Episode: Just Say No to Goal Shaming

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Michael Hyatt: “Someday I’m going to climb Everest.” Edmund Hillary said that in the early 1940s when he was just barely 20 years old. Few people believed him. After all, he was a professional beekeeper. Mountain climbing was just a hobby, and no one had yet climbed the world’s highest peak, although some 30 people had died trying. But Edmund Hillary had a huge, audacious goal, and he owned it. I don’t think he’s alone in having a big dream. I think most of us do. Everybody has an Everest rattling around inside them, a grand, inspiring, impossible goal they long to achieve. What’s yours?

Female: I want to change everything that’s going on right now. I’m about to quit my job and go back to business school and take an MBA, and I really want to beat procrastination.

Male: My biggest goal is to run a first-class online business.

Female: Just to become more effective with my time and plan and prioritize.

Male: Go back to India and make another film.

Male: To figure out my goals.

Megan Hyatt Miller: We all have dreams, but aspirations are fragile things. They’re susceptible to doubt and fear and criticism. They seem to thrive best in the safety of our own imagination. When we bring them into the harsh light of public opinion, they sometimes dry up and disappear. That’s why most of us keep our dreams hidden away. Other people doubt we can reach them, and we doubt it too. The loudest voice we hear is usually that of a critic, and often it’s inside our own head.

Michael: So it’s tempting to keep our dreams buried. We plod along with a safe, predictable life. And Mount Everest? Well, we’ll leave that to the Edmund Hillarys of the world. What about you? What’s your Everest? Here’s a better question…Why aren’t you climbing it right now?

Female: I get caught up in the little things, the immediate, what I have to do right now instead of bigger picture.

Male: I think right now I have so many projects running.

Female: There are just so many distractions these days. My phone will go off. There will be an email. There will be something interesting on the news or on TV. My sister will call me.

Megan: Why do we give up on our dreams? We don’t have time. We don’t have the money. We’re not strong enough. We don’t know enough. The market is skittish. It just isn’t the right time. Besides, Everest is really, really high, and the climb would be really, really hard. In fact, it just might be impossible.

Michael: Impossible? That’s what people told Edmund Hillary, and they firmly believed it. They believed it while he trained himself in the art of rock climbing and ice climbing. They believed it while he practiced on some of the most rugged peaks in the world. They believed it while he took up wrestling to build his strength, and they believed it right up until May 29, 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood atop Mount Everest, the highest point on earth.

Megan: Donald Miller wrote, “[Probably every person] faces resistance when they are trying to create something good. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be.” So, what’s the resistance that keeps you from achieving your biggest goals? Is it the critics? Is it the voice inside your head? Is it fear or uncertainty or even shame?

Michael: And what if we told you that you can dissolve that invisible barrier right now and unleash your greatest dream today?

Male: I appreciate that. It makes you feel good.

Female: That would be incredible. That would be life changing, honestly.

Michael: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode (I’m super excited about this), we’re going to show you how to say no to goal shame once and for all so you can finally reach for the big achievement you’ve been dreaming of.

Megan: Many leaders have bigger goals than they admit to. Criticism, fear, and naysaying keep them playing small. Here at Michael Hyatt & Company we have loads of experience reaching for big goals. Today we’ll identify three bad habits that keep you playing small, and we’ll replace them with three empowering practices that will free you to reach for goals you thought were out of reach. We’ll also hear from best-selling author Donald Miller on why we find it so hard to reach for big goals.

Michael: Guys, we can’t wait to share this episode with you, but before we dive in I want to make sure you’re not missing any content from Lead to Win. The best way to do that is to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. You’ll not only get fresh, actionable ideas delivered to you every week, but you’ll also receive occasional bonus episodes, something we call bonusodes, that aren’t available elsewhere. If you need help subscribing, just visit It’s super easy.

Megan: Before we get started, I want to take just a second and thank those people who shared about their big goals. If you thought those people were random, they’re actually not random. They’re real people, and they were attendees at our recent Achieve conference in September here in Nashville, Tennessee. So thanks, you guys, for sharing your big goals. We’re inspired.

Michael: Super helpful.

Megan: Today, we’re talking about goal shaming, which might be a new term to some people. Let’s define that.

Michael: Here’s how I would define it. Goal shame is embarrassment about the things you want to achieve. Sometimes this results from internal shame, like, “Who am I to do this?” or “Who am I to attempt something so big or to have this great dream?” Self-doubt, fear, or insecurity are the reasons we have this internal shame. It could also be external shame. “Who do you think you are?” or maybe the imagined naysayers or critics. A lot of times it is in our imagination. They don’t really exist out there.

