What “A Walk in the Woods” taught me about setting goals

My sister and I recently went to see the comedy adventure A Walk in the Woods starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. It’s about two old friends, Bill (played by Redford) and Katz (played by Nolte) who reconnect and decide to hike the Appalachian trail despite the fact they are both in their 60s, haven’t spoken in decades and aren’t in the best physical shape.

Thanks to the many traveling mistakes made along the way by Bill and Katz, I left with a few new laugh lines and valuable goal setting reminders I can use in the workplace.

Plan with a devil’s advocate

My favorite character in the movie is Bill’s wife Cathy. When Bill, out of nowhere, decides he wants to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail on his own, Cathy starts regularly expressing her contentious opinions. She does this wittingly and brilliantly by regularly bombarding Bill with information and articles about accidents and murders that have occurred on the trail. Because of the hard facts Cathy presented to Bill, he agreed to find another person to travel with him.

What we can learn: Putting together a plan with a critical thinker will increase the chances of a high-quality decision being made. When goal setting, it can be hard to realize when you aren’t being realistic, but by soliciting outside perspectives you open yourself up to new information and ways of thinking. Fortunately for Bill, Cathy let him see how dangerous this trip could be if he traveled alone.

Know your team

Given the age of Bill and his friends, he had a very difficult time finding people who wanted to go on an Appalachian Trail adventure. Bill was so desperate to find a hiking partner that he invited his old friend, Katz, even though he hadn’t seen or talked to him in decades. When Katz arrived, Bob was shocked to discover that he was a beat up, overweight recovering alcoholic with a limp.

What we can learn:Before starting a project with someone, take the time to understand their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you better understand how they can help (or hinder) your ability to achieve your goals. If Bill had taken the time to get to know Katz a bit better during the planning stage, I am confident Katz’s questionable physical and emotional state would have deterred Bill from inviting him.

Be willing to quit

While out on the trail Bill and Katz came close to serious injury and death several times, yet out of stubbornness they continued their trip. Fortunately, after three months of hiking, they ended their journey when they discovered a map of the Appalachian Trail and learned they would never complete it by winter as they had hoped and planned.

What we can learn: Sometimes, your plan isn’t going to work—the sooner you are able to acknowledge and accept this, the better. If you can’t readjust and figure out a way to hit your goals, get out while you’re still ahead (or in Bill’s and Katz’s case still alive). Doing so will ensure you have time to refocus and create new goals worth pursuing.

Danielle Clark is a human resources manager with more than 10 years of HR and customer service experience in healthcare and retail organizations. Her work with Fortune 500 companies, in addition to a diverse professional and academic background, has trained Clark to be results-driven, people-focused and a thought-provoking leader. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. She is also an adjunct professor, active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.

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