There’s a scene in an old Seinfeld episode in which Jerry has made a rental car reservation and the car is not there.
“I made a reservation,” Jerry says.
“I know what a reservation is,” the clerk answers.
“I don’t think you do,” Jerry says. “You know how to make the reservation, but you don’t know how to keep the reservation.”
It’s the same with goals – a lot of people know how to set goals, they just don’t know how to attain their goals.
I was thinking of this when I was reading Jamie Tinker’s blog post on setting goals. In it, he talks about the importance of setting and going after your goals. He’d asked some folks to take a look before he posted it, and I took the bait. I told him I liked what I read not only because it is good solid advice, but because it was similar to training I’d received in my time in the Air Force. The military, I told Jamie, has been teaching this stuff for centuries.
If there was one thing that I thought was lacking, it was that it’s one thing to tell people to set goals, but sometimes folks need a road map to achieve those goals. And unfortunately, there are some folks who can’t read road maps. I made the suggestion to Jamie that maybe he should do a follow-up post on how to meet goals. Being the true military man he is, he asked me to write something. (That’s one of the tricks I learned in NCO Academy years ago and still use in my office today – learn to delegate. Well, played, Jamie, well played.)
So being put on the spot – a place I have no discomfort occupying – I said I’d do it. I was thinking that I should maybe go through some steps about achieving goals. I don’t know that I can do “steps.” Setting and reaching goals is not like reading the instructions to put together a shelf unit you bought at Ikea. Instead, I’ll give you some bullet points.
Start Small Every day of my life starts out with a set of minor goals to attain for the day. I’ve been doing this long enough that the list is usually mental, but there are times that I have a lot of different things pulling me in different directions, so I’ll commit the list to paper. Some people may call this a to-do list, but guess what? The same skills you use finishing your to-do list are the same for major earth-shaking goals.
For instance, I’m writing this on a Sunday. There are three standing goals for Sunday around the house – do the laundry, clean the house and go grocery shopping. Thrown in are other things to do, such as write a blog post, work for an hour or two on my book, various yard work. Sometimes the kids have things that need to be done and sometimes I want to watch a football game. Occasionally, my goal will be to do nothing, and some days I may not do everything I may have wanted to. That’s because when we set these daily goals, we also give them a priority rating.
Getting the laundry done is very important otherwise I don’t have clean underwear for the week. Watching a football game is lower on the priority list.
By making to-do lists, you are training yourself to attain goals. You also work more efficiently and find yourself with more free time. It’s that free time that becomes dangerous, that’s when you start thinking about larger questions: What do I want from life? What do I want to be when I grow up? Can I really write a 120,000-word novel?
Know yourself I’m the editor of a small newspaper in New Mexico, and, being the guy in charge, I also get to write a weekly column. One day several years ago, a girl called wanting me to do a story on her participation in a singing contest. If she could get enough people to vote for her, she would get the “standard rich and famous contract” from a record company in Nashville.
I figured I could do a column about her efforts and began to interview her. Did she have experience at singing? Well, she sang a lot of karaoke and her friends and family said she had a great voice. But no, she hadn’t taken lessons, nor was she singing with a band, nor had she even sang in church. She just liked to sing, and when she became a big star, she was going to help out her home town.
I checked out her audition video online and she wasn’t horrible, she just wasn’t professional. She obviously was deluded by her own desire and the inability of her family or friends to give it to her straight. The column I wrote was that if her goal was truly to help her community, she could do it right then and she didn’t have to be rich and famous. I don’t think she took my advice, because I haven’t heard from her again.
What this illustrates is that before you set a goal, you need to take a hard look at yourself and determine if is something you have the skills, ability and talent to do. The creative arts are the most soul crushing vocations when it comes to chasing success, mostly because a lot of it has to with timing. I would have said luck, but my belief is that luck is simply being prepared when you are faced with an opportunity.
Of course, the hard part is finding the truth about yourself. I used to think I was horrible at math. My high school math career was littered with D’s and F’s. I just couldn’t do it, I thought. Then 10 years later, as I was making my way through college, I found myself in a statistics class – a requirement for my degree. At first, I was anxious. I’d convinced myself that I was horrible at math, but I needed the class in order to graduate. So my goal became passing that class, and to do so, I determined that I would study each night until I understood statistics.
What I found was that I could do math just fine and the course turned out to be one of the easiest ones I had that term.
Create a Mission Statement This is something borrowed from the corporate world, but more so from the public and nonprofit sector. There is no reason you can’t personalize it for yourself.
Mission statements are seemingly simple, but sometimes can take years to come up with. That’s because a mission statement requires an organization to examine its goals in great detail. Some corporations may not have a mission statement, but they do have a vision statement to attain its goals.
Here’s an example:
“Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.”