Like you’ve said to me before, Megan. “Nobody thinks about you more than you think about you.” It’s easy to imagine people are criticizing us. They’re actually thinking about something completely different. But this harms us, and it holds us back, and it keeps us playing small. That’s why so many leaders may hesitate or even try to abandon their goals, and we want to put that to rest today.

Megan: The truth is this is a very common experience.

Michael: Yes, it is.

Megan: Oftentimes, we can feel like it comes from our faith experience. I think there’s a lot of this in the Christian community, where you shouldn’t want too much or you have to “be humble” or something like that. The truth is no matter what culture your context finds itself in, everybody has their own version of this.

Michael: Yeah, I think so. In fact, Gay Hendricks talks about this upper limit problem, and we’re going to get into this a little bit later. He talks about this in his book The Big Leap, and it’s something I can’t wait to get into. It is a real problem that a lot of people…in fact, I would say most people face.

Megan: Have you ever had this experience yourself?

Michael: I think every time I’ve gotten a promotion I’ve felt a little bit of that imposter syndrome, like, “I don’t deserve this. It’s only a matter of time before the people who promoted me figure out I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. They’re going to come get me and escort me out of the building.” I think it’s a very common thing. I can tell you this: when I’ve given keynotes to a room full of CEOs or business owners, or whatever, and I ask them that question, “How many of you feel this way…?”

Megan: All of the hands go up.

Michael: Every hand goes up.

Megan: I’ve had this experience not so much within a professional context. I certainly have, but the one that really stands out to me is how I often feel as a female leader with other moms. That looks like getting to know other moms… For example, we just moved into a new neighborhood several months ago, and many of the other moms are stay-at-home moms. I think that’s a totally legitimate choice and the hardest job of all, and all of those kinds of things.

But if I start to talk about business or what I do for a living, I can instantly feel a tension. That’s either real or perceived, maybe some of both, but I find myself wanting to not talk about what I do or if they say, “How are things going?” it’s like I’ll choose to talk about my kids instead of maybe the real thing that’s going on is some promotion I’m doing or next week I’m speaking at an event or something like that, but I feel like it would be threatening, so I just don’t talk about it.

Michael: Again, there’s that kind of goal shame, like, “I’m kind of embarrassed that I have these aspirations that are work-related.” You feel like you’re a little bit over your skis, a little bit beyond what you were raised to be or your peers would ever imagine, you think.

Megan: Right. Or in my case, what the expectations are around roles of motherhood or being a woman or things like that. It’s very insidious.

Michael: Okay, let’s get to the issue and figure out how we can stop the madness and own our dreams and own our goals and feel really good about them.

Megan: That’s right. We’ve identified three bad habits to stop, and we’ve also identified three empowering practices to start. So let’s talk about the first bad habit we want to stop.

Michael: Okay, the first habit to stop is this: being your own worst critic.

Megan: I’m raising my hand. You can’t see it, but I’m raising my hand.

Michael: I think, depending on your personality type… I know, for those Enneagram fans out there, you’re an Enneagram 4 but a particular subtype that kind of looks like an Enneagram 1 sometimes, where you have a lot of self-criticism and self-judgment and that kind of thing. Well, that’s not unusual for leaders. I think it’s not just an Enneagram 4 type, but certainly I’ve experienced it as an Enneagram 3. A lot of people with different personalities experience it.

The reason we have this imposter syndrome (that’s a name for it that somebody else came up with that’s apt) is we often focus on the gap between the progress and the goal. Immediately we think of the goal, what we want, and we think of how far we are from achieving it. That’s the gap. To give credit where credit is due, Dan Sullivan was the first person who alerted me to this concept. He talked about the gap versus the gain.

Megan: This is especially true when your own personal development and growth is involved. When you see yourself as you are right now and you know in order to reach a goal you have to become someone bigger, you feel that intensely, that criticism of, “Well, how are you ever going to do that? How is that possible?” and that inner critic can really get going.

Michael: Sometimes that critic will even show up before the game. Do you know what I’m saying? I used to experience it all the time before I’d step onstage. This was when I was unaware of this dialogue or the conversation that was going on in my head. I would be saying things to myself like, “They’re not going to like me. They’re not going to think I’m funny. They’re not going to think that I even understand what I’m talking about. What if they hate me?”

I was giving myself pre-criticism before I performed. Well, guess what the performance was like? It was less than what it could have been, because I was already diminished and in a small place before I started. I’ve learned to take control of that, and one of the first empowering practices to start is to start measuring the gains. Like Dan Sullivan says, stay out of the gap and measure the gain. Yeah, you may have a long ways to go, but look at how far you’ve come. That should build your confidence.

