Shortly after my son, Jack, was diagnosed with autism at age two, I set the big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) that he will graduate college. Mind you, at two, Jack spent most of his days in his own, wordless world. I didn’t know how he could even attend ½ day preschool program let alone complete college. Fast forwarding to his 4th grade year (as this is a blog, not a novel), I felt panic when I realized that by being in a self-contained classroom in South Carolina public schools, Jack would receive a certificate of completion rather than a diploma. My personal BHAG was at risk.
Recently, I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the Inclusion Across the Lifespan conference at Winthrop University. I talked about how in the middle of 4th grade, Jack was moved to a private school to experience a true inclusion setting. He learns alongside his peers, and his bar is set at the same height as the others. I used my BHAG to implore the school’s administration and to partner with them to admit their first student with autism. Jack is in 5th grade now and earned all A’s on his last report card. More important than grades, our Jack is back in our world.
I’ll never forget this fall while I was helping him with homework, he turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “Mommy, I’m so smart!” It was as if it were the first time he realized this fact. His new teachers have found unique ways to help pull out the vast knowledge locked inside Jack’s brain through typing and picture drawing while dousing him full of encouragement and praise.
You see, the power of BHAGs lies not just in crossing the finish line, but in inspiring those who are in the race. I was the first to start out jogging, tagging his family, teachers, administrators, therapists, medical doctors, homeopathic doctors and anyone else I could find along the way. As we’ve come around to about the halfway mark to the BHAG, Jack too is now running the race.
How do you know you’ve found your personal BHAG?
I knew I’d found mind when:
- It made those who heard my goal for the first time either give me the look of pity or utter surprise. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be BIG enough.
- It couldn’t be done in a vacuum; but rather required a LOT of faith, help, teamwork, guidance, research, caffeine and patience. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be HAIRY enough.
- I had no idea HOW to achieve the goal. If I did, it wouldn’t be AUDACIOUS enough.
- It would take me about +/- 19 years to reach my goal. If it didn’t take at least 10 years, it wouldn’t be a visionary BHAG. If you feel you have a BHAG that you can accomplish in 5 years, go for it – those goals are important, too! But in order to be a visionary BHAG, you have to go big or go home!
- It takes you out of your comfort zone, if it is 100% in your comfort zone it isn't a true BHAG!
- It needs to be a focal point of effort to help you make decisions and chip away at the goal.
My personal BHAG gave me my life’s purpose, a vision of the future, inspiration to move one heavy foot in front of the other and advocate for my son. It will certainly be a transformational change in Jack and one that is more and more doable and exciting with each year that passes.
Why does having a BHAG matter? Imagine what an inspiration a truly BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS GOAL could mean during your company’s race and when you cross that finish line! Without our BHAGs, we wouldn’t truly be inspired to think creatively, implore others to join us and grab on to what others deem impossible. On your marks, get set...
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