7 Things I Learned from 29 Episodes of the #WeGotGoals Podcast

When we first took the #WeGotGoals concept to an audio format in April, we already knew we were onto something compelling.

We’d already had some of these conversations for asweatlife.com, pulling back the curtain on the goal-setting techniques of some of the most successful individuals in Chicago (and beyond). Transmitting their voices directly to your earbuds could only add to the depth and power of their insights.

I’ve been co-hosting and editing the show from the beginning, and I’m blown away by what we’ve learned—and shared with you, our listeners—along the way.

For starters, I’ve discovered that over time, it becomes possible to listen to the sound of your own voice without cringing. But since that probably doesn’t matter all that much to you unless you plan to start your own podcast, here are seven other key messages I’ve taken from hours of careful listening—just in time for you to cue up a few eps over your Thanksgiving travels.

1. Everyone has a different approach to goals … but there are some broad general categories.

Some people—I’m looking at you, dietitian and reality-TV star Dawn Jackson Blatner—are so opposed to the idea of setting goals they almost don’t come on the podcast at all (of course, we’re so glad when they do). Others, like author and financial whiz Nicole Lapin, have detailed five- and 10-year strategies to achieve their targets.

Regardless of which type of guest you most identify with—hard-working opportunity seekers like Blatner and Runner’s World nutrition editor Heather Mayer Irvine, or detail-oriented life architects like Lapin and Delos Therapy co-founder Mimi Bosika—you can borrow and adapt ideas from any place along the spectrum to craft your own winning game plan.

2. Failure comes with the territory—it’s what happens next that transforms you.

Before he launched a life-changing wellness company, Dr. Ari Levy flunked his medical boards. April Sutton went from living in her car to performing stunts on national television and in Hollywood movies. Elite runner Diego Estrada dropped out of two races, then tripped and fell during last year’s Chicago marathon—but got up, kept running, and finished in 2:13:56, eighth overall and first American.

Not only is failure not a barrier to success, it seems, it’s an almost essential step along the way. People ambitious enough to aim for huge goals nearly always fall short at some point. Actively learning from those experiences allows you to go on to greatness. (And if you can come up with a clever, compelling way to spin your failure story, even better—especially if you come tell it on the podcast.)

3. Audacious goals can be powerfully motivating, but that’s not all it takes to accomplish them.

Matt Matros of Limitless Coffee wants to brew every single cup of coffee consumed. Tori Bowie has her sights set on running faster than any other woman alive. And then there are those who aim to solve the biggest problems in our society: say, a broken food system (Health Warrior CEO and co-founder Shane Emmett), refugee resettlement issues (Blair Brettschneider of GirlForward), LGBTQ equality (transgender athlete and activist Chris Mosier), or urban violence (I Grow Chicago’s Quentin Mables and Erin Vogel).

Dreaming big—and putting those huge, hairy goals out there—can serve as a driving force, our guests make clear. But once they start to break down how they’ve crushed them in the past or plan to in the future, it’s clear that it’s not enough to have a grand vision. Successful strivers focus on the process, and never forget the details that got them to where they are.

For instance, Paralympic triathlete Hailey Danz achieved her biggest athletic goal—medaling in the Rio Games—by putting the focus on the small, concrete steps she had to take every day in training. And even though he’s now an executive vice president at exhale spa, Fred DeVito still teaches barre classes regularly.

4. And sometimes, knowing what you don’t want—and stepping away from it—is just as important.

At some point, every hard-charger takes a step back to fine-tune his or her approach. Early in her career, ESPN broadcaster Sarah Spain worked as hard as she possibly could to get ahead. Now, her perspective has shifted so that her own happiness—along with mentoring others and standing up for what’s right—ranks as her most important aim.

Author and international yoga instructor Kathryn Budig shares a similar tale. Her biggest goals are not to do more, but to travel less and spend more time on the things she finds most fulfilling—morning walks, relaxing with her partner, and her own podcast. And Clare Crowley, owner of both Haymarket Brewery and Yoga House, has entered an entirely new realm of well-being since she dropped ideas about what she “should” do in favor of following what truly brings her peace.

5. You can’t control everything—but you can choose your response to what life hands you.

NHL power couple Bryan and Amanda Bickell didn’t expect to be dealing with an MS diagnosis instead of a lengthy hockey career. But when they received it, they learned to shift focus, charging forward with optimism to help both people and pets who needed them.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski certainly would’ve liked to alter the weather in 2007, the year soaring temps forced him and his medical director to cancel the race mid-running. From that year on, though, he worked to create a system for runner safety and race operations that’s now used as a model internationally.

The most successful people don’t harp on what’s out of their hands. Instead, they make decisions that enable them to optimize the situation they’re in. That includes making the best of things that go wrong—and also capitalizing on things that go right and taking advantage of every possible opportunity. (Even if that means putting a toilet in your gym a la Gunnar Peterson.)

6. There just might be a #WeGotGoals effect.

They were already impressive enough to earn our invite—but our guests have gone on to even more incredible things after our interviews. Emily Hutchins celebrated the 10-year anniversary of her gym, On Your Mark. Bryan Bickell signed a one-day contract so he could officially retire a Chicago Blackhawk.

Paralympian Amanda McGrory won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the Para-Athletics World Champs in July, then placed second in the Chicago Marathon and third in the NYC Marathon. Meanwhile, Matt Lindner finished his first 26.2—in fact, every single person on our marathon roundtable crossed Chicago’s finish line, and Kristen Heckert even ran a personal best (2:38:54). So did Matt Fitzgerald, who clocked a 2:39:30 at age 46 just a day after we spoke with him.

Last but most certainly not least, Tori Bowie won a gold medal in the 100 meters at the IAAF World Athletics Championships (which, if you’re keeping score, actually does make her the fastest woman in the world).

We can’t claim full credit, of course. But pure coincidence? We think not.

7. We knew this already, but now we’re even more certain: Everything’s better with friends.

Not a single successful person we’ve talked with claims to have made it on his or her own. ALALA founder Denise Lee credits her parents, her former employer and mentor and her team with boosting her success. Kathryn Pisco started traveling the world—and then, a company that helps others do so with compassion—with her husband. And Aaron Wolf of Adventures Accessed creates an entirely new group of friends and colleagues, often bonded by mud, on each outing.

And then there’s the team here at aSweatLife, who’ve reminded me all over again the joy and power of collaboration. Even if our audio equipment fails or we haven’t yet had time for coffee, our monthly gatherings to reflect on our interviews and record the intros have become some of my very favorite appointments.

Of course, we couldn’t do it at all without you listening. We hope you’ll continue to do so, or give it a try if you haven’t yet (in addition to these 29, we have some pretty amazing guests lined up already for this year and next).

And once you’ve given us a download or two, please write us a review and/or give us a rating on Apple Podcasts—and feel free to email us directly and tell us what you like or don’t, what you wish we’d do more of (or do differently), and which high achievers you’d like us to feature next: [email protected].


About Cindy Kuzma

Cindy Kuzma is a freelance health and fitness writer and a contributing editor at Runner’s World magazine. She grew up in Texas and moved to Chicago to earn her master’s in journalism at Northwestern University; once she saw the lakefront running trail, she decided to stay. She’s finished 19 marathons and also loves lifting heavy weights, yoga, live music and running to the Green City Market from Andersonville and taking the bus home with a ridiculous haul of fresh veggies. Cindy is the producer and co-host on aSweatLife's podcast, #WeGotGoals. She’s written for Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Shape and other publications as well—you can read her work at www.cindykuzma.com.