Hugo Pelland

Why Being Realistic Isn’t Helping You Reach Your Goal: With Hugo Pelland

Have you ever experienced the feeling of letting someone down? Or was that someone who you let down actually you? Which one do you think is easier to confront?

In this new episode of The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast my guest is Hugo Pelland, Senior Product Manager at Adobe. And today Hugo comes to the show with an interesting problem. He has a tendency to put himself at the bottom of his list. This happens to many of us when we have a set of beliefs that says we’re not as important as others.

We have all been through something like this, right? We show up for others but we let ourselves down from time to time. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. And my biggest recommendation for Hugo is to change that way of thinking. I know that it’s less uncomfortable to disappoint yourself than it is to disappoint others, but in real life, it’s the exact same discomfort and we need to acknowledge and address that.

What does being realistic mean?

Setting realistic goals is actually more harmful than it is helpful. While you may not believe that at the moment, I can actually prove that realistic goal-setting is more detrimental than beneficial when it comes to reaching your dreams.

Instead of helping you take gentle steps toward your goals, being realistic leads to the de-prioritization of goals you care about, because you’re tacitly giving yourself permission to let down the one person who’s holding you accountable: yourself. If that sounds familiar (and you’re curious about how to stop “being realistic”), keep reading. 

Think about it this way: being realistic, as pragmatic as it sounds, is probably the #1 killer of passion. Today’s podcast guest talked about their side passion, which was a startup project about the gamification of fact-checking — a very interesting concept! The startup was working well for about a year, but then its creator took on a day job again for personal and family reasons. Still, he wanted to put time toward his side project, but it didn’t continue for long because he admitted that he couldn’t “realistically” spend as much time working on a project that wasn’t currently earning him money. 

Unfortunately, the concept of being realistic hindered him from working on his goal further — while simultaneously allowing him to accept defeat for what might otherwise be a career-defining project. What does this all mean?

In short, being realistic is code word for “giving myself permission to diminish my own goals with my thoughts.” It opens the door for us to accept that succeeding at lofty goals just “isn’t really possible.” And does anyone want that? Absolutely not. Especially if you’re a naturally high-achieving person with big dreams and lofty goals. It’s okay to accept that your goals might have realistic outcomes, but if you’re being realistic from the outset about what you can achieve, you’re putting limits on yourself — before you’ve even gone and done anything.  

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals 

When it comes to moving past “realistic” goals , there are two components to breaking out of a bad goal-setting mindset. First, it’s important to understand that you’re probably the only person you set realistic goals for. What do I mean by that? Unlike goals we set for ourselves, the goals we set for others often aren’t realistic. We try to overachieve and impress everyone around us by going above and beyond. Why do we do this?

Because it’s easier to let ourselves down than to be comfortable with the prospect of disappointing others. And yet, by all accounts, you should be the most important person in your own life (you’re living it, after all). So before you’re able to address your goals, you have to become comfortable with the prospect of raising your importance level and making yourself just as much of a priority as others in your life. 

The second part of the equation involves overcoming some of your natural biases and tendencies that hold you back from accomplishing what you want. For instance, if you’re naturally bad at showing up for yourself when it comes to personal commitments, then maybe it’s time to involve someone else in your goal-acquisition process. That way, if you’re great at keeping appointments with others, you’ll be more inclined to meet, work toward and accomplish your goals when others are involved. See how it works? By accounting for some of your natural weak points, you can bolster your strengths until you no longer need the “crutch” required to meet your goals.

Living up to expectations 

Living up to your own expectations can be hard. If goal-setting and acquisition is naturally difficult for you, it might be time to invest in someone who can help. Coaching is designed with goal-setting in mind: by helping clients find the value in themselves and assisting them in addressing some of their thinking traps, we help creators, parents, business owners and countless others tackle their goals organically. 

The best part? We don’t tell any of our coaching clients to be realistic. Instead, we tell them to express their most vivid, “unachievable” goals imaginable — and then we help them address the thinking that’s getting in their way.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast, where we invite leaders from all over the world to come onto the podcast and get coached live and in person.
Today my guest is Hugo Pelland. Hugo, welcome!

[00:00:24] Hugo Pelland:
Thank you.

[00:00:25] Kim Ades:
Did I say your name correctly? Or is there an accent to go with it?

[00:00:28] Hugo Pelland:
In English you'd say Hugo Pelland, or you can say Hugo Pelland, which is how my parents would call me.

[00:00:34] Kim Ades:
Hugo Pelland.

