Goal Setting for Creatives — Planning the Forest to get through the Trees
After spending my early adulthood attacking and accomplishing my goals, I reached a high point of my life where I realized I’ve completed everything I set out to do before forty. When someone would tend to believe that this would be an accomplishment in and of itself, this was actually a very frightening place. I was far from over with my life. I’ve gotten so used to slaying away that when I got to the point where my list was done, I didn’t know where to go. I was lost and didn’t know what to do next.
Maybe I should have made a bigger list?
From the time I was 11 years old, all I dreamed of doing was skateboarding. I wanted to work, live, and breath skateboarding and work in the industry. I spent my early adulthood competing in professional women’s contests, working at skate parks and shops, traveling around the country, designing skateboard graphics, building, and managing a website and mobile app for women who skate. By the time I turned thirty, I married the man of my dreams — who happens to be a skatepark designer and builder and moved into a home and built a skate park in our garage.
Everything I had in my wildest childhood dreams actually happened.
However, I was tired and burnt out. I had a hard time enjoying my life because I was so focused on which tricks I should learn next or the next project I had in mind. I beaten by body down by forcing myself to do tricks I may have not been ready for and I was spending most of my non-skating hours glued to a computer screen. After a severe back injury that took me out for a few months and almost cost me my mobility, I took a long hard look at WHY I was doing the things I was doing.
I had to outgrow my inner 11-year-old’s skate-life fantasy and reinvent a new one. I had to piece out what I was doing for myself, and what I was doing for someone else’s expectations. Success is a language to which everyone has their own version. Was I speaking my own or a version of someone else’s?
My Whole Perspective Changed.
How I’d originally approach my goals was with laser focus on accomplishing tasks. I’d get ideas on a whim and have this inner drive to see them become a reality.
I would make a list of tricks that I needed to land, projects I needed to finish, or places I wanted to go and mark them off the list and move onto the next thing. This worked well for accomplishing things — I attacked my list and then some, but I wasn’t working towards a bigger picture. It was a constant grind with no end in sight.
I took a long break from everything, dropped the website, and the app, quit drawing, and skateboarding, spent time with myself, got away from all the noise, and relaxed a bit — got perspective.
Every day, I went through and listed all the reasons why I was doing the things I was doing in a journal, and realized that much of what I was doing had no reason at all. Sometimes I was merely trying to to prove to myself that I could do something — like hucking myself down a set of stairs on a skateboard. That one hurt! But I got into a regular habit of writing my ideas down, then I asking myself if completing this task was going to benefit me years down the line. If not, I took it off the list of things to do.
If I got an idea that I was really excited about and was certain I wanted to tackle, I kept it in the notebook for a while. I could always revisit it later on. So far, most of the ideas are left behind. It was hard to do this exercise at first, because I get really excited about ideas and making them become a reality. But after a while, it took a lot of pressure off me and eased my anxiety. If I come back to an idea I want to tackle, I know it’s something that I really want to do. This technique also makes me aware that the things that I’m currently working on are things that matter.
I flipped my approach to achieving goals.
Now, instead of having a task list on any given day, I have a general picture in my head of where I want to be in 5 years, 10 years, and further. This has allowed me to look at the forest and not just the trees. I still have actions I need to take get to where I want to go; however, the process is more fluid. Instead of ticking off random boxes on a daily checklist, I ask myself what would be in my best interest to do today, keeping that big picture in mind. The details reveal themselves in the moment and I then make a list based on what most feasible and most important.
I’ve since started to skateboard again. Again, instead of attacking a trick list, I train and practice and then patiently wait for the tricks to come instead of forcing myself to land whatever the tricks the masses are doing. I now do things with intention and purpose and take a more sustainable approach to my goal setting. Nothing needs to be done by the end of the session except for the time I put in.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When life is not happening as soon as I would like, having the end goal in mind keep things in focus. I’m in this for the long haul.