Wednesday, January 23, 2013

the art of setting goals

Ahhh January, its the month of starting fresh and making resolutions but I must admit that I am not much of a new year's resolution type o' gal- I think it's because I tend to set goals and meet goals daily, weekly, monthly and all year long. I do understand the draw in setting resolutions for the new year- I am a sucker for a fresh start, for goal setting and list making. I love a brand new day, a blank canvas and new beginnings. And after the journey we have been on during 2012, I have to say that I kinda consider myself a bit of an expert on setting, meeting and succeeding (and also failing) at goals.

2012 was will go down in our history as the year that our planning, saving and "picking away at our dreams" resulted in actually attaining the things that we had been working towards. We went through A LOT of ups and downs, trial and error and moments when we truly thought things were going to fall apart but we were able to come together and push forward and make it to the other side of our goals.

I receive all kinds of email asking for advice about meeting creative goals, living a creative and alternative life, running a business and pursuing dreams.  And after the year I have been through- I feel confident that I can offer a some small bits of advice and experience when it comes to setting goals. I've been working on this post for a while, trying to search my heart for some simple and candid advice that I can share about setting goals. Whether you believe in resolutions for the new year or not- goal setting is a profound way to start movement towards the things that you want and need in your life. So here we go!

Before launching into my advice, I have to give some history to provide context to where my opinions comes from! 

I wanted to be an artist since I was a little girl. As the kid of self employed potters I grew up with lots of creativity and with the notion that running a creative business out of your home was totally normal and attainable. Growing up I took drawing classes, participated in art shows, contests and sold things at craft fairs. It wasn't until I graduated from high school that the concept of being an artist became real for me. While I had always loved the creative process and identified myself as an artist, I fell in love with it in college. From that point on I knew I would do whatever it took to pursue a career in the arts. Like most, I worked lots of "day jobs" while working on my portfolio, showing my art and taking on freelance jobs. I landed a really great job in marketing that allowed me to be creative but it didn't satisfy my craving to make art on my terms. I set out to quit my job- a long 5 year process that started with setting a lot of little goals that would get me to the point of making money and supporting myself with my art full time. After time spent working long hours at a day job, lots of rejection, tears, persistence, hard work and never giving up, I was able to get to the point (financially and creatively) to quit my day job and have never looked back! 

When we decided to start a family, my husband and I knew that our long term goal of leaving behind our life in Southern California and moving to Oregon to simplify and focus on raising our daughter needed to happen ASAP. During the course of one year (2012) we worked hard to plan, save money, rent our home in California, build my business, take my husband out of his 60 hour week job and bring him home to be a stay at home dad. We then then set out on a crazy, difficult but exciting journey to small town on the Oregon Coast where we now live and operate a creative business. 

There is nothing more profound than naming the things that you want. While you may not be able to attain all of those big goals and dreams right now, its important to identify the things you desire and the best way to get there. My husband and I spent years with the goal of leaving our "life in the fast lane" in Southern California for simplicity in a small town on the Oregon Coast. We spent so much time talking about it, dreaming about it and planning for it. While we knew it wasn't going to happen over night or without TONS of work, acknowledging it everyday brought life to our goals, it brought excitement and HOPE for our future. And sometimes a little hope is all it takes to provide the drive and action you need to attain your goals.

I am obsessed with writing down my goals and making lists. I am NOT organized by nature so over time I've had to teach myself discipline and organization- especially when it comes to goals. I depend on daily, weekly and monthly lists and goal setting to stay organized and on task with growth and movement towards the things that I want to accomplish. Making a list or even mapping out goals is one of the easiest and simple ways to begin movement towards the things that you are working on. 

Keep your goals in one place and somewhere you will see them on a daily basis. I like to keep mine my planner or a sketchbook. 

Organize your goals by subject matter or time frame. 

Get creative! Instead of a boring list try illustrating those goals.

You may remember in my post HERE where I shared how I think it is important and totally ok to take baby steps when pursing an art career. Well, I also believe that its ok to start small with your goals. While I love the thought of setting big, beautiful, dynamic goals- I also think its important to be realistic and start with small goals that are easy to attain. Meeting a small goal is much easier (most of the time) than meeting a big goal. And if there is something I have learned, its that meeting goals (especially the small ones) builds confidence and inspiration. All those those little tasks and goals you are able to meet, equal confidence and that confidence can provide the stamina and discipline to go after that big stuff.