[00:00:35] Hugo Pelland:
There you go. Perfect.

[00:00:36] Kim Ades:
Did I get it right?

[00:00:37] Hugo Pelland:
Yes, you got that right!

[00:00:37] Kim Ades:
So your parents would call you that, I hear an accent. It sounds to me like you are a French Canadian from Montreal.

[00:00:46] Hugo Pelland:
That is correct. Yes, I am originally from Quebec. So grew up in a small town right next to Montreal and then moved there to go to college and work a few years in Montreal.

[00:00:54] Kim Ades:
Amazing. How do I know that? Because I grew up in Montreal and I recognize it very well.

[00:00:59] Hugo Pelland:
Excellent then.

[00:00:59] Kim Ades:
So welcome! Welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself. You're not in Montreal anymore. Where are you now?

[00:01:05] Hugo Pelland:
No, that is correct. I'm in the San Francisco Bay area, so in Oakland, California. I've been here for 11 years now, already.

[00:01:12] Kim Ades:
And what brought you to California?

[00:01:14] Hugo Pelland:
It's actually my partner, now wife actually, who got a job in the bay area first and funny enough, she did not move because of DEC, which is the number one reason for people going to the bay area. She's actually an economist by trade, but I was already working in software, so the move was very easy. I figured that, you know, I'd find a job over there, I was not too worried.

And actually at the time, my employer in Montreal, they're called GIRO, they work in the public transit and we actually had a lot of clients in the bay area. So at first it was very easy to do a transition. Came and worked with AC transit, Golden Gate transit, the VT in San Jose. So it was a very easy transition. And then eventually did this switch to another job in the bay area.

[00:01:57] Kim Ades:
So, are you a software developer?

[00:02:00] Hugo Pelland:
Yes and no. So, actually at that time-- that's when I did the transition. So, I was a software developer for the first five years after my degree, so I did computer engineering at McGill back home in Montreal.

[00:02:09] Kim Ades:

[00:02:09] Hugo Pelland:
Worked as a software developer, and then when I switched to my new job in Oakland at-- I joined (...) network. It's actually part of the If people remember that brand, the good old "ask G" back in the day. So, I was working with them and that's what I did the switch from a software engineer to a product manager. And I've been a product manager for the last 11 years since I've been here. Except for actually had a little break, which is related to what I think we'll be talking about today.

So I did this two years of working in my own startup full-time, so a bit of a break from the corporate world. And I, now, just recently in May started another more traditional role in product management at Adobe, this time.

[00:02:54] Kim Ades:
Okay. Adobe, that's a good company.

[00:02:56] Hugo Pelland:

[00:02:57] Kim Ades:
Okay. So you stopped and you started your own business.

[00:03:01] Hugo Pelland:

[00:03:01] Kim Ades:
And so, what did you have in mind at the time? Like, what was your vision? What were you looking to achieve? Who were your clients going to be? Tell us a little bit about why you switched gears from working for established companies to being an entrepreneur.

[00:03:17] Hugo Pelland:
Sure. So, I guess to give a bit more context, it's all started, I think... so I did an MBA part-time so when I was still working, from 2016 to 2019, and as part of the MBA, we had Applied Innovation class, which was all about design thinking, trying to think about new ideas, and I pitched this idea of, what about trying to find solutions to fight misinformation?

It's something that I've always been super passionate about. I think it comes from my engineering background, my very, like, science geeky type side of that. I just really care about science, critical thinking, and I find it really sad to see all of the misinformation that has been spread online, right?

I often call it the internet backfiring [laughs] that's kind of how I put it because, you know, big thing which was supposed to make it so easy to find information online, everybody gets connected, we all have our infinite libraries at the tip of our fingers. But sadly, it kind of went the other way around almost where now it's harder than ever to figure out what is correct or not. We're inundated by all of these different sources, which may or may not be reliable. It's really hard to figure that out.

So, I just, as a school project at first, you know, we had a few ideas together, but it never really went too far, but I still kept thinking about it. So it's on me, I think in 2019, basically that then I decided to really take a big step and quit my day job to go join an initial project, which was more focused on the... more like on the crypto space, it was like a blockchain solution to try to find missing information with this idea of building some sort of community of fact-checkers, which would reward each other based on how well they performed.

[00:04:57] Kim Ades:

[00:04:58] Hugo Pelland:
But that was, like, extremely complicated and I figured that, you know what? I think it makes more sense to take a step back and really look at the problems and try to think about what can really make a difference with.