I remember one time when I was on a plane to San Diego, and I had to go speak at a big event, and I caught myself on the phone talking to somebody who had asked me where I was going, and I said, “Well, I have to speak at this certain event.” “I have to speak.” Already I was framing it as drudgery and something I had to do, something, frankly, I was dreading because I had to step up one more time in front of a big audience and deliver a message, wondering if it was going to connect, if people were going to find it valuable. Would they find me funny? Would they think it was interesting? All that.

Then I learned that if I could just take control, you know, measure the gain and realize, “Oh my gosh. How far have I come…?” The very fact that I get to stand in front of an audience and speak is a privilege. It is not drudgery; it is an opportunity. It’s an amazing thing. I learned in that situation to focus on my internal language, so now when I think about it… Like, we have a conference, as we’re speaking here, that we’re putting on in a few weeks. I say to myself, “I get to do that,” not “I have to do that.”

Megan: Talk a little bit about how you use positive affirmations to combat this internal criticism. I’m not talking about woo-woo, wacky kind of stuff, but just really practically, how do you do this?

Michael: This may sound a little bit corny, but I actually have a set of affirmations I keep in Evernote for all different kinds of situations. Like, I recite them before we do the podcasting. I recite them before I step onstage.

Megan: Wait. You do?

Michael: Yeah.

Megan: You’ve been holding out on me.

Michael: Well, I can share them with you.

Megan: Yeah, do.

Michael: They’re super helpful, but they remind me of what’s true. That’s what I see as a true affirmation. Not some crazy thing like, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better,” which were kind of the affirmations I learned when I was a young adult. They’re things like, “I’m fully prepared. I’ve got this. I’m ready for this. I’ve done this a thousand times before, and I will come through on this.” It’s that kind of thing.

Those are affirmations that I think are hugely valuable, to take control of that inner dialogue so the critic doesn’t show up. I have a choice. I can either let my mind run on automatic pilot and whatever voice shows up in my head shows up in my head or I can take control of that dialogue and edge out that voice by replacing it, supplanting it with another voice, and that’s what I try to do.

Megan: This is really important, because widespread psychological research shows that self-criticism contributes to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and poor physical health.

Michael: I’ll tell you where a lot of this comes from and why this happens: comparison. This is sort of the dark, ugly secret of social media. When everybody is posting their curated photos and their polished lives and everybody else is comparing where they’re at to that polished, curated thing, everybody is going to come up short, and it’s going to be easy to focus on the gap.

Megan: Or even worse, when people post their #authentic #reallife posts that are also heavily curated.

Michael: That doesn’t help.

Megan: It does not help. Stop doing that, people.

Michael: It’s almost like the posting of the #nofilter photographs but not realizing that that was one photo out of a hundred they took of that same subject.

Megan: Exactly. It makes me crazy.

Michael: Before we go to the second bad habit, there’s one other thing I want to say. That is, the reason we want to practice measuring our gains is because we constantly want to be building our confidence. Again, Dan Sullivan mentions this, but I want to emphasize the point. Confidence is so important. Anything we approach with confidence, our performance is going to be better. You and I have been watching this All or Nothing series on Amazon Prime Video.

Megan: Love it.

Michael: We just watched the Arizona Cardinals season, and you can see the performance of the team. When they feel confident, they execute.

Megan: We should probably put a disclaimer in here that the language is a little rough.

Michael: Yeah, “a little” would be understatement.

Megan: It’s sports language, so just a fair warning on that.

Michael: So we’re not recommending this, necessarily, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. It was amazing. At any rate, you just see how the confidence, how the mindset is so critically tied to the performance. That’s why if you want to have better performance it’s not usually just practicing more; it’s taking control of that inner dialogue and really silencing that inner critic.

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Megan: The first bad habit to break is to stop being your own worst critic. The first empowering practice is to begin measuring your gains. What is the second bad habit that we want to stop?

Michael: This is a really nasty one. The second bad habit is listening to cynics.

Megan: Just to be clear, you want to stop doing that, not start doing that.

Michael: Right. This is a bad habit to stop. The Australians have this saying for people who don’t want you to succeed. They call it the tall poppy syndrome. Have you ever heard of that?

Megan: No.

Michael: If anybody sticks their head above the rest, they get cut down. Another example I’ve heard of… I haven’t validated this. I’ve never seen it in the wild, but supposedly, if you put a bunch of crabs in a bucket and one of the crabs starts to crawl out of the bucket, the other crabs will grab that crab and pull him back down into the bucket. Same exact concept.