If you hadn’t guessed, that’s Apple Corp.’s mission statement. It’s kind of boring, but it’s got several key words in it – “best” and “innovative.” Critics might charge Apple with being vague about its plans in its mission statement, but those critics don’t understand its purpose – it tells you what they plan to be and every action a company, or person, comes back to that one goal.
Years ago, I created one for myself: To support myself as a writer. It was very simple and a lot easier to attain than I had anticipated, but I believe that was because I came up with a game plan on how to obtain that goal.
Map your goal Corporations will create planning documents in order to attain their corporate goals. And while you can go online and look for Apple’s corporate strategy, you won’t find it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Whether large or small, you need to understand what needs to be done to accomplish a goal. There are no shortcuts, although the media would have you believe otherwise.
Since I was a child, I dreamed about being a best-selling author; and as I got older, those dreams included my books being made into movies and awards and fame and riches. I wasn’t unlike a lot of people in thinking that one day I would be “discovered” and then my hopes a dreams would come true. And not unlike a lot of people, I didn’t like to work and figured that my talent would go undiscovered. During this time, I wrote sparingly. I was having too much fun with girls and, when I was emancipated from my parents, drinking and partying . No one pushed me in anything, no mentor stepped forward to grab me by the lapels and shake some sense into me. If I’m honest, I wasn’t really looking for one.
As I grew older, I became like a stream, flowing in the easiest direction. I’d like to say I had an epiphany, but in truth it took years for that nagging in my brain to tell me the truth – I never even tried to be a writer and if I wanted that, then I need to do something. At 28, I had a mid-life crisis as I realized things were not going in the direction I wanted them to. The dream of best-selling novelist was still there, but now I was wondering how I could make that happen. It was obvious that book contracts weren’t handed out to heating and air conditioner guys just for the heck of it.
So I did a little research to answer a simple question: What makes writers successful? I knew the answer already, but had ignored it because it sounded difficult. It takes work. The next question was: What kind of work do I need to do? In the example of writing, every successful writer has different kinds of advice, but the once common thread was to be a writer, you have to write … a lot. For fiction, you have to know English; how to put together a sentence and all its mechanics. You have to learn about things like protagonists, antagonists, rising actions, pacing and dialogue. You have to know the difference between first person present tense and omnipotent past tense. Any you have to understand what “voice” means and the only way to develop one is to write, and experiment, and write some more. If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. It’s no different, however, than any other vocation.
Very few people have a fully-formed natural talent for writing. We hear stories about wunderkinds who take the literary world by storm, but those are poor examples. Everyone loves the stories of overnight success, but it almost never happens. For writers, we look at someone like Michael Chabon and wonder why we can’t have that kind of critical and financial success so young, as though everything he’s done has been given to him. (A note: I’m not a big fan of Chabon’s writing, but respect it.) Chabon’s first “hit” came when he was 25 years old, pretty young for literary standards. What gets lost, though, was that Chabon had already spent more than 10 years learning his vocation. Chabon had mentors and was ready when an opportunity for success presented itself.
So there I was, 27 years old and I knew that I had to do something. The first thing I did was choose a realistic goal. Instead of fame and fortune, all I wanted to do was make a living as a writer. With a little research, the notion came to me that the best way to do that was to become a newspaper reporter. I had always been a faithful newspaper reader, I was politically aware and I was half-way decent putting together a sentence.
I went to college, taking two years of attending class after work and on weekends. That was planned very well, I decided to get all the essential classes out of the way before quitting my job to take journalism classes; and unlike high school, I was a good student. I took a couple of journalism classes with the idea that if I didn’t like it, I could easily switch majors. What I found was I loved it, and each step I took was planned: work toward good grades and learn the vocation, get clips by writing stories for the campus newspaper, introduce myself to any working journalist who wondered anywhere near the university, take every opportunity to apply for internships and scholarships.
It paid off; I got both scholarships and an internship. During my internship, I took every opportunity afforded me and it resulted in a job. My goal had been reached and within three years I had gone from a tradesman to a working writer.
Keep updating your goals Once I became a newspaper reporter, I didn’t replace my attained goal with anything new. I’d had ideas what I might want to do, but really, I went back to that stream taking me along to where it would go.
It took me several years and nearly losing what I’d worked so hard to attain, before I realized that I needed new goals, even if it wasn’t huge. I’ve had three since then – become the best reporter I could, become an editor and – finally back to that childhood dream – write a book. I’ve written two of them and I’m working on the third. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
Rory McClannahan is the editor of the Mountain View Telegraph in Moriarty, New Mexico and writes a weekly award-winning humor column. His novels include “Blind Man’s Bluff” and “Time in the World,” both available at Amazon.com. Read his blog at www.sageofbarton.blogspot.com.
Special thanks to Rory for being the first guest blogger.
If anyone else has a lesson they’d like to share, please contact me at [email protected]
Have a great weekend,
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