And just based on the testing that we have done with some of our users, we had built a small prototype, I realized that the game side of it was very interesting for users. So that's why I decided to focus on. So far, I guess the other year and a half, I work just on my own startup, starting from scratch, building, what I was calling gameification of fact-checking.

So trying to make it easy for people to come in and work on all these problems of trying to identify with this card information or not, trying to figure out what are even the problems that we're trying to look at collectively. Do we even agree on what the questions are? Because sometimes that's when there is a bit tricky.

Even we've figured the conclusions, sometimes it's even before the problem arise where we don't even agree on what the problems are.

[00:05:53] Kim Ades:

[00:05:53] Hugo Pelland:
So, yeah, that was a lot of fun, but at the same time, I guess the other point that who are my users and I was even going to monetize this thing. That was a really big challenge because it's hard to, you know, just to be very practical. It's hard to make money out of a project like that.

So that's one of the reasons why, you know, I've been working on it for a year and a half, I realized that it might be time to just go back to the corporate world, get a more steady paycheck again, I have a more traditional role. But I'm still trying to keep it working on the side.

So, that's one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you today because that's one of the big challenges now, how can I still have my full-time job now, but try to find time to work in the startup on the side, which really, I call it more like a passion project now, given that it's not something I'm doing full-time anymore.

[00:06:38] Kim Ades:
Yeah. I'm curious, how did you manage to... while you were working on this project, did you have any clients? Did you have any source of revenue coming in?

[00:06:50] Hugo Pelland:
No, I didn't have it. I didn't get there, actually. It was a end-user product and the way the idea was to eventually maybe monetize the users, a bit like any other games can be monetized or I think maybe little perks that they can buy or leveling faster, but I didn't have any source of revenue, so I'm just very lucky basically that my partner, my wife has a very good job and she's the one who's very happy to be the sole breadwinner for that time. Yeah.

[00:07:13] Kim Ades:

[00:07:13] Hugo Pelland:
And she was all behind it, which was great, it was like--

[00:07:16] Kim Ades:
And was she also behind you going back to a more traditional role?

[00:07:21] Hugo Pelland:
Yeah, also. We kind of... both ways, yeah. And just for very practical and personal reasons, we just bought a house and now we have a baby on the way. So it was--

[00:07:31] Kim Ades:
Oh! Amazing, congratulations.

[00:07:33] Hugo Pelland:
Thank you. Thank you. So that's why, you know, with these things, okay, I think it makes sense two steady paychecks is going to be way more comfortable.

[00:07:41] Kim Ades:
Okay, and let me ask you a question. You're with Adobe now, are you liking it? Is it good? Is it a great place to be? Like, given your experience there.

[00:07:49] Hugo Pelland:
I really, really like it. It's great. Especially the team I joined. It's within the document cloud org. And we work on-- the team is called AI and innovation. So, it's really just by the name. You know, we work with some AI, which I had not used before, so that's great to understand how AI models get developed.

And the innovation part is also great because it's all about trying to think about what are the next big thing we want to build to help document cloud. So it's interesting because it's a little more... It's a bit different than what I've done before, where my previous roles were usually more about just pure execution, while here the strategy side of it is a lot more important. So I really like that.

[00:08:27] Kim Ades:
So, you're happy.

[00:08:28] Hugo Pelland:
Yeah, I'm very happy with it.

[00:08:30] Kim Ades:
You're happy, you don't want to change. Like, you don't feel like you had to, you know, suck it up and go get a job.

[00:08:36] Hugo Pelland:
No, absolutely not. No, that's great. Yeah. I was a bit worried at first of course, because it was like, oh, you know, it sounded a little bit like a failure, like, I was just started at work, but I was always realistic. Like, we know that like 99% of startups don't make it past the one-year or two-year mark. So that wasn't a big surprise.

[00:08:52] Kim Ades:
Okay. So, I'm going to go back to something you said in a minute, but what's your ideal situation? What's the challenge then right now?

[00:09:00] Hugo Pelland:
So yeah, the big challenge is that I want to make sure I continue to do a great job in my day-to-day job, but at the same time, I want to try to put myself in the right spot where I can still find time to work on that startup and still feel satisfied about the time that I spend on it.

And it's been quite challenging, 'cause you know, we all have like so many different priorities to juggle with, and I'm just-- I find it-- I think another way to put it is that I find it hard to just spend a little bit of time on it, because I feel like, "oh, if I just spent half an hour, I'm not going to do much anyway", so I don't, which I know is kind of the wrong approach.

