Skills

Are you a Dreamer or a Tigress?: Setting Goals to Get Ahead

By Jon Martin
By Jon Martin

I’m going to be 33 years old in a few weeks. Hardly any age at all perhaps, although the white hair springing up around my temples would tell you otherwise. I remember how at 14 years old those in their thirties seemed to me to be dinosaurs. As a child I was sure that by my mid-twenties the confusion of youth would have dissipated. I would arrive at my successes by design rather than by accident. The truth is that many of us feel our way through life from the starting line to the finish.

I look with envy sometimes on those who discovered their passions in childhood. Do you, like me, mourn lost time? Oh the hours I whiled away as a teenager. Back then, all I wanted to do was to fall into novels and let them swallow me whole. That time devouring books was wonderful. I wish though that I had picked up my pen sooner. Imagine little Johnny Robinson, barely four foot tall, practicing drop shots on the neighbourhood courts as the light dims. Or Leila Coombes, her fingers perpetually blackened by lead from the pencils she has been sketching with. Or Samir Khan, who can play the sax, piano and violin to grade eight standard by the time is 12 years old. Those kids start clocking up their Gladwell hours from childhood. They jump-started their careers.

For many of us it takes a while to realise where our talents lie. As we get older we are less prone to outside influences. We stop robotically doing what is asked of us and begin questioning our reality. We find our courage and our drive. This extra time isn’t a bad thing. It always seems strange to me that in the UK we ask our children to take crucial decisions about their path in life at the tender age of 16. With life expectancy on the rise, what’s the rush? In the UK in 2014, a woman can expect to live 82.5 years, up from 58 years in the 1930s; UK men are at 79.5 years and 62 years respectively. We have time. The world is more fluid, we can exploit international opportunities and many of us will work in more than one professional field.

By Christoph Würbel
By Christoph Würbel

Besides as a writer, each new life experience strengthens our creative muscles. Age matures our story-telling abilities. That niggling feeling you get as a writer, that feels like you haven’t done your homework, the one that feels like a heavy weight in your gut? Let’s just ignore that. The muse will appear eventually, shining in her sheer robes and looking at us benevolently, right? The thing is that you and I both know that when we switch into neutral gear, we are doing ourselves a disservice. It may be that we work into our nineties, hunched over our desks as we squint into the distance envisaging the fate of our protagonist. Even so, it would be foolish to ignore the sense of urgency we feel. Writing is, after all, a time-consuming occupation. We only have a finite amount of time in which to breathe life into our stories.

I am happiest when I am productive, aren’t you? The demons of idleness sing their mournful lullabies and we succumb, sacrificing endless hours at their altar. In the cold light of day we know it is the work that nourishes us. We leave our laptops languishing in the corner of our rooms because we are running away from ourselves. I know. It’s been two months since I resigned from my job at City Hall ahead of our move to Geneva this summer and I have yet to establish a regular writing routine. We are governed by fear. We live half lives in love and our careers because we don’t want to be vulnerable. We let our dreams escape through our fingers like ghosts because to fail at something we want badly would be painful.

Newsflash: ambition is not a dirty word. It is up to you to pull your dreams into the blazing sunlight. Don’t let yourself be consumed by the hazy twilight, that half-way house where you know what you want but are too fearful to go after it. We are bound by our conflicted natures. Shrug off that dusty mantle of doubt. The path to success is paved not only with talent, but with perseverance, commitment and labour.

I recently read an article in Forbes by Ashley Feinstein who advocates writing down your goals. In her article Feinstein mentions a survey of Harvard MBA graduates (class of 1979): ’Only 3% had written goals and plans, 13% had goals but they weren’t in writing and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the same group was interviewed again […] The 13% of the class who had goals, but did not write them down was earning twice the amount of the 84% who had no goals. The 3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined.’ The Harvard research only takes earnings into account as a measure of success, but it still shows how powerful it can be to write goals down.

By Ryan Thackray
By Ryan Thackray

Whether you are a pantser, planner or fall somewhere in between, here is a list to help you get started if you wish to have a go at some written goals:

  • Summarise your overarching vision including both personal and career goals e.g. I will write a novel, I will learn the guitar etc.
  • Set yourself up for success by creating achievable goals e.g. I will focus on improving my dialogue writing in the next three months, I will find a critique partner within six months.
  • Break down your goals into short, medium and long-term e.g. I will practice my guitar chords for ten minutes a day over the three months, I will have learned how to play three songs within six months, in a year I will perform for my family.
  • Each goal should be include a time-frame and should be measurable e.g. I will query my book once a week until there is a reason not to.
  • Turn larger goals into smaller steps e.g. I will write five pages a day.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate your successes. I promised in a previous post to upload a video of me dancing in the style of Hugh Howey and Ksenia Anske once the first draft of my novel is complete.

