Combing My Hair
As we look to the new year, and the resolutions that we will no doubt set (hopefully you haven’t become so jaded that you’ve given up completely on the idea) we need to put in place some concepts that will allow us to succeed and achieve those resolutions so they don’t end up casualties of war by the 15th of January.
In our effort to effectively accomplish the goals we set, we must first make sure that we have effectively set goals.
When I think of what it takes to set goals you will accomplish, I remember an experience I had after my spinal cord injury.
Being in the hospital with injuries so severe, being unable to breathe for seven weeks, and learning how to live in a wheelchair, you can understand why my appearance wasn’t exactly at the top of my concerns. My mom would comb my hair each day, and unless friends (well let’s be honest—girls) made the trek from Boise to visit, I cared less about the result.
When I returned home in October, things changed dramatically. Friends were over all the time, and now, this little piece of hygiene that mattered so little just weeks before, was now of paramount importance. So, unless I wore a ball cap, I counted on my mom to comb my hair. For, just like every other teenager, I wanted to look good!
The more my condition improved, the more I cared. It wasn’t long before I was back at school full time and dating. Mom did great. She found a way to not only keep me presentable, but fashionable as well. I always felt confident leaving the house when my mom combed my hair.
As time progressed, so did I. My strength was getting better and better. I got stronger physically and socially. By my Junior year, I was finished with therapy, had a full load at school, and was elected class president. I was driving by myself, and with the help of a friend had actually figured out how to dance in a chair (for that whole crazy story, click here).
Finally, in December of 1987, nearly 1½ years after my accident, I reached a social milestone—I was on my way to my first formal dance.
I was really excited. The girl who asked me was a cutie and a good friend to boot. I went out weeks before the dance to get my tuxedo—I opted against a tuxedo with tails as the tails looked more like mud flaps than they did tails.
My mom helped me get ready for the dance. I showered, shaved, and got into my tuxedo all with her help. (The tuxedo was all white with a lavender tie and cummerbund to match her dress. It was the ‘80’s, so I get a little latitude…right.)
Everything was finished but my hair. Looking in the mirror, pleased with my appearance, I asked my mom if she would comb my hair. Now this was something that I had asked her to do and she had happily done literally hundreds of time before.
I remember there was a long pause. I looked up at her and she had a little sparkle in her eye. (I later learned to beware the sparkle). She grabbed the comb and asked me, “How many 16 year old boys do you think are going to have their mothers comb their hair tonight?’
I wasn’t sure why she would ask such a silly question. The answer was simple. Sixteen year old boys combed their own hair. I knew it and I knew she knew it. My mistake, however, was in my primary assumption (you know what they say happens when you assume). I was sure we were excluding me.
I replied, “None,” with complete confidence and a little impatience.
She then handed me the comb and said, “That’s right. None!”
That was it. That was the last time she combed my hair. My hair looked terrible that night—it was like Don King with a bad haircut. It didn’t get much better in the days to follow. She had picked that night to make sure the message came through loud and clear—it was time for me to learn to comb my own hair, and although I didn’t have the strength I needed that day to complete the task, I’d never gain that strength if she continued on combing my hair.
Handing me the brush was like a gauntlet being thrown, and even though it took a while for the frustration to pass, and when it did, I learned that in throwing the gauntlet she showed me two things. First, that she believed I could do it, and second that there were some occasions that wouldn’t allow a hat.
Her issued challenge gave me something to chase., something to achieve—trust me, I wanted to be able to comb my own hair. Now all I had to do was turn that desire or dream into a goal.
As I began this pursuit, experience told me that if I were going to change my hope into goal it would require more than just wanting it. Wanting is important, but I had learned through prior experience, that building goals from dreams meant meeting three pieces of criteria. My experience since has only strengthened my resolve in these important steps.
1.) Be Specific.
Anytime we have something we want to accomplish in our lives, it must be specific. I couldn’t just say, “I want to look nice.” What does that mean. Working on goals that aren’t specific is like chasing specters. You end up working really hard and end up with a handful of nothing. When a desire isn’t clear like I want to make more money, lose more weight, or improve my appearance we have no direction. However, when we get specific like, “I want to make $60,000, lose 20lbs, or comb my hair.” then we take the first step in making our wants become goals.
2.) Become Accountable.
Nothing changes dreams into goals faster than writing it down and telling someone else about it. First when we write it down we make a promise to ourselves. It works like a contact between us and ourselves—and nothing gets things done like a contract. Telling others puts us squarely on the hook. It leaves us very few outs. If we tell the people we work with, or live with that we are going to make $60,000, lose 20 pounds, or comb your hair, it makes us all the more motivated to achieve. After all, no one wants to look at a broken contract or hear others ask, “What happened.”
That December, I took out two pieces of paper and wrote on them, “Comb your own hair.” Then I placed one on the mirror in my room and one on the mirror in my bathroom. That way I saw my contract multiple times a day, as did my siblings. Now, my brothers and sister also knew that I was working toward combing my hair. I was accountable to myself and to them, and my dream was nearly a full-fledged goal.
3.) Be Measurable.
It doesn’t do any good to set any goal if it doesn’t have a due date. The greatest stories in the world are ruined if we feel they never end. It’s great to dream about increasing our income, decreasing our weight, and improving our appearance, but if we don’t answer questions like, “by when,” or, “for how long” our dream just stays in the ether. It becomes unachieved, and we become disappointed. When we make our hopes measurable so we can know when the race ids finished, we end up with a real live goal.
Any thing of any worth that I have achieved in my life has, in one form or another, met each one of these requirements. Whether it was becoming student body president at the nations largest private university, becoming one of the youngest to be a part of the top 6% of the insurance industry worldwide, living through two life threatening accidents, starting my own company, or combing my hair, it was because of goals—Goals that were specific, had accountability, and made measurable.
The hair thing worked out. But the great thing was my mom was smart enough to understand that achieving one thing would lead to achieving others. The strength that allowed me to comb my hair led me to do other things as well.
All because I was challenged to reach farther than I believed I could.
This New Year the first thing we must do is take those Resolutions—those challenges we’ve made for ourselves and make them specific, make ourselves accountable, and ensure that we can measure our progress.
Then we will be on our way to making our dreams into goals and eventually realities.
Check out part 2 of 3 in my next post.