For years I wanted to quit my day job and work for myself. You cannot imagine how many days (at work) were spent daydreaming about getting a big break or something profound happening that could enable me to quit that job and finally be a full time artist. For years I wasted time setting goals that were TOO BIG for what I had on my plate.  Finally I ran out of confidence and inspiration and I was forced to change my thinking. I started setting smaller goals that fit into my reality, I asked myself what I could do (and attain) while working my day job- I could improve my photography, live and create on a cheaper budget, teach myself photoshop, draw every day, build a portfolio, work on bettering my blog, build a website, open an etsy shop, write an article, take on a couple of free lance/commissions, generate consistent income with my art, network with like minded creatives, etc. All of these little tasks were very realistic and could easily could fit into my life. I spent years working a day job and then picking away at small goals until those small goals slowly evolved into bigger goals like write a book (or even two), teach at retreats, sell my handmade goods at stores, build my blog readership, teach online classes, plan my own retreats, build my monthly creative income, quit my day job, enable my husband to quit his day job, move to Oregon, etc.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked for advice about where to start when it comes to making those goals and dreams reality. My answer is always the same- DO SOMETHING...ANYTHING! Often it's easy to get distracted especially when you have a job, family or financial responsibilities to take care of. I know this first hand. When I was working a day job and I had lots busy or stressful days, the last thing I felt like doing when I got home was work on my creative goals. There were weeks, sometimes months when I didn't accomplish anything and that got me discouraged and kept me stuck in the same place. But when I was doing something- even something small I felt like I was moving forward. I finally reached a point where I able to be more disciplined about doing something dedicated to my goals everyday- even while working that day job! Eventually that discipline turned into a habit and setting and meeting goals became a part of my everyday life. 

Take a look at your schedule, your time and the responsibilities that you juggle. 

How much free time do you have and how do you spend that time? 

Could you fit some work on your goals into that free time? 

Try to identify goals that easily fit into your everyday life. 

Start by setting aside 30 minutes dedicated to your goals- maybe at first its simply taking time to brainstorm, research or work in short bursts. Challenge yourself (and your schedule) to work up to more time.

Often we associate goals and planning with- the whole purpose of setting a goal is actually meeting it right?! Well, I think that failure is just as important! I can't tell you how many goals I have set and worked hard at, only to have things not work out or even fail. Over time and lots of hindsight, I have come to realize that those of moments of failure have been some of the most important learning opportunities. Typically I don't learn much when I succeed and meet goals- except that I am grateful BUT when things don't work out I am forced to look at my life and really do some soul searching.  

My husband and I set out to change our life years ago but it wasn't until 2012 that we  actually made it happen. All those years in between were full of failed attempts of going after our dream of a simple life in Oregon. From distractions to money issues to bad timing- we really struggled with meeting the goals we needed to meet in order to create a new life. But all of those experiences (while they were difficult) really made us more patient, humble and strong. Those failures only created more desire to go after the things we wanted. While there were some very disappointing moments, we still kept trying and eventually succeed. And let me tell you something- when you finally succeed (after lots of failed attempts) the reward is so much sweeter!

The problem (at least for me) when it comes to setting goals, is that you can become consumed with those goals and living in the future instead of the present. Goals and planning can be highly addictive especially if you are unhappy with your current situation. The next thing you know, your plans become the focus and center of life. 

There was a time that I learned this lesson the hard way- I became so unhappy with my current situation that I wasn't enjoying the day to day moments. I was working a job that made me unhappy, I desperately wanted a more creative career, I wasn't fulfilled with living in Southern California. I was living in a constant state of thinking my happiness would change if everything in our lives changed. Finally, with encouragement from my husband (who is exceptional at living in the moment) I slowly started to change my thinking. We were stuck in our situation for a while- I had to keep working, we had to save money, we needed to make some plans before our lives could change. I could spend that time being miserable OR I could start living in the present. It wasn't easy but I began to work at appreciating what we had instead of being consumed with making plans for something else. This is still something that I still struggle with but I have found that I am so much happier when I take a break from my goals and find time to be present.


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