Introducing The Golden Goals
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
I should have seen what I was doing.
It was 4:04 AM on November 24th, 2017 and I was up in the middle of the night. While pre-dawn wake-ups have become a regular occurrence for me as a middle-life traveller, this time I woke and needed a pencil in my hand immediately.
Like the final click releasing a stubborn lock, the solution to my ‘wicked problem’ revealed itself. The problem was that I was in my job for all the ‘wrong right’ reasons. Compromise masked itself as freedom. As I continued to justify charging on, scenes of martyrdom dancing around in my head, my life bore the heavy cost of the decision.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had been prototyping my own version of freedom for the last six years. As I said, I should have seen what I was doing.
As a software Product Manager, it was my job to find and define new features to build and invest in. This has become a fine art with different methodologies springing up regularly - all aiming to ensure we create the right things at the right time for the right people. Passionate people debate all sides of every idea. It’s complicated and wonderful. The first tectonic shift for me came when my team switched from planning first - then doing - to thinking and doing at the same time.
A new framework for tackling challenges had recently come into my professional life. I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again, but when I met Design Thinking I fell head over heels immediately. Design Thinking is human-centric design that asks for five actions when designing anything: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Skilled Design Thinkers do all these actions simultaneously. Trust me - it’s simple to say and difficult to do.
Why couldn’t this be applied to our lives?
What spilled onto that piece of paper at 4:04 AM was a business idea - goals groups for women with prototyping and iterating at their core.
The seed had already been germinating. I had created a goals group for women five years earlier (in 2012) when I was feeling ‘stuck’ in life. Just back to work after my second child, stretched in every possible direction, I was having very few real conversations that mattered to me.
And I was disengaged at work, at home, as a mother, as a friend, as a parent, as a wife, even as a patient (I had told my dental hygienist I didn't love myself enough to floss).
There I was, feeling directionless and in need of some serious course-correcting.
I had learned about goal setting a decade and a half earlier when I worked at the entrepreneurial coaching firm, The Strategic Coach, where successful entrepreneurs meet quarterly to evolve their business, set goals, and find balance inside and outside of their careers. What I got from this - my first real job - was a deep appreciation for the power of goals and an understanding that you only get out what you put in.
I initially looked to ‘classic’ SMART goal setting to help me get unstuck. I was motivated and I had strong organizational skills. My Type A personality shouted out, “I got this!” I filled in the worksheets, set 30/60/90 day milestones, and then waited to check off the ‘completed’ boxes.
I failed. Hard.
I had written another list of to-dos and I didn’t want to do any of them. Classic goal setting asks us to define what we want to achieve and then track against it. Not reaching a goal is almost shameful. Frankly, I didn’t want to play the shame game.
When I started to talk openly with other women about my experience, my frustration, my failure, the answer hit me! A missing part to all this was a village. I needed a tribe of women. On the schoolyard playground, I reached out to five women I barely knew and we bravely started our first goals group together. Our guiding mantra was, “What would you do if you had no fear?” Instead of a goals ‘to do list’, we gave each other permission to think bigger about our lives.
We started our first session with nervous optimism, yet we quickly learned the power and clarity that comes from narrating your goals out loud to a group of women who are there to witness and amplify, not critique or advise. And, very importantly, these women came from outside each other’s daily life and decision-making team. I couldn’t have done this goals group thing with my close friends or my husband because it's important to have space from your goals, to be reminded of them but not nagged by them. I learned from this group how women really assess, value, set, and achieve ‘goals’. We still meet at least three times a year.
At 4:04 AM on that chilly Canadian morning one year ago, I made myself a promise to deepen my commitment to shepherding goals into the world and helping other women do the same. I had some serious ‘goals on goals’ work to do.
Fundamentally, Design Thinking always urges for a bias to action - aka get going! That morning, as I sleepily made the kids’ lunches, I committed to prototype a second goals group with a new collection of women, to say out loud, “I want to turn this into a business!” and see how I felt. If it felt right, then my goal was to launch what has come to be called The Golden Goals within the year.
So, hello November 24th, 2018! We're here, officially launching the business.
Of course, the last year had some lows: I lost someone most dear, I struggled daily at work, and my health was taxed by stress. But, dammit, I started that second goals group anyway. And, you know what? There was an appetite for it. The six women made the commitment within two days of me putting out the rallying cry. Wholeheartedly, they were in.
In product design, we have methodologies to ensure we are working on the ‘right problem’. Working on the wrong problem is common. So many of us work on the wrong problem because we’ve spent so long on it. Giving up seems like failing. In tech, we have coined a term to reframe failure; we call it a ‘pivot’. I really like it. It gives us permission to learn and change course mid-stream. We didn’t fail; we pivoted. Even if we don’t have a map, we have a direction, or at least we know the direction we shouldn’t go.
Once again, why couldn’t this philosophy be applied to our lives? Letting go of the wrong life goal is important. Pivoting to achieve the right life goal is essential.
My sister once gave me sage advice: you want life to be about ‘oh wells’ and not ‘what ifs’. Serial prototyping is in the product design playbook. Before you throw down big bucks and invest in something, set up a series of little ways to figure out if it is right. If it isn’t what you want, then ‘oh well’, but you also don’t have to live through those ‘what if’ circular conversations we all know so well.
We have to try things. Yet we also need to keep in mind that a solution might be very different than what you assume or would come up with by yourself. That is where the tribe of women come in - The Golden Goals whole life design group.
My Co-Founder, Tasha Estey, and I are on a mission to help women find and work on their ‘right’ - or ‘golden’ - goals. We do this by creating and facilitating hand-crafted micro-communities of women who, together, design their lives using our proven (and continually iterated) framework.
The Golden Goals = 6+3+2
Six women and their dedicated Golden Goals facilitator meet in-person for a deep dive session three times a year for two years. Ongoing support and connection are provided between sessions. We share, witness, counsel, reflect and amplify each others’ whole life goals.
I prototyped my way to The Golden Goals. It’s my ‘golden’ goal. Anyways, I can't miss it now; it's taped to the kitchen wall.
Kara Wilson Oliver is Co-founder of The Golden Goals. When she’s not facilitating goals groups, she is a Product Leader who loves to work on ‘tech-for-good’ projects, or she’s at the arena (ready with cowbell) letting her inner hockey-mom out.
Tasha Estey is Co-founder of The Golden Goals. A connector by nature, Tasha is committed to helping others on their life path using a human-centric, empathic approach rooted in her training as an ethnographer and qualitative researcher. She loves hanging out with her family, writing, and taking photographs.