Often we’re told: “Pick your battles.”

This is sound advice for those of us lucky enough live in placid times when we have the privilege to decide where we spend our effort, what we fight for, what hills we want to die on.  But, do we really?  Are we the ones deciding?  I think, all too often, we’re not.

Every day I hear from up-and-coming superstars with big ass goals.  They tell me about their methodology, their expectations, their ten-point plans of action.  But I always listen to something else, that thing they keep buried deep inside, that whisper of the unspoken dream.  You know the one: the one you dare not say out loud.  This is the dream that is so big, so scary, so bowel-shakingly audacious that you almost feel bad for wanting it.  But you do.  You really, really do.  And having this dream, having a reverence for this dream, well, that’s the thing that tells me who is going to succeed and who is not.

You see, we all have goals.  But, most of them were set by someone else.  Your parents told you to get good grades in school.  Your boss tells you to want the big promotion.  Your friends pressure you to score the right spouse, to drive the right car, to live in the right apartment, to wear the right clothes in exactly the right size.  And on and on and on.

But, if you were being honest with yourself — truly, unflinchingly honest — what would you really want? What would you consider worth fighting for?  In 20 years of studying and recruiting top leaders, it was never the ones who simply wanted the next promotion to the next big job who was ultimately the most successful.  It was the ones who were so hungry for their own self-determined goals that they were intrinsically motivated to go after them.  These are the ones who do the extra work, in the dark, when no one sees.  These are the ones who are willing to dig deep and fight like hell to make it happen.  They do it for themselves because they want it so badly that they can’t not do it.  They are insatiably hungry.  And you just can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s goal.

But here’s the thing.  You don’t have to want the thing that is socially acceptable, that is the norm, that is what everyone else on Facebook is doing. Go train for an Olympic rowing team, open an eco-lodge in Columbia, write mystery novels, or, yes, go after that executive promotion.  The world is a big place, and it’s big enough for you boldest dreams if only you are confident enough to dream them.