So what is a BHAG?

If you have to ask what a BHAG is then you’ve probably never had one yourself.

BHAG is an acronym for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The concept was introduced in the book Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Poras. It is pronounced as “BEE-HAG”.

I first learnt the meaning of a BHAG in 2013 when my employer required all their employees to set a big sporting goal as part of our performance ratings. The BHAG had to be a long-term goal for the year that changes the very nature of your being and challenges you beyond your own capability. It does not have to be a sporting goal, but a sporting goal requires entering for a race and testing your newly developed skills. If you pick another type of BHAG, it should be something where you can measure the outcome, such as a certification or skill that is awarded.

Though, by force, sometimes we just need a little nudge to do something we would not have normally done.

Not all BHAGs are created equal

My BHAG is not your BHAG. My first BHAG was running a 10km race on Durban’s promenade. I have always been active but have never been much of a runner. I was also very unfit and not even remotely close to achieving this goal. To train for the race,  I decided to start with the 5km Parkrun and build up to the goal distance. Week by week, my walking turned into more running and eventually I could run a full 5 km without stopping. I was ready to conquer my first BHAG.

You should think of giving up at least once during your BHAG attempt

If you don’t think of giving up whilst attempting your BHAG, you’ve picked a goal that was too easy. It should stretch you and put you outside of your comfort zone. There is something amazing that happens inside the soul when we think we cannot give another step forward, yet, by carrying on, somehow that next step happens. Magically, by putting one foot in front of the other we just get on with it. The mind expands and sees new possibilities it did not think possible before. Not quitting builds mental toughness and makes you more resilient.

The BHAG lifestyle

Once you’ve conquered your first BHAG, the mindset of thinking past your limits becomes a lifestyle. You are no longer complacent with your surroundings but will always look at ways to push your own envelope. After that initial 10km race, I was soon eyeing 21km runs. When that proved doable I was hooked and entered for a marathon. This proved to be much harder than I thought.

Meeting the legendary runner, Zola Budd Pieterse at the Durban Promenade after the 10km race which she won comfortably. 8 June 2013

Failing forward

After entering for my first marathon I hoped to run it under 5 hours. When I did not achieve this goal I was very disappointed and wanted to give up running. But, the BHAG mindset is also about failing forward. Even if you mess up, there is always another attempt. The race is only against yourself. So, I laid low for a good while and tried again the next year. Success!

Dreaming bigger

Having also qualified for the Comrades Marathon by the skin of my teeth, I thought, what could be a more hairy goal than attempting the self-proclaimed ultimate human race? So in 2017 I entered for the Comrades Marathon and finished it in the nick of time. I also ran the Two Oceans Marathon with severe Achilles tendon inflammation as training which was a big goal in itself.

Finishing the 2017 Comrades Marathon in the nick of time.

This is not about me, this is about you

Why am I telling you all this? I hope my story inspires you to do something outside of your comfort zone. Something that you’ve always wanted to do, or have never even thought of doing. Something that you will look back on and feel good about yourself. Something that you will be able to treasure for years to come and relish the achievement. Something that will exhaust you and make you feel like quitting and when you’re done, you’ll say “never again”! And then, just before you know it, you’ll be planning your next, great BHAG.

Running up Chapman’s Peak during the 2017 Two Oceans Marathon.



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