I have to be upfront about my biases here: I suck at setting my own goals.
When I was younger, this used to cause me a lot of anguish. I would set goals and get very upset if I didn’t achieve them. I’d feel like a failure. On the flip side, I can think of goals that I did accomplish and immediately felt empty afterward.
You might think I’ve stopped setting goals entirely, but that’s not the case. What I have done is rethink how I choose my goals.
Goals don’t exist in a vacuum. No matter how much new age self-help you read, you can’t wish or visualize your way to, say, being an elite athlete. You have to have some mix of the right genetics and the right preparation. Since preparation is the only part you can control, at least with current technology, that’s what I want to talk about here.
It’s easy to glorify the lifestyles and endorsement deals that the world’s top athletes have, but it’s also easy to forget how they got there. Yeah, we know on some level that everyone has to pay their dues, but that’s not my point.
If you feel like you’re having to grit your teeth and bear it when you’re paying your dues, you’re probably paying the wrong dues.
There was a Gatorade commercial that ran a while back that featured top athletes with children meant to represent their younger selves.
I love this commercial because it reminds us that these athletes perform with the same joy they felt as kids in their respective sports. The best athletes also tend to be big fans of their chosen sports, and this comes through in interviews and social media.
It’s all well and good to appreciate the best of the best, but nobody starts out there. You have to enjoy the activity itself before the glamor hits. For one thing, the glamor may never come. And if it does and you don’t enjoy the activity, you probably won’t enjoy the glamor, either.
An “inspirational” saying I’ve seen floating around is, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert turns this idea on its head. Gilbert argues that some failure is inevitable in the creative process, especially if you push yourself, which you should. Instead, she proposes asking, what would you still enjoy even if you failed at it?
I should confess at this point that a good chunk of this knowledge comes from personal experience. When I first took up the flute in middle school, I had visions of jet-setting around the world, playing with elite orchestras to thunderous applause.
But if I’m honest with myself, I cared more about the applause than the work. I managed to put in enough work to be an OK player, but it eventually became clear to me that I wasn’t close to being a great player. Furthermore, I wasn’t really interested in doing what it took to close the gap. I saw how even very skilled musicians often had to really hustle to pay the bills, and that wasn’t the life I wanted.
That’s why I’m not setting any goals with respect to this 500 words challenge, other than committing to writing 500 words every day this month. Maybe this will lead to better clarity on where I want to take this blog; maybe it won’t. But I enjoy writing, and I think it’s good for me. So even if no one other than my dad and the occasional Facebook friend read this, I won’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.
E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” In that spirit, I try to choose my goals with at least some understanding of the path to get there. That way, I always feel like I’ve learned something worthwhile, whether I achieve the intended result or not.
Has your goal-setting process evolved over the years? Did you find this post helpful? Do you think I don’t know what I’m talking about? Let me know in the comments, then share this with a friend!