If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Path Will Do . . .

SMART Goals are important to the business world as well as our personal lives. This is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic (or Relevant), and Timely. These are keywords in vision and mission statements—what a business intends to accomplish. These ideals are milestones and guideposts signaling intention and outcome along a well-designed path. 

Did you know that this path came from a children’s story from long ago? 

Written more than 100 years ago in 1865 by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the more well-known pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland is an iconic masterpiece for the entrepreneur and business owner. I doubt Charles (Lewis) knew he was offering such indispensable advice that would stand the test of time. What was this sage advice? Read on . . .

In Alice in Wonderland, there is a point in the story, where Alice comes to a fork in the road, she asks,

“Which way do I go?”

In an oft-repeated iconic response, The Cheshire Cat, sitting in the nearby tree proffers, 

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will do.”

Written in my paraphrase*, this advice speaks to me like no other. Having lectured as a college professor for nearly 20 years, I remain amazed at how some of the most beloved stories from childhood contain such pearls of wisdom for those in business as well as in our personal lives, should we choose to listen that is.

Goal setting is nothing new. Many roll their eyes at this often mentioned skillset; yet many would be wise to heed its offering. Despite having known this story since we were kids, how many of us actually follow this advice?

For someone who is directionally challenged, this story becomes ironic in its simplicity. Those who know me well know that I can’t find my way out of a closet, let alone find my way ANYwhere without the help of Ok Google and the directions App and the wonders of GPS. I seldom get lost anymore. GREATEST TOOL EVER!

(EVERYONE I know has Cheryl got lost stories. All are true and many are hysterical! Please NEVER ask me for directions ANYWHERE!)

This is probably why I gravitate to such a story that allows someone to challenge Alice to set her own course. The story could be seen as a metaphor for life and business. How many of us simply show up without a path in mind? Some live in the moment—often by the seat of their pants—becoming more firefighter than strategic planner. 

If we might follow the advice of such a wise character as The Cheshire Cat, we could simply plan ahead. Know before you go. If we used an outcome-based approach—start at the end and work backwards–research suggests we would have a higher probability of actually getting to where we want to go.

In my case, I no longer have to leave hours ahead of an appointment to ensure to show up on time. I called this my get lost factor. IF I arrived early, I kept a book to read; if I needed extra time I had it when I became lost. Few ever knew the stories and miles I traveled to find even the simplest of places.  

Some of us have an internal sense of direction; some like me clearly don’t. We then must rely on strategic planning. I learned quickly after missing some very important meetings early in my career or arriving embarrassingly late that I HAD to plan ahead. I mean meticulously plan ahead. With the help of Ok Google, I simply talk my address into my phone and voila—I usually get to where I’m going and ON TIME. 

Do I still have back up? Yep. My Garmin unit is in the car, as well as printed directions just in case. My life lesson. Redundancy. People don’t plan to fail; they just fail to plan. In my case, to compensate for NO SENSE OF DIRECTION beyond up and down, I had to plan EVERYTHING to the smallest detour (Right/left please; no North/South kind of thing! LOL).

Metaphorically, this works. Out of necessity, I get to where I’m going on the road (and in life!) because I HAVE to have a plan. While on rare occasions, there are things that are hard to plan for such as construction, detours, weather, car issues etc., I use technology and planning tools to mitigate these delays and distractions. I NEVER leave the house without them. N-E-V-E-R! Yes, for 6 months in my new home, I needed Google just to find the grocery store around the corner! (You think I’m kidding!)  

My question to you is simple. What path do you take and how do you plan to get there? Do you just show up to work every day and dive right in? Do you cross your fingers and hope and pray? How do you know what to do first? What is the priority? What is the end game? How do you know when you get there, wherever there is? 

Are you a firefighter, simply responding to 911 calls? Or are you more calculated in your day? Do you have a plan? Do you use SMART Goals and an outcome-based approach to know EXACTLY where you want to be and plot a course to get there? 

Ask the Cat. 

Now why should you care? Good question. The only question that really matters here is what will YOU do? 

Your answer is the only one that matters.

See you around the quad! Happy thinking!

Dr. C

You can catch my She Talk at Zappos in May 2019 in Las Vegas on You Tube here


Dr. Cheryl Lentz
The Academic Entrepreneur