Setting goals like a ninja warrior6 min read


My wife recently shared with me a personal goal of hers, that got me thinking about the flaws many people make when setting their own personal – or professional – goals.

First, a little backstory: Before a couple of years ago, I knew nothing about American Ninja Warrior except that it was some show on TV where a bunch of random people jumped on obstacles and, more often than not, fell off.

I had assumed it was akin to the short-lived Wipeout show – some type of reality program aimed at ridiculing contestants. It’s far from it.

It’s actually an inspiring display of heartwarming stories and incredible athleticism that fills the void left by most major sporting events that are steeped in egotism and million-dollar endorsement contracts.

Putting that aside, last year my wife turned to me and said she wanted to make an American Ninja Warrior audition tape. Actually, she said she wanted to be on the show. More specifically, she said that she had a goal of being on the show in the next few years.

I love her passion and have no doubt she’d make a great competitor for the show. But as she revealed her secret plan to me, I had some trepidation about her creating a goal such as that.

Here’s the thing: I totally agree that you shoot for the moon and convince yourself that anything is possible.That being said, it’s not the best approach to create long-term goals for yourself that rely on elements beyond your control.

Case in point: There are thousands of people who submit audition tapes to American Ninja Warrior. There are then hundreds – if not thousands – of people who show up to the filming weeks before the show in hopes of being chosen at random as a walk on.

No matter how good an audition tape my wife makes; no matter how prepared she is for the competition, her fate is not entirely in her hands. The producers have the final say on who gets on and who doesn’t.

This is why I’m such an advocate of SMART goals. If you don’t know what these are, SMART stands for:


Specific + Measurable + Achievable + Relevant + Time-bound

Delving into the intricacies of SMART goals is another article entirely, but in the case of my wife and her Ninja aspirations:

  • Specific – She wanted to be on American Ninja Warrior. There is no ambiguity here. √
  • Measurable – She would know whether she reached her goal if she made it on the show. √
  • Achievable – Here’s where she falls short. Can she make it on the show? I believe so. But she’s not the one to dictate that fate. X
  • Relevant – Absolutely. My wife is a fitness-focused person always looking for ways to challenge herself physically and mentally. √
  • Time-bound – I believe when she shared her goal with me she said she wanted to get on the show by the time she was 40. √

She fell short on only one of the five elements of a SMART goal, yet that, alone, is enough to render this goal counterproductive.

Fortunately, since that first reveal a year ago, my wife has since adapted her vision. She recently confided in me that her reason for hew new goal (simply to make an audition tape to submit to the show) was because she wanted to set a goal she had 100% control over.


But here’s the point worth emphasizing, that’s often overlooked when we set goals. Whether she gets on the show or not, the end result is the same. She’ll have done everything she could – including getting into tip-top shape – to become a real-life Ninja. It’s as the quote from Bruce Lee (at the top of this post) states:

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”

Is Harvard really the end goal?

This all reminds me of when high school students declare their college intentions.

I will go to Harvard!

That’s great, but at some point the decision is no longer up to the student. A 4.0 GPA, extra-curricular activities and a history of community service may still not be enough to get into Harvard.

It’s worth asking: Is Harvard really the end goal? Or does this student want a top-notch education that’ll challenge him and open up career opportunities?

If the latter is accurate, then the specific school this student goes to doesn’t matter. But, having strived to even be considered by that, and other Ivy League schools, has probably positioned that student for great and exciting things.

Whatever venture you find yourself in – personally, professionally – ask yourself if the goals you’ve set rely on the decisions of others. If they do, are they really fair goals to measure your success on? Or is there a way to adapt your goal without compromising your view of success?

The day my wife submits that audition tape she’ll know she did everything she could to get on the show. She hit the gym. She learned how to tackle tricky obstacles. And she will have conquered the fear many of us have of putting ourselves out there for others to judge.

Will getting on the show prove to her she’s “made it”, or is it enough to have made the tape?

Society might say it’s the show – it’s all or nothing. But I say it’s time to rethink your idea of success and measure yourself against milestones you, alone, have control over.