We’ve all heard the cliché tips for goal setting- set small, attainable goals to achieve both short term and long term. There are endless stories that prove this to be true, but this simple advice hasn’t exactly worked for me.
My best friend Alvin is a BEAST when it comes to setting and achieving goals. When I asked him about this, he recommended the book “Think and Grow Rich” then proceeded to show me a framed list of his would-be accomplishments for the next 1 year, 5 years and in his entire lifetime. I was inspired. Who wouldn’t be?
So I attempted to emulate his success by doing the same exercise. But when it was time to write down my goals, I just couldn’t see a clear picture of where I would be in 5 years or even 1. When thinking about my future, there are a few things I assume, but I didn’t have that vision-board-level of clarity that some people do.
As I was struggling with that exercise, I happened to come across a similar list in my files that I had made a few years prior, right after finishing college. Looking at this list might be a really interesting exercise for some, but it depressed me. I had not reached the heights which I had hoped to reach at this point in my life. For example, I wanted to be a teacher, something I had known since my early 20s. Here I am in my late 20s and no progress towards that goal. What would you do in this situation?
I created a new list, then proceeded to feel guilty when I didn’t hit each goal in time. Quite ambitiously, my new list said “Win an Emmy Award” under my 1 year goals. I had set this goal after being nominated, so I was half way there. A goal like this is not one that I could achieve through my own effort. It was completely subject to other people’s opinions of me and a complex judging system where I have absolutely no power to influence. I realize now that was not a good goal to put on my list. When I didn’t win the Emmy award, I lost all gratitude for the nomination itself, which is a huge honor. That framed list of goals became a daily reminder of my failure.
My anxiety snowballed and I began wondering if I would ever achieve ANY of my goals. So for the sake of my own sanity, I threw the list in the garbage.
For some, having a clear vision of their future goal and a timeline for it is a great motivator. But for me, it just doesn’t work.
I prefer to have a list of things to try, a list of possibilities.
Unlike some, I can’t imagine where I’ll be in five years, let alone my entire lifetime.
Daily reminders of how I want to be in each moment is more my-style. I’ll just be surprised and grateful for each achievement as it comes along. Life is much better with surprises.
A list of possibilities rather than goals also gives me the flexibility to try something and analyze how I feel about it. This leaves me open to receive unexpected blessings and opportunities. Just because I haven’t planned something doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.
For example, a recent music video I directed was planned out carefully, but when I discovered a fog machine available for use on set, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to add something special and fun. The band even told me that this was their favorite part of the video. It’s spontaneous things like that, the universe sends as a way to enjoy life. Be playful and embrace the moment.
So for most very successful people, a list of goals may be appropriate, but for me, I’d rather embrace the moment and be happily surprised when big things happen. This is how I manage my anxiety and keep feelings of failure at bay. Do what works for you.
PS- I am nominated for an Emmy Award again this year. Winning is not on my list of things to achieve but I am glad to be creating work that gets the honor of a nomination. You can watch the video here.
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