Be Ambitious With Goals, Not Deadlines


Every once in awhile I get an email from someone who is starting a new blog. This person is enthusiastic to get started and is hoping to become the next Darren Rowse or Steve Pavlina. In sending a few emails back and forth, however, I find that almost everyone underestimates how long it will take.

Typically I hear expectations that they will be cashing big paychecks in six months. I think I made less than $50 in my sixth month. Don’t get me wrong, ambition is good. If I didn’t have big ambitions I wouldn’t have started this website to begin with. But I think it can be dangerous to be ambitious with the deadline.

If You Want to Know How Long, Ask an Expert

I’ve always found that if you want to know how long something will take, ask someone who has already done it. Sounds obvious, but few people do it. When you’re motivated, it’s easy to think that somehow you can beat the odds and compress the years of work from someone else into a few months.

Setting unrealistic deadlines is a recipe for stress. If you quit your job with the expectation that you can become a professional blogger in three months, you’ll probably be living on the street. Motivation is good. Blind overconfidence isn’t.

When I first got interested in the idea of owning my own online business, I was told that the average time it took to become financially independent was 3-5 years. At the time, this seemed ridiculously long. Clearly, I, with all my motivation and ideas could do it in less time.

I’ve been running this website for 2 years and it seems to be right on schedule with that initial 3-5 year timeline.

Be Ambitious With Your Goals, Patient With Your Deadlines

One of my biggest mistakes I made a few years ago was to get frustrated when things wouldn’t manifest as quickly as I’d like. I’d be working incredibly hard, and few results would come. So, I’d work even harder and results would still trickle in. I’d burn myself out trying to speed up a timeline that already had it’s own pace.

I realized that my mistake was that I was trying to run a marathon as if it were a sprint. When you run a marathon, you need the motivation to get started and go the distance. But you need to have the patience to not burn yourself out early on. Sprinters won’t last three miles, never mind the full twenty-six.

Ask the People that Come Before You

When I used to do software projects, I frequently heard the mantra, “Figure out how much time the project will take in the worst conditions. Now double that. That is your expected finishing time.” The experts had the battle scars that come with trying to accelerate projects that needed more time.

My new rule for setting goals is to find someone who has accomplished what I want to do (or something similar). Then, I try to ask them to give me an estimate of how long it will take. That number will be far more accurate than any estimate I can make up.

The Path is Long, Learn to Enjoy It

If you can’t enjoy the process leading up to a goal, it probably isn’t worth starting. The time spent enjoying a win is far shorter than the work leading up to it. If reaching the end is your only motivation to keep going, you probably won’t make it very far.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy going to the gym. I enjoy taking classes in school. I enjoy reading. If I don’t enjoy something intrinsically, I can’t push through more than a few weeks. I’m sure I’m not alone in this case.

If you want to reach a goal, ask an expert. If they tell you 2, 4 or 10 years, ask yourself whether you can enjoy doing something for that long. Don’t just reject the number because you feel you can do it faster. Find a way to enjoy it for that entire time, because it’s the most realistic estimate you’re going to get.

  • Thor

    “The time spent enjoying a win is far shorter than the work leading up to it.”

    Reminds me of the analogy; life is like a journey. One knows what the final destination is and it’s not something people in general look forward to (unless they believe in a happy afterlife with harp stringing angels or 70 virgins per guy) , so better make sure one enjoys the trip.

  • Stu | Improved Lives

    “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Good post Scott but I think you underestimate the power of ingenuity and creativity. For instance I believe Darren Rowse has over 15 different blogs. Something like that would surely have an impact on the 3-5 year number.

  • Elliott

    Hi Scott,

    The concept of asking someone who’s done it is often overlooked. However, I do want to clarify your use of the phrase “financially independent.”

    Independent of what exactly? I know the term typically means not having to rely on an employer – however – with a blog… won’t you always be dependent on search engines, and of course, writing more content?

    I’m nit-picking, of course, but I hope people understand it’s residual income that creates true financial independence and freedom.

    Love your site – keep up the good work.


    P.S. YOU are the next Steve Pavlina, my friend.

  • etavitom

    Absolutely. Great post, once again!!

  • Dave

    Too true. Fitness is a classic example, with people believing they can lose 30 lbs of fat in the month before their summer vacation.

    ps – I noticed about two weeks ago your blog had a different look for a day or so. I’m not sure whether you were just experimenting, but for what it’s worth, I liked the look!!

  • Scott Young


    My point, which may have been overlooked in the article, is that other people are creative and ingenious too. When starting out, you will invariably make mistakes that they didn’t, which will be compensated for your creative insights they didn’t have.


    In the context I was using it, “financially independent” means that your business can fully support your expenses (i.e. you don’t need to work a second job). I’m not fully there yet, but I’ve come very close.