Megan: Wow. Such a great visual.

Michael: We have to say that naysayers, people who are these sad people who leave Amazon reviews on your books, not that I ever take those personally, but these sad little people are mostly disappointed with themselves. That’s the reason they’re coming after you. It’s a reflection of how they think about themselves. I don’t mind listening to practical critiques but never personal attacks. That’s easier to say than to do.

Megan: Absolutely it’s easier to say than do.

Michael: Because sometimes you can only see it in the rearview mirror. When you’re in it in real time it can all feel like a personal attack. That’s why, something we talked about in the last episode about holding the space… That’s why you have to take a deep breath, push the “pause” button, and not react. Just let it come. See if there’s anything of merit in it. I would say, by and large, you have to distinguish between people who are your friends, people who are your critics, and people who are just trolls. Your friends usually have the best of intentions. They’re telling you something because you have the spinach between your teeth or something you need to listen to.

Megan: We want to know that.

Michael: You often do that for me. Thank you. Then there are the critics, people you don’t know but have valid criticism. They’re seeing something you don’t see, and it can help expand your awareness about how you’re performing as a leader. That’s good to listen to. But then there are the trolls or the cynics, people who have nothing invested, who often can fly under the umbrella of anonymity, and leave something on your doorstep that you don’t need to be picking up.

Megan: A good rule of thumb is if it’s anonymous, it’s probably not worth considering very seriously.

Michael: Totally. That brings us to the second empowering practice to start, which is to enlist coaches. In other words, you need people who are in it for you. They don’t have a dog in the hunt, so to speak. They’re just committed to you and to you becoming the best version of yourself. These are equippers. They’re coaches. They’re encouragers. You give power to others when you tell them your dreams, and that’s why I think it’s very important that we’re cautious about who we share our dreams with. Like we said at the beginning, dreams are fragile things, and you want to share it with people who will encourage it and not destroy it. I want to be that kind of person, but we have to be careful.

Megan: I think when we’re talking about coaches, those could be formal coaches, like executive coaches, things like that, or they could be people you see as coaches in your life, maybe mentors.

Michael: Mentors. Yeah, that’s a better word.

Megan: It could be people who are just close friends of yours who you’ve given the power to speak into your life and also with whom you share your dreams, but you know they’re for you. That’s sort of a prerequisite to that position, whether it’s formal or informal. You know they’re for you, so when they offer you advice or guidance it’s coming from a place of constructive criticism as opposed to destructive.

Michael: By the way, I’ve written an article on this subject for the Michael Hyatt magazine this week. It’s called “The Do’s and Don’ts of Goal Sharing,” and you can find it at

Megan: Yeah, every week we publish an online magazine that digs even deeper into the theme of the podcast, so be sure to subscribe to that at Just click on “Magazine.” So, first, stop being your own worst critic and start measuring your gains. Second, stop listening to cynics and start enlisting coaches. What’s the third bad habit to stop?

Michael: The third bad habit to stop is playing small. Here’s what I’m talking about. One of the best quotes I’ve ever read on this came from Marianne Williamson. It’s somebody who won’t resonate with a lot of our readers, because she can be a little bit woo-woo, but this is an amazing quote. Here’s what she says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” I love that quote.

Megan: Woo-woo or not, it’s pretty profound.

Michael: It’s pretty profound.

Megan: So why do you think we play small?

Michael: I think we play small for two reasons. First of all, fear of failures. Big goals are intimidating. They require risk. They’re in our discomfort zone. Sometimes we play small to avoid facing our fears or really excavating what it is that’s keeping us from trying that. Frankly, at the end of the day, it’s just safer not to try than to try and fail. It’s a way of risk management for ourselves.

Then there’s the fear of success. Maybe we believe deep inside, for whatever reason, we’re just not worthy of achieving. We become masters of self-sabotage even when we’re really successful. I love this quote by Gay Hendricks. Again, the upper limit problem is something he’s talking about in the book called The Big Leap. He said, “I have a limited tolerance for feeling good. When I hit my Upper Limit, I manufacture thoughts that make me feel bad…I do something that stops my positive forward trajectory.” Have you ever felt that?

Megan: Yeah.

Michael: I think all of us have felt that, and I think most leaders feel that. We play small to avoid feeling guilty for having it too good or maybe we’re afraid that if we are really successful we’re going to alienate our friends, maybe even our family.

Megan: It’s kind of like what I was talking about with the moms in my neighborhood, my default reaction of not wanting to talk about my professional work.

