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6 secrets of people who crush impossible-seeming goals

Some people shoot for the moon and get there. Here’s what they have in common.

6 secrets of people who crush impossible-seeming goals
[Source photo: Matt Ridley/Unsplash]

Some people set goals. And other people seem to accomplish the impossible. After all, plenty of people want to build a successful company, or produce Broadway shows, or make a living from their art. But without connections, experience, and good luck, these accomplishments may seem out of reach.

Or maybe not.

While it’s true that access, insight, and luck can make the path to success easier, there are other traits of people who accomplish big goals that help, too, says Jeff Wetzler, author of Ask: Tap Into the Hidden Wisdom of People Around You for Unexpected Breakthroughs in Leadership and Life.

“Lots of people have those dreams and lots of people even set out on those dreams,” Wetzler says. “What it comes down to is the speed with which people can raise their game—the ability to constantly learn and improve.” Here are some traits of people who have crushed their goals.


Payam Zamani was 16 when he arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Iran. He and his brother, Frank, went on to found AutoWeb, a digital marketing company for the automotive industry. They eventually took it public with a successful initial public offering. In 2015, Zamani, author of Crossing the Desert: The Power of Embracing Life’s Difficult Journeys, launched One Planet Group, a private equity firm that invests in mission-focused businesses that give back to communities. As a seasoned entrepreneur and investor, he says he looks at the people running the companies he invests in, seeking a combination of innovation, intention, and perseverance.

“Does the entrepreneur think about the consequence of their financial and innovative decisions?” he asks. He says the perseverance required to accomplish big things must be rooted in more than just a quest for money. “A business should make money and should be very successful at it. But at the same time, I think that if you’re driven by what I’m going to call ‘the just cause,’ there’s something that truly brings joy to you, because you’re able to have a positive impact.”


At age 60, Sue McDonald made history last year by setting nine world records for running and field events in her age category during World Masters Athletics events. The group holds track-and-field events for women ages 35-plus. She was also named the organization’s Female Athlete of the Year and the 2023 Masters Track and Field Athlete of the Year by USA Track & Field, the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running, and race walking. So far this year, McDonald has broken three more records. While she has been a lifelong athlete, she’s had to overcome her share of injuries and setbacks.

McDonald says that her remarkable year wasn’t an accident. She says she created a spreadsheet with her goals. This included current records in her running and field events, as well as what her goal was, and other info. McDonald monitored her training and the impact of her nutrition and sleep habits. She was able to remain injury-free for more than two years. “To compete, you have to put in the hard work, and you have to have the confidence,” she says. “The work you do in training gives you the confidence to be successful.” She says that dynamic holds true in other areas of life besides sports.

Zamani says accomplishing big goals requires a tremendous amount of perseverance. “Know that obstacles are inevitable. Don’t even question it. They are going to happen, and they’re supposed to happen,” he says. “At the same time, know when you’re supposed to quit. Because there is that right balance. You’ve got to figure out that your life and your time is the most valuable investment here and know that.”

Wetzler agrees. Knowing when to pivot because something isn’t working is essential to making progress toward goals. “Most of the great entrepreneurs have been told a million times, ‘This is not possible,’” he says. But instead of giving up, they ask questions. “They asked enough questions of people around them to get smart about which pivots they need to make in order to get to the ultimate goal, even if the path is different than what they thought originally.”


Lifelong theater buff Robin Gorman Newman founded MotherhoodLater.com, a digital and in-person community for women who became mothers at 35-plus years of age. She was working as a public relations consultant when she noticed that there were a number of “mom shows” being produced in theater. “It just struck me: ‘Wow, this is really becoming a thing now. And something I can certainly relate to personally and professionally as an ardent theater lover.’” Newman started working with theatrical marketing and social media firms to help them reach the market she understood so well: women over 40, who represent the “sweet spot” of ticket buyers.

She got wind of a show called In Mother Words being produced in California. So she decided to contact the producers to see if she could get involved. During a conversation with one of the producers, Newman explored her options, ultimately deciding to make an investment in the New York production of the show, which was moving off-Broadway. She also used her talents for PR by organizing events to promote the show. (Newman says that show investments vary, but a typical minimum for a musical is in the neighborhood of $25,000. Some investors pool money with friends and family members to meet the minimum.)

As she worked on this show as an associate producer, she continued to network. Newman was invited to become part of the producing team of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, which was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best New Musical. From there, her talent for the role has led her to the producing teams of shows like Parade, Fat Ham, The Who’s Tommy, and Cabaret. In fact, every Broadway show that she has helped produce has been nominated for a Tony Award.

“It was a huge effort for me to raise money for Great Comet—which I had never done before,” she says. “But I believed in myself, I worked hard, and I put myself in rooms that I’ve never been in before by myself to meet new people.”


Mike Notarfrancesco had spent more than eight years in school, gaining experience and studying for the exam to receive his professional engineer, or PE, designation. “It was something I was working toward for a long time, so when I became a PE, I thought that I ‘made it,’” he says. “Except I was surprised when I got my reward—I felt nothing!”

What Notarfrancesco really wanted to do was be an artist. He had some savings and decided to leave his job to devote his time to making pen-and-ink illustrations, which he sells online.

He says his new venture has required him to become frugal, forgoing social events and holding off on big purchases as the business becomes more established. “For most people, hopping off a professional track this far into their career is terrifying, but spending your whole life climbing the wrong mountain should be even scarier,” he says.


McDonald uses visualization and confidence-building exercises to get herself in the right frame of mind to compete and keep herself motivated. She finds a quiet place and runs through the day’s events. She also uses mental exercises she learned from Patrick Cohn’s work.

Zamani says it’s important to know how to motivate yourself, especially when setbacks affect you. “I do believe that our subconscious brain works in amazing ways. But also, I think enthusiasm and energy is really important,” he says. His go-tos range from motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer to Guns N’ Roses tracks to help get him pumped up for big meetings.

Wetzler says keeping in touch with what motivated you to reach your goal is also important. When he works with clients, he tries to bring them back to why they got into their line of work. In addition, he says the people you surround yourself with can greatly impact your motivation. Zamani also emphasizes the importance of having a good mentor to help you through tough times.


Notarfrancesco says that he is on a path to keep learning how to run and improve his business. “This entire journey to this point has been filled with a ton of failures. That was tough for me for a long time just because of how anti-failure the engineering world is,” he says. “We were supposed to design things to avoid failure at all costs. And now here I am trying to fail as much as possible in order to learn and grow.”

Newman says believing in yourself is essential—especially when the nerves kick in. That’s when she trusts her gut to guide her: “I think you just have to know yourself and just don’t ever think that something isn’t possible.”

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Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. More

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