But I'm struggling to find like the best way to do that part of it, basically. Because I don't need to be full-time on it, but at the same time, you know, there is some war between the zero and one hundred percent, and it's hard for me to find that sweet spot where I would be satisfied with the results that I would see that I'm spending good, productive time on it without sacrificing my job, which I shouldn't have to do anyway.

[00:09:56] Kim Ades:
I have a question. Are you working on this by yourself? Is this a solo activity?

[00:10:01] Hugo Pelland:
Right now it is, yeah.

[00:10:02] Kim Ades:

[00:10:02] Hugo Pelland:
I mean, I had some help, but nobody else was ever full-time on it.

[00:10:07] Kim Ades:
Okay. So, I have a few thoughts. And the first thought that I have is you use the term realistic. You know, "I was always realistic. I know that most startups fail. And so like, I was realistic about it. And so letting go of it, wasn't the end of the world". And I want to tell you that realism being realistic is probably one of the worst killers of passion known to men.

[00:10:30] Hugo Pelland:
[Chuckles] That's a good way to put it.

[00:10:32] Kim Ades:
Okay. So, being realistic isn't helping you reach your goals. If your goal is to really thrive at Adobe, but also work on this project, that thinking is actually slowing you down. Right? And it's your thinking that's causing you not to engage even for a half an hour or an hour every day.

But I have a question for you. Like, we had an appointment today. You're working at Adobe, don't you have other things to do? Why am I on your agenda? Why did you show up today?

[00:11:02] Hugo Pelland:
Yeah, that's actually a very good example because I just decided-- it's as simple as just blocking my calendar for that.

[00:11:09] Kim Ades:
But it's not just that you blocked your calendar for that, you had somebody else waiting for you.

[00:11:14] Hugo Pelland:

[00:11:15] Kim Ades:
Okay. And so, you sound like a very responsible person, you sound like a person who, you know, does what he says he's gonna do. I get that sense from you. And so if you have an appointment with Kim, you show up.

[00:11:30] Hugo Pelland:

[00:11:30] Kim Ades:
Right? But if you have an appointment with Hugo, you don't show up.

[00:11:37] Hugo Pelland:
Right. I see what you mean, yeah.

[00:11:39] Kim Ades:
Right? So the question is why. Why is that? Why am I more important than you?

[00:11:45] Hugo Pelland:
[Laughs] That's a funny way to put it. I didn't think about it this way. That's a very good question. I think it's interesting how to try to think about why do I not prioritize these things I'm passionate about that kind of--

[00:12:01] Kim Ades:
It's more than priority, right? Like, it's more than priority. There's something deeper than priority. Right? So like, what would happen for you if, for example, you and I had an appointment and... I don't know, you got caught up in something, you were in a meeting and then you were late. How would you feel?

[00:12:23] Hugo Pelland:
I would be very... I would be disappointed at first because it means that all I have to... make that tough decision of considering one or the other.

[00:12:29] Kim Ades:
But it would feel yucky, right?

[00:12:31] Hugo Pelland:

[00:12:31] Kim Ades:
And you would feel, like, uncomfortable on the inside. But when you have an appointment with yourself and something comes up, it's not the same emotion, is it?

[00:12:41] Hugo Pelland:

[00:12:42] Kim Ades:
The question is why. Why do we feel so much worse when we're disappointing someone else or letting someone else down compared to ourselves?

[00:12:53] Hugo Pelland:
That's a good question. Yeah.

[00:12:55] Kim Ades:
Right? And so, what it boils down to is we have a set of beliefs about the value that we have and how important we are. And so, based on this conversation, in a way being realistic, you told me how important you were and how important your passions were, because when you're realistic, you're saying "I'm expecting to fail".

[00:13:21] Hugo Pelland:

[00:13:22] Kim Ades:
Right? And so, that realism slows you down and creates a disadvantage for you.

[00:13:27] Hugo Pelland:
That's a good way to put it.

[00:13:29] Kim Ades:
That makes sense?

[00:13:30] Hugo Pelland:
Yeah, definitely.

[00:13:31] Kim Ades:
And what you're really saying is "it's very important for me that I show up for the people I promised to show up for. My wife, my newborn or upcoming child, right now, the people I work with at Adobe". And so what you do is you put yourself at the bottom of the list because it's less uncomfortable for you to disappoint yourself than it is to disappoint others.

[00:13:57] Hugo Pelland:
Yeah, yeah.

[00:13:58] Kim Ades:

[00:13:58] Hugo Pelland:
But at the same time, what's interesting is that I do feel like... I do have this yucky feeling sometimes of "oh, I disappointed myself" too.

