How to Set New Year’s Goals Through the Lens of Stewardship

If you are like me, you’re well into your planning cycle for 2015, asking the questions you must always ask as a steward of your time, talent and treasure. In what and in whom should you invest over this next year? What do you believe you should stretch yourself to do? How in this next year should you serve at a higher level? Grow? Contribute? More deeply engage?


These are the stewardship questions that we are always being called to ask:

  • Who am I?
  • What have I been given that I am responsible to be a good steward of?
  • What has God (what has life, what has the universe) placed right in front of me to do?
  • What must I make the top priorities in order to be faithful to all of the above?

Making First Things First

Before throwing yourself into a goal setting exercise for your next year, I encourage you to spend some significant time in reflection about the principle of “First Things.” Many people get ground up in the doing of much, but our greatest contribution on earth is always to be found in the doing of the right few things first. You don’t need to “do it all,” and, besides, you can’t. To try to cover all the bases robs you of your best part – you’re too stretched out in the doing of many things to do your best in the ways that you are the best. And, trying to cover all the bases robs the people around you of their opportunity to contribute.

Here are a few ways I’ve found helpful to get clear on what the “First Things” are in my life. Go through this exercise – make notes or write in your journal as you proceed – and give yourself time to listen deeply to your heart, mind and soul on this.

Review your past year, asking these questions:

  1. Which of the many things I did over this year produced the greatest results? Consider those outcomes from the past year that you are happiest with, most proud of, that made the biggest difference – and trace backwards from those outcomes to the specific things you did that brought them about. This first question sheds light on the ways that you are “Fruitful.”
  2.  Of all the things you do, which activities draw uniquely on your distinctive gifting and strengths? Ask this question: which activities were absolutely necessary for me to do? Somebody else simply would not have been able to make that particular contribution because it came from the unique set of capabilities that you’ve been endowed with. This second question sheds light on the ways that you are “Essential.”
  3. Let your mind reflect back over the work, chores, tasks, responsibilities, projects that you took on in the past year, and identify those that you found the deepest joy and satisfaction in doing. It might have been daunting work, or it might have been delightful work, but you felt energized and your fires were stoked in the work. This third question sheds light on ways that you are “Built Up.”

There are approximately a billion books written on the subject of goal setting. Okay, probably not a billion in reality, but a lot! The problem with so much of the goal setting advice is that it doesn’t own up to its frame of reference. We always set goals in relation to a particular reference point. My goals are established to serve something! But what is the something that lies at the root of my goals?

Most of the goal setting guides I’ve examined are poisonous to excellence. Usually unspoken, many goal setting guides presume that we exist on earth to serve our wants. “What do you want? Make it a goal!” And why do I call this poisonous? It is poisonous for the obvious reason of selfishness. But far, far worse, this approach to goal setting is massively wasteful. If the frame of reference is “want,” then the goals you set will be countless, you will be dissipated across a vast wasteland of effort, your best won’t have space to come forth, and your greatest blessing to the world will be missed.

Let me be a little kinder: most of the goal setting guidance I’ve examined over the past 35 years doesn’t pause long enough to examine what should guide our goal setting. “Want to set some goals? Well, here’s how you do it! Yessir! And don’t forget to pin a picture of that Lamborghini, svelte figure, or faux million dollar check to your bathroom mirror, and by all means, write those goals down!” Practical guidance, all in all, and not wrong in the mechanics. But, nevertheless, massively wasteful of true human treasure.

Stewardship must be our frame. And, if stewardship is our frame, then we have sober considerations to make before we sit down to write our goals.

  • How am I most Fruitful? I exist on earth to make a difference, to leave a mark, to bear fruit. I must get after that!
  • How am I most Essential? I was shaped and designed for certain key contributions, one-of-a-kind offerings, distinctive arenas of service. I must offer the part that is my part!
  • How am I Built Up? Your stewardship includes yourself. We are to grow and to become more. Grounding ourselves down through the extreme sport of busyness gains nothing. I must guide myself onto pathways that bring growth, health and maturity.

When you’ve completed this exercise, reflectively, with a steward’s regard, look it over and search your answers for those “First Things” that you discern must be made your priority in 2015.

Finally, let me pass on some advice I’ve received from over a dozen mature, deep, and fruitful mentors and leaders. When you complete your “First Things” list for 2015, keep it short! When it comes to the overall number of key priorities that a person should choose in their planning work, “succeed in a few, fail in none” is the way a wise friend put it to me over twenty years ago, and “keep it under five” is the way a highly effective CEO put it to me yesterday.

In short, keep your list short!

Now, you’re ready to do some goal-setting! Let’s commit ourselves to giving our utmost in this next year!


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