The Only Goal That Really Matters

Blog Stats: 50,017 hits.

Heart thumping, palms sweating, I sit back on my creaky wooden chair, stare at my blog, and grimace. Is this real? I click Refresh, scrunch my face, and look at the screen again.

Blog Stats: 50,792 hits.

Seven hundred people visited my blog in the last 30 seconds, I think to myself. Only four weeks ago I’d started writing, and after a few hundred visits it looks like today’s post went viral while I was at work.

My heart beats faster.

I had one simple goal when I started writing 1000 Awesome Things. I wanted to try and write 1000 awesome things for 1000 days in a row. But after the first couple weeks writing about broccoflower and potato chip crumbs, I started noticing the stats counter on the side of my page.

It showed how many people had visited. Seven, then 20, then dozens, then hundreds. I got hooked on watching the number climb. So I set a different goal for myself. I decided I wanted 50,000 hits.

When my post went viral a few weeks later, I had accomplished my goal.

But then I told myself 50,000 was too small. Too easy. It didn’t mean much getting 50,000 hits. The big sites had a million. So that became my new goal. One million hits.

I kept writing every day, adding links to email signatures and blog comments I left around the Web. I got stickers printed and started handing them out. I wrote #951 about hearing a stranger fart in public, #933 about the first scoop out of a jar of peanut butter, and #909 about bakery air.

Flash-forward a few months later and… I got to one million hits!

I enjoyed the feeling for a couple days before realizing the best blogs don’t just get a million hits. They get 10 million hits and get turned into books and movies. I had set my goal too low. One million hits wasn’t worth anything. Nothing happened when you got a million hits. I needed to go big to get some real action.

So I set a new goal.

Ten million hits.

For six months, I kept writing. After work every day, I got takeout and sat at my computer well into the night. I wrote the next post, responded to email, and started getting interviews with local radio and TV stations. I was featured on the front page of the Toronto Star! I wrote #874 about The Five Second Rule, #858 about the other side of the pillow, and #824 about finding the TV remote after looking forever. Nine months after I had started my blog, I suddenly reached 10 million hits, won two awards for Best Blog in the World, and was approached by literary agents to turn my blog into a book.

Once I had a literary agent I started researching the book industry. I learned that more than 300,000 books are published in the United States every single year. And well over a million a year are published around the world. Suddenly it dawned on me: Getting a book published was not very special. A million people did it every year!

I looked at bestseller lists and they had only 10 or 20 books on them. I calculated only a few hundred books make best-seller lists each year. Less than 0.01%.

So I set a new goal.

I wanted my book to be a bestseller. I wanted to be one of the 0.01%.

The Globe and Mail published a bestseller list every weekend and I started checking it. What did these books have in common, what made them great, what made them sell?

So for the next year I kept writing my blog every day, writing my book, and working on a book launch plan. My plan was to work with bloggers to prepare interviews and articles about my book while working with my publisher to line up radio, newspaper, and TV interviews — all to come out when the book hit shelves.

Basically, the entire year after winning the awards, I was consumed with The Book of Awesome hitting the bestseller list. It was all I wanted, thought about, talked about. Then the big day of publication finally came!

I woke up early and started interview after interview. I posted a special entry called #526 When dreams come true. My voice turned scratchy, bags under my eyes turned black, and I was sleeping three or four hours a night. And then, finally, the next Saturday morning the newspaper came out and…

I hit #2 on the bestseller list!

It was a dream come true. I went to bed happy. I had achieved my goal. My publishers were excited, too! Their joy said to keep pushing.

I woke up the next morning and took a closer look at the bestseller list. My book was listed with a 1 beside it because it had been on the bestseller list for one week. I noticed other books were on the list for 20 or 30 weeks. Staying power. That was more important than being a one-hit wonder. I didn’t want to go the rest of my life telling people my book was a bestseller for only one week.

I suddenly realized that popping on the bestseller list was nice… but it was nowhere near my true goal. I wanted this book to be bigger. The New York Times bestseller list beside my name.

Eventually The Book of Awesome hit #1 on the bestseller list and stayed there for five weeks, then 10 weeks, then 50 weeks, then 100 weeks. Foreign publishers translated the book into German, Korean, French, Dutch, and Portuguese. The Book of Awesome hit The New York Times bestseller list, too. I was on the Today show, The Early Show, CNN, and the BBC. The producers of The Office optioned TV rights to the book and some big film producers optioned the movie rights, too. I got another book deal, then another, then another…

And I had done it!

I had finally reached my goal.

I started smiling. Tried to relax. A few days later, after working so hard for three years straight, lying in bed alone in my tiny apartment, getting three or four hours of sleep, eating takeout for every meal, developing black bags under my eyes, and losing touch with friends… I suddenly had a realization.

No matter how many external goals I achieved, I just kept setting more. I started realizing that external goals didn’t help me become a better person.

When I was stressing about my blog, watching hit counters, bestseller lists, and award nominations, I was using external motivators. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for others. I lost my self-confidence because I started outsourcing it to signals outside my brain, which I couldn’t always control. When those signals were positive, I was flying. Lots of emails, piles of comments, and bestseller list rankings lifted me up and kept me going. But when those signs were negative, even relatively negative, I was devastated. Critical comments, a nasty review, and the inevitable slipping off the bestseller list — meant I was a loser.

The conclusion was obvious: Only internal goals truly matter.

There are two lines of a poem secretly hidden above the player entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same.

It jolts you. You pause and digest it. No matter what happens right now, Triumph or Disaster, it’s an imposter. You should treat them the same. Winning or losing is the same. Place the game in context of your entire life. The world will go on. You will have more highs and lows no matter what. “If you can meet with Triumph or Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.”

Although there’s no attribution on that wall, these two lines are from a poem called If—, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1895. Kipling was an English short-story writer and poet born in India who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and was declared England’s favorite poet in national polls.

If— is 32 beautiful lines written by Rudyard Kipling to his son John as parental advice on how to be confident, accept yourself, and do it for you.

Remember: You are competing only with yourself. Only internal goals matter.