Should You Undertake a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal?

Figuring Out When Being Bold Is and Isn’t Worth the Risk

Posted May 12, 2014

Goethe wrote, “Dream no small dreams for they move no hearts.”

But of course, pursuing big, hairy, audacious goals[i] has downsides. Not only are you likely to fail, even if you succeed, others may view you as a grandstander, too willful, and even root for you to fail next time.

Of course, audacity sometimes pays off, big-time. Take, for example, in technology:

It was audacious of Alexander Graham Bell to think he could create a device that lets people talk to each other miles away, the telephone.

Bill Gates' goal for Microsoft was audacious: to put a computer on every person’s desk.

It was audacious of Alan Emtage to think he could create software that would enable anyone to easily access all the information on the Internet. Yet he created Archie, the first search engine.

It was audacious of Jeff Bezos, in his garage, to dream of having every book ever printed in any language available to all in less than 60 seconds. That spawned Amazon.

On a much smaller scale, some of my audacities have paid off. For example, while driving a New York City cab, I jokingly told a passenger, Neal Miller, eminent researcher at the prestigious Rockefeller University, “I’m not letting you out of this cab until you give me a job.” He did and that got me working on the first research that proved that biofeedback works, which, in turn, helped me get into U.C. Berkeley’s Ph.D. program.

Of course, my audacity has also met with spectacular failure. For example, as a teacher of special ed kids, I found it impossible to get all their parents/guardians to sign a field-trip permission slip. So I took them without permission, stuffing all 12 into my hatchback—some with feet dangling out the window. The principal fired me.

For the fun of it, think now of one or two big, hairy, audacious goals you might want to pursue now or later. Write it/them here:



These questions may help you decide whether it’s worth pursuing your big, hairy audacious goal(s): 

1. How important is the goal to you?

2. How beneficial would its substantial achievement be to your sphere of influence?

3. How beneficial would its substantial achievement be to the larger society?

4. How pleasurable versus painful would the process of tackling the goal be?

5. How likely are you to achieve the goal, at least in substantial measure?

6. If you fail, how big a price would you pay? For example, would you likely lose your job? And how bad would that be for you? In my case, getting fired from that school turned out for the best.

7. What’s the worst outcome that realistically could occur? How big a price would you pay for that?

8. Is there a way to reduce the risk while still allowing for lots of benefit?

Okay, let’s assume you decide you’d like to pursue at least a scaled-down version of your goal. Write your first five baby steps toward achieving it. Baby steps can make even scary goals less so.






May achieving your big, audacious goals not be so hairy.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. Marty Nemko's  bio is on Wikipedia.

[i] The term was coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.