Do your goals really have to scare you?

If you’ve been in the fitness world, in particular, long enough, you’ve no doubt heard the expression “If your goal doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough” or some variation on that theme.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t need my goals to be scary at this point in my life because life can be scary and uncertain enough on its own.

I had major, risk-of-paralysis and maybe even death surgery when I was a teenager. I broke off an engagement and moved to a new city with about $100 and no job after college. I quit my job with nothing lined up a couple years later. I got divorced (again with very little money to my name – it’s a theme!). I’ve gone whitewater rafting in class 5 rapids knowing that I’m a terrible swimmer, hiked tall mountains despite a slight anxiety about heights (more so my own clumsiness than an actual fear of heights) and walked the streets of some questionable neighborhoods in Chicago by myself late at night countless times. I’ve started my life over more times than I can count (and more times than I ever imagined I would).

I have no problem with doing “scary things,” especially when that scary thing is a necessity and ends up a better choice than the seemingly non-scary option. I get it, really.

But what’s with the push to make goals scary? Big? Yes, absolutely. Shoot for the moon and don’t hold yourself back. And I’m all for facing and conquering our fears. But making a goal “scary” intentionally? Meh. If your goal makes you more terrified than exhilarated and excited, what’s the point? Will you even put in the work to do something that’s bringing you fear and anxiety?


Conquering my very real fear of tripping over a hurdle and falling flat on my face (also I had my whole class telling me I could do it and cheering me on which made hurdles suddenly feel very safe)

Toward the end of last year I wracked my brain trying to think of a good “scary” goal for 2020, and just couldn’t come up with anything. I came away from a goal-setting/donut-eating session with a couple girlfriends from my gym in mid-December with a lot of great, realistic goals for the new year, but none of them scary. And that’s just fine with me.

Here’s some big, challenging but not scary goals that I’ve been working toward:

Advance my career: I made a LOT of noise with my manager, her manager, and HER manager during 2019 and advocated hard for myself when no one else did, and by the end of the year ended up with a promotion, a raise and a bonus. I’m happy with where I’m at for now but don’t want to be corporate forever, so the next goal is figuring out what I want to do instead.

Buy a house before I’m 40: Obviously this is a joint goal with Terry, and I’m not going to lie, he’s been the architect of this goal the whole time, but hell, I had to break a LOT of bad habits (like moving to new cities with no money) to help put us in a better position. I’ll be 39 in May, by around which time we hope to be closing on a house.

Reduce my body fat by 5%: I refuse to go on traditional “diets,” so over the years I’ve gradually been moving toward a healthier diet that I can sustain (read: ENJOY) in the long-term. I tackled things like portion size and giving up processed foods in 2019 (and let me tell you, that latter one feels impossible until you’ve cut that last bit of crap out of your diet and suddenly you realize it’s actually pretty easy and why didn’t I do this sooner?), and this year one of my big focuses is on keeping my daily fat intake under 25%, with a goal of 20% at least 4 days/week. The changes I’ve made since January seem to be helping as my body fat has dropped by 1.5% this year (and less important, I’ve lost 3.8 pounds).

Reduce inflammation: Remember in my last post when I mentioned that I’m seeing early symptoms of arthritis? Yeah, that sucks, so in addition to taking glucosamine and collagen daily, I’ve been working really hard on adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. Fortunately that lines up pretty well with the Mediterranean diet that we’ve been trying to follow for a few years now. A few weeks ago when I met with my trainer to talk about how nutrition is going this year, I told her the light bulb finally went off and I finally get it and know the way to eat that’s best for me. When she asked what changed from last year (and really any year prior to that), the response was obvious: I was sick of feeling like crap. Not only was eating fatty, processed foods making me feel bloated and sluggish, it was also causing me physical pain through inflammation. I’m not a dietitian and what works for me may not work for you, but eating a diet full of lean protein, tons of veggies and very little sugar or dairy has made a huge difference in the way I feel, which is pretty much the best motivation to make a change.

Cardio endurance: Now that I’m not running, I’ve been able to push myself harder on cardio days at the gym, which has actually been pretty fun after holding myself back for much of last year while trying to do both. After doing 96 consecutive jump squats in class one day last fall, I decided I wanted to hit 100 during my gym’s January challenge (where one of the exercises we try to improve upon over the 6 week challenge is jump squats). Another goal I honestly can’t believe I set is 1,000 full burpees during the month of March (that amounts to 38 per day with rest on Sundays; I’m up to 116).


Get strong(er) AF: I know that’s vague, but I have a lot of strength goals that make this one up. I’ve already gotten new PRs this year on deadlifts (110 lbs), front squats (100 lbs), glute bridge (100 lbs), cleans (80 lbs) and snatches (40 lbs), so I’m hoping to build on those.


My only unrealized 2019 goal was 100 lb squats, which I finally did in January of this year!

What are you working toward right now?

4 thoughts on “Do your goals really have to scare you?

  1. I am with you – eff those scary goals. I’ve had enough real-life scary shit happen that I don’t need to bring anything extra on! I do love your 2020 goals and I love seeing how confident you’ve become with yourself, your body, your strength, and life in general.


    • Thank you, Shelley! I remember hearing from some older friends that they just stopped caring/worrying about certain things as they got older and couldn’t wrap my head around that… until I did 🙂


  2. Love all of this! I’m with you. Life can be pretty scary sometimes all on its own. Goals don’t have to be. Aim big, maybe go for something that seems hard, but fear doesn’t have to be part of the equation. Awesome, awesome job on everything you’ve accomplished in the past year+ and on everything you’re working toward! I love reading about it. 🙂


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