Michael: Right. Same exact problem.

Megan: I just kind of want to keep it close to the vest.

Michael: One of the most egregious examples of that that I can think of… I can’t remember all of the particulars of it, but the story still makes the point. Some NFL player on the night before the Super Bowl, instead of really preparing for the Super Bowl like he should, he goes out that night, gets drunk, gets arrested with a stripper, and blows his career. That’s the upper limit problem.

Megan: Just because he didn’t think he deserved it somehow.

Michael: Exactly.

Megan: Probably at an unconscious level, which is why it’s critical to be aware of this, because it’s so insidious. It will sneak up on you, and you don’t even realize it’s happening, and all of a sudden your career is blown apart or an opportunity or whatever.

Michael: This is one of the great values of coaching or even therapy. It kind of depends on what level it is. If this is something coming from a trauma, you’re probably going to need some therapy, but I think it’s also common. I think this just arises as part of the human condition. That’s where a coach can help you. If you were aware of this you would have already fixed it, but usually you’re not aware that you’re doing it, and you keep wondering, “Why do I keep shooting myself in the foot? Every time I’m on the cusp of a promotion or something really good happening in my life, why do I seem to self-sabotage?”

Megan: You really need an outside perspective to help you get out of your own way.

Michael: You do. Recently, we had a chance to talk with our friend Donald Miller, author of Building a StoryBrand, about how to find the courage to reach your goals.

Donald Miller: When we don’t try to live into a great story, what’s happening is we think the worst-case scenario is a lot worse than it actually is. The reality is if we get used to the idea of failing, not unlike a baseball player who goes up to the bat… If he strikes out 70 percent of the time…70 percent! If he fails 70 percent of the time, he will end up in the Hall of Fame. I think life gives you even better statistics.

If you fail 90 percent of the time of the ambitious goals you set for yourself, you’re going to end up in the human being hall of fame, because 10 percent of our ambitious goals, if we hit them, are going to be life changing. I think the number-one way to get courage is to actually say, “It doesn’t matter if I fail. It doesn’t matter. I will get up and keep going again.” I think that’s the key to living a great story and a great life. If you think you’re not supposed to fail, you’re doomed, but if you realize failure is part of the process of moving forward, you’re going to succeed no matter what you do in life.

Megan: So what is the third empowering practice?

Michael: The third empowering practice is to own your goals. It’s okay to have big dreams. Where would the world be if somebody didn’t have big dreams, if a lot of somebodies didn’t have big dreams? Successful and selfish are not synonyms. Write that down. To achieve a goal, you must not just want it; you have to own it. It has to be integral to who you are, who you see yourself as, and where you see yourself going.

Believe that you…yes, you…have every right to achieve big things, to accomplish big things, and to enjoy life. Another quote from Gay Hendricks in The Big Leap. He says, “In my life I’ve discovered that if I cling to the notion that something is not possible, I’m arguing in favor of limitation. And if I argue for my limitations, I get to keep them.”

Megan: Wow, that’s powerful.

Michael: Every time you find yourself saying why you can’t do something, then you’re going to keep that limitation. You’re owning the limitation, not the dream. So what do you want to own?

Megan: Today we’ve learned there’s no shame in having a big dream. If you have a goal you’re dying to achieve, try this: stop being your own worst critic and start measuring your gains, stop listening to cynics and start enlisting coaches, and stop playing small and start owning your goals, even if that scares you a little bit. As we close, I just want to remind you that you get to decide what your dreams will be. Don’t let others make the choice for you. Dad, any final thoughts?

Michael: Yeah. For me, it comes back to self-awareness. Whenever I think of a big goal, almost always something bubbles up in my consciousness, and it’s that goal-shaming thing. It’s that inner critic or “What will other people say?” or “I think maybe I should just play small and avoid the risk of playing big.” You just have to be aware of that. I think to name it, like we’ve done today, and call it goal shaming is huge, because now that we have a name for it we can recognize it when it shows up in our lives and we can quash it with these best practices.

Megan: If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes, including links to the resources mentioned in this show, and a full transcript at

Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. Also please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and subscribe to this podcast so you’ll get actionable ideas delivered to you every week and never miss out on the bonus content. Just visit

Megan: Special thanks to our guest this week, Donald Miller.

Michael: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.

Megan: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson, our recording engineer is Mike Burns, and our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.

Michael: We invite you to join us next week when we’ll tell you how to help your team find their why. Until then, lead to win.

This episode of Lead to Win was brought to you by LeaderBox, a professional development subscription box to help you stay cutting edge in today’s marketplace. Find out more at