As for me, I prioritise my life according to my passions and the needs of my loved ones. I have never been the type to go obsessively after goals. I get distracted, pulled into family life. I dream. But there is a seed of urgency in my belly that is growing, and I am no longer happy to relinquish my ambitions. Often the needs of my loved ones come out on top but to be whole I need to give my writing ambitions a real shot. Tomorrow seems more fragile than ever before. To that end, I have been working on a list of written goals to clear my mind of clutter and focus me. There is something to be said for planning your course (my husband is German, after all) while factoring in some flexibility (that’s the Indian in me talking). The list will provide me with armour against the guilt I feel when I say no to loved ones because I want to concentrate on my writing. Now I am working from home, it will also allow me to see and celebrate my progress. I’m not going to view my list as concrete cladding, rather a loose framework that can be amended. Perhaps I’ll show you it when we know each other better.

In the meantime, let me end with a story about Jim Carrey you may have heard. In 1987 he was 25 years old and a struggling comic. He drove to a spot overlooking LA and wrote himself a check for $10m. The check was dated 1995. Carrey wrote on the stub that it was ‘for acting services rendered’. In actual fact, in 1995 his price for a movie was $20m. All that matters is that we continue chipping away at our dreams, that we have belief and drive. Happy writing, folks.

12 thoughts on “Are you a Dreamer or a Tigress?: Setting Goals to Get Ahead

  1. Not that long ago, a nurse who had worked in a retirement home wrote a book about her experiences – and she paid specific attention to the amount of times she had to hold someone’s hand or sit by their bed as they slipped (infinitely) into unconciousness. She said that well over 3/4’s of the people she sat with had one chief regret; abandoning their dreams for something society deemed more ‘sensible’ and ‘safe’.

    Which is why I will keep trying to write, or photograph things, and keep taking on menial jobs. It would be so easy to chuck it all in and have a proper career. But I’d rather get to my death bed, holding a nurse’s hand, and be able to say that I tried… even if I didn’t have a single page or photo produced for the public.

    1. Hi Jimmi, ace to have you hang out here. That’s incredibly sad but I can believe it. Too often we get caught up in other people’s expectations, the ideals set up by media and our peers. I think some people simply forget what their dreams once were…they bury their natural inclinations. I’m with you.

    1. Pleasure JB. Love your new Twitter pic by the way. Course the key to the goals is the achievable thing. It’s easy for me at least to get very enthusiastic and then feel like a failure. Life happens. We’re both mums and there is only so much time in the day xx

  2. “Back then, all I wanted to do was to fall into novels and let them swallow me whole. That time devouring books was wonderful.” Yes, it was. Because you were fully present to them. And when you are fully present to your family, that is wonderful too. And even idleness is wonderful when you are fully present to it. Do you want your own children to be “clocking up their Gladwell hours” on their way to genius hood – or do you want them to be children, nurturing their imaginations and sense of spontaneity? Be as good to yourself as you are to them. Our old friend Julia Cameron said, “We are human beings, not human doings.” Give yourself a break, my dear. This is a big move and a big transition. In this old lady’s opinion, there is plenty of time for goals.

    1. Hi Paula, thanks so much for this comment. I’ve been meaning to respond and have kept it with me over the past few days when I’ve been unable to find the time. Bring fully present is an important concept and one that is easy to forget when we are up against conflicting demands and want to be true to all of them. Thanks for the timely reminder. For my own children, I want them to just be kids. If they discover talents along the way and it brings them joy to nurture those, then so be it. My own reading habits nurtured a love of words and depth of understanding after all.

      Still, goals do keep us focused. It is too easy for me to invest the bulk of my energy in those around me, and to shave off only a tiny bit for myself and my dreams. I am working on being better at saying no and not feeling guilty. It’s good to cut ourselves some slack, but the slack I’m cutting makes me happy! I just need to move the Tetris pieces around. There is time though. You, like Julia, are wise x

  3. This is a great post, and a helpful one to dreamers such as myself, thank you. I don’t know how many times I need to read things like this before I decide to finally trust in my instincts and follow my dreams and ambition wholeheartedly.

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