Goals, the Real Talk™ edition

I started this year with some goals. I tried to be deliberately un-goal-y about them, as in, hey, these are just some things I’d like to work on this year, in an attempt to trick myself into not getting all hung up on them being Goals. But, really, in my mind they were always goals. The trick failed.

A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?
I had this quote displayed in my room as a teenager. I half liked it and half felt pressured by it to set goals. Damn that Browning. (p.s. what about a woman’s grasp?)

I have a complicated relationship with goals. Conventional wisdom states that goals are a good thing — they’re helpful, they keep you on track, and without them, you risk turning into a floundering mess. But, the truth is, I’m not good with goals. I mean, yes, I’ve been trained to honour the conventional wisdom and set and pursue goals for myself, but every time I do, it invariably backfires. As in: goals I set for myself don’t end up motivating me, instead they lead to some weird paralysis. Which leads to inaction. Which leads to disappointment. Which leads to me beating myself up for not reaching my goals. See how that works? It’s crappy.

Last year was so great, creatively. I really locked in on a daily practice that totally worked for me and motivated me. So when the new year rolled in, I really wanted to keep that momentum going and I thought setting some goals would be the best way to do that. By now you know where this is going — all those goals? Pretty much failed at all of them. Let’s recap!

  • First there was 3x5x52. I was so keen on this one! So full of ideas and enthusiasm, overflowing with both vim and vigour. I made it to 8 weeks and all those ideas, all that vim, all of it just ran out. I was bored. And I felt really limited by that tiny canvas (ironic, considering that, going in, I thought 3×5 just made it more approachable).
  • Then there was all the people I met today.  I loved drawing all those people last year, and detailing their stories. I still do it sometimes, but not with any regularity, which is what I miss the most.
  • And then there was Project 365, my picture-a-day goal. On day 94, I posted my last picture and it’s an apt one — I’d just started a series of paintings on panels and it’s all I wanted to spend my time on. So I quietly (and guiltily) ditched Project 365.
  • Of course, as it happened, day 95 was when #The100DayProject started, something else that kept me focused and motivated last year. So I thought hopping on that bandwagon would result in another success, and it made me feel better about ditching Project 365. Except this time I got as far as day 37 when work/life threatened to overwhelm me, so I let #The100DayProject go.

That’s quite a bit of failure. And I didn’t even mention the interviews for Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian that are in various stages of completion and the 34 ideas for Occurrences of Self-Discovery that are squirrelled away in an evernote, waiting to be drawn.

But, hey, they’re not failures if I learn from them, right? (I’m thanking/blaming my recently ramped up, daily yoga practice for all this gratuitous positivity). And from this mess of creative failures I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that I do a lot better without narrowly-defined goals. I’ve learned that I get far more mileage when I give myself the freedom to just go where the inspiration takes me. I’ve learned that as long as I make time to be creative in some way everyday, I will feel like I’m accomplishing something. And I’ve learned that those tiny accomplishments will fuel me through another day.