About half a year ago I pompously announced a deadline and a challenge I had set for myself here. To my shame I have to admit that I am still far away from reaching my goal of 3 paid publications by mid-November, because the number of published articles or short stories equals … zero!
How could that happen?
I believe now that the most important prerequisite to get creative work done is focus: focus on one project at a time. I love writing and I want to get things published, but I’ve found that I get distracted too easily. There are so many interesting things to see and do out there, which is great, but I realised that at one point I would have to make a decision what to concentrate my efforts on.
Last weekend I had a discussion with a friend about goals in life, what we wanted to achieve and how we thought we were going to get there. He is an aspiring photographer and dedicates most of his money and free time to buying new equipment, organising shootings and getting better at what he does. He focuses entirely on this one thing and the improvements in his work have been remarkable. The next step would be to quit his day job and try to make a living as a full-time photographer. And this is where the decision comes in: he has a background in IT and is also thinking about becoming a project manager, which would give him considerable financial security.
“But don’t you think you can do both?” I asked him, “I mean, why does it always have to be either the one or the other, artistic or corporate career? Don’t you think it’s possible to be successful in more than one thing at a time?”
He shook his head. “No. Look at the people who really stick out in their field, they are entirely committed to their craft and exercise it 24/7. This is how you become extraordinarily successful, otherwise you are just going to be mediocre at everything.”
What he said made sense, and it occurred to me that this might be the reason why he had progressed in the past six months whereas I felt I hadn’t. Sure, I’d written a couple of short stories, continued my novel, written a sinopsis for a travel book, … but at the same time I’d tried to do embroidery, learn about organic gardening, cook a healthy meal each day, meet new people at the weekends, make the most of living in London, and all this had led to my focus being distracted.
Lesson #1: It’s probably about time I took a decision: the decision to focus on doing what I love.
According to this blog post by Chris Guillebau of “The Art of Non-Conformity” deadlines do help in getting things done, and insofar it hadn’t been the worst strategy when I set myself the above mentioned goal in November last year. However, I now think it wasn’t set very cleverly.
First of all, I wasn’t specific enough. What did I want to have published? Short stories, articles, a novel? What did I want to write about? Who was I going to address?
Secondly, the goal was only measurable insofar as in a year’s time I would either have three things published, or not. What about the steps in between? It might have helped to break the one big goal down into smaller benchmarks.
Also, was the goal really achievable in the sense that I had full control over the outcome? I don’t think so. If I was unlucky, or maybe not as talented as I thought I was, I could have sent off three stories a month without a positive reaction. However, the one thing I would have had control over would have been to actually write these stories.
Then the deadline was too far away to be relevant. 12 months is a long time and I think it would have been better to break them down into smaller periods of three or four months, e.g. I want to have written a short story and sent it off to a competition by mid-January, which connects back to the aim being measurable.
If I now went for the creation of SMART goals as it is taught in sales training I would conclude with the question whether my goal was timely. However, I’ve found another interpretation for the “T” that I like much more: touchable. What will I have to hold as a completed result? And that leads me back to the conversation with my friend. He said what helped him immensely in motivating himself was to imagine what his life would be like if he achieved his goal. What would it feel like to hold a copy of my first travel book in my hands?
Lesson #2: Set reasonable goals.
Finally, and this goes back to Chris’ blog entry, if you don’t achieve your goal despite all efforts it might be about time to consider walking away and admitting that it hasn’t worked out. But only once the effort has been made.
Have you set yourself a goal, have you already achieved it, or have you failed? What are your thoughts on this?