[00:14:06] Kim Ades:

[00:14:06] Hugo Pelland:
I do have that, but for some reason, I guess it's interesting how maybe it doesn't like grab me as much, which is why-- it's like, I let it go, right?

[00:14:14] Kim Ades:
Well, it grabs you quietly inside, whereas the other one grabs you more obviously, right? Because now you have to go back to the person and say "oh my God, I'm sorry. I failed you".

[00:14:28] Hugo Pelland:

[00:14:29] Kim Ades:
Right? And so, why am I bringing this up? Because it's an important dynamic for you to be aware of on two levels. On one level, I want you to realize that the beliefs that you have about yourself, diminish you. Right? And so, at the end of the day, this is your life, you're the most important person in your life, and so I'd like to see you raise yourself up in the level of importance.

So when you make an appointment with yourself, you keep it just like you would keep an appointment with me or anyone else. So that's thing number one. Right? So ask yourself, "why am I minimizing myself? Why am I creating a lack of importance?

But the other part of it is it's very important to understand how we're wired, and when we understand how we were wired, we can create systems to circumvent some of our shortcomings, you could say.

Okay? So I'll give you an example. When I first started coaching many years ago, 17 years ago, I was terrified to coach. So the system I implemented was-- I was terrified to coach people one on one, right? And I thought "oh my God, what am I going to talk to them about for a whole hour? An hour seems like such a long time!"

[00:15:47] Hugo Pelland:

[00:15:48] Kim Ades:
And so, what I did was I created a system of coaching a group of people, right? 'Cause I thought "if there's a group of people and everybody talks for a few minutes, then the hour passes quickly and then I don't feel so bad". And what it did was it reduced my discomfort, right?

[00:16:09] Hugo Pelland:

[00:16:09] Kim Ades:
And so, in your case, you know something is true, and what's true for you is "I show up when I have an appointment with someone". The question is, who can you find out there in the world who would be willing to work with you on this project? So that perhaps there's a partnership and you have appointments, and so you must show up at a specific time.

[00:16:35] Hugo Pelland:

[00:16:35] Kim Ades:
Right? 'Cause you're not going to let that person down. And so, you're creating a structure or a system that reduces your likelihood of saying "meh, an hour, isn't worth it". But the truth is an hour every day, turns into five hours, and then when you build that momentum, it turns into two hours every day. You get the idea, right?

[00:16:56] Hugo Pelland:
Definitely. And as you were talking, I was thinking about exactly that. You know, when I was full-time on it, one of the reasons why I was so productive is I would always, you know, I wanted to make sure I talked with other different people about it.

So I would constantly have these appointments with different folks who try to understand, you know, the it's want to try to prototype, or some of the contractors that are hired to work on the system, and that kind of helped keep the momentum and I always have something to do, right? Instead of just being on my own, trying to work on it. So yeah, it makes me realize that this was one of the big differences back then.

[00:17:29] Kim Ades:
Yeah. And so, you know who is that person? It could be a co-op student. It doesn't necessarily need to be someone you hire doesn't necessarily need to be someone who spends a lot of money on a, it could be someone who's equally interested and is a partner for you. But it could also be someone who's looking for an internship or something like that. It doesn't matter. The point is you make appointments every day and you show up. When you show up, you make progress.

[00:17:57] Hugo Pelland:

[00:17:57] Kim Ades:
Yeah. Makes sense?

[00:17:59] Hugo Pelland:
Yeah! Definitely.

[00:18:00] Kim Ades:
I hope that was helpful for you. I hope it gave you some things to think about.

[00:18:06] Hugo Pelland:

[00:18:07] Kim Ades:
Any questions?

[00:18:09] Hugo Pelland:
Um... Let's see... So, that makes a lot of sense... I don't have anything on the spot right now.

[00:18:18] Kim Ades:
Okay. Well, you know where to find me if you do have a question after the fact.

[00:18:22] Hugo Pelland:

[00:18:22] Kim Ades:
For those of you who are listening, I hope that you took away something from this podcast. If you have a challenge that you want to share on the podcast, please reach out to me. My email address is

And if you have a challenge that you're not so willing to share on the podcast, but that you do want to discuss, please reach out to me as well. Again, my email address is

And for those of you who are listening, keep listening, like, share, do all the things and let us know what you think. I love your feedback!

Hugo, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

[00:18:58] Hugo Pelland:
Thank you for your time. Thanks a lot.

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