Why you should have goals, not dreams

MS SV650 Feature image
Kevin McIntosh

A goal is a heavy thing. A weight of planning that consumes mental capacity, money, and time—and comes with no guarantee. Any multitude of factors can throw it askew. Often it’s only a mix of scrappy attitude and luck that allows us to persevere through setbacks, which may range from unexpected financial issues to a global pandemic.

Earlier this month, a mix of planning and luck had me racing motorcycles at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. Only after shutting the bike off after the Sunday race did I begin to reflect on the five years of effort it took to make that happen. I realized why goals are so important—and why meeting them is only part of success.

The old saying about the fate of best-laid plans applies to everyone. Maybe that’s why half a decade elapsed between uttering “I want to do that” while watching the knee-draggers hustle around the 2.38-mile rollercoaster at Barber and becoming one of them myself. That first visit to Barber Vintage Festival was on a Hagerty ticket that included instructions to gather insurance quotes under a tent in the swap meet. A weekend of hearing the buzzing pipes in the distance while talking deductibles and coverages made the track feel a lifetime away. It was just a dream. Then it became a goal.

That’s only one small change. A dream is a thing you wish you could do. A goal is a thing that you are putting effort into making happen. See how simple that is?

The process started when my day was done talking insurance quotes. Freed from the tent and table, I walked the paddock. Still handing out insurance brochures, if it made sense, but also asking questions about how to start racing and who to talk to. Those conversations led me to racing off-road on a Yamaha YZ125 whose value barely nudged four digits. I learned how to maintain a motorcycle on a race schedule, how to prepare for a race weekend, and what to expect when traveling. Basic stuff, all done in a low-stakes environment and on a cheap machine.

Which brings up the second step in goal-setting: Budgeting. Whether thinking about a project car that needs repair or setting a land-speed record, you need a picture of the financial outlay and a strategy for making the balance sheet, well, balance. Having been lucky enough to spend five weekends at a race track this year, I can proudly say that none of my racing has gone on a credit card. Not even onto a card that I paid off at the end of the month. Zero financing—my personal habits would let that spiral too fast. Years of planning leading up my first weekend allowed me to save up, spending slowly so as to never go underwater. It also gave me time to research everything. With only a few dollars to spend, you need the best value for your dollar. Finding out where can you save and how to adjust a budget based on what you learn can make a goal more attainable.

The last thing: None of us should be scared to use our resources. For me that was picking up the phone to talk to companies and leverage Hagerty’s digital pages to help those companies gain visibility in exchange for access or products. For you, that might mean reaching out to a local club and asking whether a veteran rider is willing to sponsor a newbie’s entry fees for one race. I’ve seen this second method succeed in a Facebook group. When my bank account says I can join in, I will.

Resources are different for each person, but they all stem from relationships. Asking for sponsorship from a business takes effort and requires being prepared for rejection, but just about anything worth having requires some work. Making friends and networking with those in the game you plan on joining is powerful for a multitude of reasons. You want to be in a band where everyone is playing the same song, right?

And just like that, you understand the best part of goals: They steer our lives. Declaring in 2017 that I was going to go road racing at Barber Vintage Festival in the next five years helped me chart a course. Dreams don’t chart courses. No, dreams are the lazy brother of goals. A brother that will introduce you to scratch-off tickets and cheap beer at the bowling alley. Goals show us how to study, focus, and prepare us for the things that will bring us joy. The effort required to make realize goals is what makes makes success feel so good.

Mine took place the second weekend of October, 2022. Emotion welled up as I turned my 2001 SV650 out to start my first practice laps. Before entering the blend line to turn three, my voice echoed inside my helmet: “I’m doing it!”

You may be able to race on a much smaller scale, so it takes less time. Maybe you can stretch the timeline to race with less spend. Whether you’ve got a goal to race the Baja 1000 or drive your project car to the local cars and coffee, that feeling of success is something we can all achieve. Then, right after, we get to ask the same question: What do I do now?

For me, I’m going to go faster. You’ll have to set your own goals.

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    For me my ideas start out as dreams and most end up and goals and opportunities.

    For me I have a long habit of knowing what I want to do and finding a way to accomplish it. I have been to a number of placed done many things that I told my wife will fill a good Obit.

    For me the real key has been putting my self in place for ample opportunities and when they come you take them. People say it is luck but it is like being in a drawing the more tickets entered the better the odds.

    I learned long ago from a friend who’s mom won all sorts of prizes in drawings. She would sit at night and enter contest as many times as possible. This increased the odds and she won a lot. It was not luck but positioning herself to increase the odds in her favor.

    As they say you make your own luck. Same with sponsors, with rides and a chance to get what you want.

    Those who sit back and do nothing often never get anyplace or relay on long odds.

    Your comment reminds me of the saying my mother used to tell me “when you your ships comes in you still have to be prepared to unload it.” I’m not sure I thought about it much back then but now I take it to me you need to be prepared to deal with your dream coming true. If I just sat on the couch the last five years and suddenly someone offered me a bike to race, I would have been horribly out of shape and not even remotely mentally prepared to actaully take advantage. My ship would have landed to me unprepared.

    I don’t want to take away from your story or your accomplishment, but a goal is an endpoint, a dream is a trajectory. I may not know exactly what I want in the achievable realm, but my dreams will tell me which direction I should be looking. Then looking that direction, I can come to a conclusion of what on that horizon is achievable within time and resources. I’ve always wanted performance cars and muscle cars. The first toy car I bought was reasonably priced and still within the daily driver realm of age and value. Some of my latest acquisitions have been more ambitious and less practical (from a ‘driver’ aspect). The dream set the direction, the goals drive the individual accomplishments along that road

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