. You’re right. I cannot change the past, but I can use the data to better my future.”

“Fantastic!”

“Tell me about the poisonous win. Wait, you want me to go and ponder about the second toxic failure, don’t you?”

“You read my mind.”

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

I drove my car out of the cafe. I realised what was paralysing me all this time. It was the overwhelming regret of losing my biggest customer. The past was meant to happen and there was nothing I could do about it.

I could finally let go of the past and it was liberating.


Zach was waiting for me at my favourite table. He was reading the newspaper.

“Fred, you look fresh!” he said to me.

“Ahh, yes, I have been feeling much better in the last few days.”

“My pep talk seems to work then.”

“O yeah, it works!”

“You’re ready for the final lesson?”

“Yup, I am all ears.”

Zach put his newspaper away. “Ok, so this is the other side of the coin. This is the time when you feel you cannot fail. That you will always win.”

“Guess what, that’s how I felt before I lost my biggest customer.”

“Yup, it is common to feel that way before you fail. It’s the pride that comes before the fall. Those who believe in their invincibility will come to a shock when they realise that, like everyone else, they can break too.” He looked at me sharply. “Falling apart in the face of major stress is normal. It is humbling, and humility is an important ingredient to build resilience. Through humility, you are able to fall gracefully, only then you will come back with strength.”

“Wow, that is intense. I did feel deflated after I lost my biggest customer.”

“Yup, the fall must be hard.”

“It was.”

“Fred, I hope it helps. That is the last lesson. Let me know how you go in a week.”

“It does help. I have to go now, but I do feel much better. I think I am ready to move forward. Thanks, Zach!”

Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash

The following week I pushed myself harder. I kept telling myself that losing my biggest customer was an unalterable past and that’s ok. I had to leave all that behind. I must move forward to achieve a better future. There was no other way.

And I did.


I looked for Zach in the cafe. It was cold and I was so ready for a hot cup of coffee.

“Fred, good morning! How are you feeling?” Zach appeared from behind me.

“Hi Zach, you scared me a little there. You know what, our conversations really changed me.”

“Keep going.”

“First, I pushed myself to take a step forward, just one step. That one step then led to another one, and another one. Now, I am moving with speed and confidence.”

“That is great, Fred! Remember how gloomy you were last week?”

“Yes, no more of that. Thank you for helping me out.”

“Wait, wait, hold on. Do you want to know a little secret?”

“Yes.”

“You did it yourself. You convinced yourself to take that step forward. And you did.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

As published on The Ascent – Two Toxic Failures and A Poisonous Win