Sometimes you have to push your goals aside because sometimes, you’ll find your goals are getting in the way of actually reaching them. Let me explain.
I work really hard and focus intensely on finishing projects and creating strategies that bring me closer to my vision, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to take a step back and relax.
I admit this is how I work. I’ve always been this way, too. I see what I haven’t done, haven’t accomplished, haven’t achieved and I work, work, work in the direction I want to go so I can make it happen.
And doing this isn’t a bad thing. It’s important to keep going when we face rejection. It’s crucial to work through self-doubt and imposter syndrome if you want to write and publish. Or build a business. Or create a community.
But it’s also misguided. Because constant work to fill the holes of who you aren’t is a terrible habit because you’ll never reach the end of things you aren’t. When you work to become what you aren’t, you develop a scarcity mindset and lose sight of the positives. You don’t see what you’ve created. You see yourself as a blank space of what might be in the future if you could only finish.
This is why you must set aside the shiny-object goal in the distance and do a little soul searching instead. instead.
Set your goals aside and replace them with possibility
In The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander describe how a scarcity mindset “prompts us to seek to acquire more for ourselves no matter how much we have and to treat others as competitors no matter how little they have.”
This is no way to live. It sucks the joy from your life. It destroys the passion from your pursuit and dims the brightness of your vision. In fact, this mentality makes it virtually impossible to see your vision, because you’re not seeing yourself as a whole.
In 2019, I wrote the first draft of a book tentatively titled The Rejection Handbook. In it, I talk about myself as an unfinished patchwork quilt.
In 2018, I took Seth Godin’s altMBA course. A month-long intensive during which you work hard, give and receive constant feedback and challenge yourself to face what you don’t know. It was amazing but also exhausting, and by the end, I wasn’t handling feedback very well. I was weepy, angry and incredibly frustrated with myself every time I made a mistake. And I made a lot of mistakes.
Then I had the oddest sleep-deprived realization. I saw a vision of myself as a patchwork quilt. It was a wooden structure resembling a grid. There were many sections filled with fabric. They were strong, bright and beautiful. Other areas were threadbare and falling apart. Still, others were completely empty.
Suddenly, I realized I had been focusing only on the empty sections. When I got feedback telling me I needed to know more, I fell apart. I felt small and ridiculous because all I saw was how much I didn’t know. But when I could shift and see all of my knowledge, I finally understood something important.
No one knows everything. No one ever will. We all face that predicament together. Doesn’t it make more sense to begin by focusing on what you already are? Isn’t it far more affirming to see your accomplishments and strengths and then, once you know what you know, you can venture out to areas you don’t know? You can build your knowledge from a solid base. This is the very best way to grow. And instead of worrying about what you lack, you can forge new paths into areas unknown. Learning can be an adventure.
There’s no such thing as a clean ending.
No book is ever finished. It is simply published. No business every completes every task. Instead, we move onto new goals and growth.
There’s always another story idea rattling around in your head. A piece of fiction you started weeks ago could suddenly pop into your head. Then throw in the pitching, replying to e-mails and whatever other bookkeeping, shopping, cleaning you have to do.
The list of “not yet” is neverending.
Choose joy instead.
It’s romantic in concept to live the life of the tortured creative who lives only for the creation, pushing aside family, self and sleep for the sake of the well-crafted word. In reality, that just leads to alcoholism and depression.
Choose possibility instead.
Set goals aside? Don’t we need them?
I’ve spent the last decade convincing writers to set goals and finish, finish, finish what you start. My book The Writer’s Roadmap outlines how you need to have a clear destination and specific steps to get there. I encourage strategies of what you haven’t done and ask you to measure your accomplishments so you know you’re actually reaching your destination.
Setting goals and finishing while also seeing yourself as a whole being are not in opposition. It is, however, easy to forget the latter as you work on the former.
This is why I include your core values when you write your Objective. When you craft your one-sentence vision of your writing life, it’s crucial to know what overall values you want to infuse into your plan It helps you remember that your writing life isn’t just about writing but about all the other areas of your life as well. You must leave space for family, love, joy, and happiness.
But it also requires you to know what’s most important to you outside of what you haven’t done.
Three rules follow into the next decade and beyond.
Take care of yourself.
In a recent one-on-one, a woman told me how she was tired, been burning at both ends, yet she felt compelled to attend a meeting with a potential contact when really, she just wanted to get a massage.
We’ve been conditioned for too long that to be successful you have to constantly hammer toward your goals. In the scheme of things, a massage seems frivolous. It is not! Taking care of yourself is key.
Taking a nap, meditation, going to a coffee shop and reading a book, meeting a good friend are all valuable ways to spend your time. Sometimes that means postponing your meeting and not pushing through.
The trick lies in knowing when to keep going and when to take a day off. You’ll figure it out with practice and by trusting yourself.
Forgive yourself for not finishing
If you’re anything like me and my clients, you set very high standards and then feel frustrated when you don’t reach them. Give yourself some room to breathe and let go.
You cannot judge yourself by one day or even one week’s work. If you didn’t finish the story you planned to finish today, you work on it tomorrow. A day is a blip in time. It’s what you do consistently over weeks, months and years that matters.
Cultivate gratitude and abundance
It’s easy to look at what we don’t have, where we want to be but haven’t arrived and what doesn’t yet exist. It is so much more productive to appreciate the beauty of what we already have. I keep a gratitude journal. I don’t write in it every day, but I make sure to crack it open when I’m feeling frustrated or down. There, I note all the things, big or small, that remind me how lucky I am.
Gratitude and abundance are two of the biggest gifts you can give yourself, your family and friends. Really, I should put it first in my post, but include it last because I want to end with a thank you.
Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this post. Thank you for being part of my community. Thank you for your feedback and your trust.
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Originally published at https://leighshulman.com on December 20, 2019.