Well, I’ve already told you about goal-setting and given you a progress report of where I’m at concerning some of my goals. I really want to reiterate that anyone can work towards their goals, I’m not some freakish exception. The thing that I didn’t really talk about though, is probably the Big Thing why many people don’t work towards their dreams. For every far-off desire that we might have, we always seem to come up with a thousand reasons why it could never happen. There are just too many goddamned obstacles, aren’t there?
Well, sure, if you want to see it that way. Yes, there are as many obstacles as you can imagine. The Big Thing I’m talking about is perception. You can let the obstacles define you (“I can’t because…”) or you can define the obstacles (“this is a challenge, but…”). There is a big difference in that perception alone.
To help describe the difference that taking control of your perception and the obstacles that appear to be blocking the way, let me give you a few examples of typical things that get in the way for many people, and some personal examples that may or may not be relevant to you.
“I just don’t have the time…” Having enough time is one of the biggest obstacles most people face towards any goal. I said it earlier that I subscribe to the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. 10,000 hours is a lot of time. That is an enormous obstacle for most of us who find ourselves rushing through life, trying to fit in our family, friends, work, and other activities. Having to commit 10,000 hours, even over a period of ten years is like taking on a part-time job on top of your normal job (for a decade). Do you have that kind of time? No. Most people, myself included, don’t have that kind of time. But it doesn’t have to be anything big, and you can always commit an amount of time that you feel is reasonable. Do you want to learn how to play a musical instrument? Would you be able to spend 30 minutes every day? If that sounds possible, then fantastic, that’s a start. Sure, you won’t ever “master” that instrument like a Yo-Yo Ma, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to learn your favourite songs sooner rather than later and become comfortable enough to play a ditty or two around your friends. You don’t have to shoot for the concert halls, but you can learn the basics, if you are able to squeeze out the time. 30 minutes doesn’t sound like too much time to commit, does it?
But, let’s say you do want to master something and you want to shoot for 10,000 hours. Where are you going to find that time? Life is too busy! Well, time, despite what we’ve heard is not a fixed entity. It really is relative. Sure, there are immovable time commitments, like going to work for 40 hours per week if you expect to get paid. But, there is also a lot of discernable time. Think of your life schedule like a monthly budget. There are certain things that are fixed (work, sleep, etc.) and there is left over time (optimistically called “free time”) for you to choose what to do with it. Are you willing to make some “budget cuts” and “tighten your belt” when it comes to time in order to pursue your goals? I don’t want to slag off television or going online because those are things I enjoy in moderation, but for an example, if I watch 30 minutes less of TV each day, that’s 30 minutes that I can allocate towards going for a 5km run or learning the trumpet or writing 500 words. It’s a choice. And if I can squeeze another 30 minutes here and there, all of a sudden they add up. It really is just like a budget.
When I took part in NaNoWriMo (writing a 50,000 word novel in November), I would actually get up at 5:45am and put a pot of coffee on and write until 7:15, before I would shower and get ready for work. After work, I’d have dinner, and then spend one hour writing before I would delve into all my normal evening activities (TV, video games, reading, indoor rec soccer). Combined, by finding that two and a half hours every day, I was able to write 2,500 words a day. It wasn’t easy, I basically had to learn to get to sleep earlier (11ish instead of 2), but in the end that actually became a better habit for me. The point in all of this was that instead of making excuses about not having enough time, I created time, basically an hour and a half of the most productive time of the day (morning) by exchanging the least productive time of the day (late night, when my mind would be mush anyways). I didn’t even really have to “give up” much to do it either, though that’s something that some people might have to. I guess the question becomes how do you want to spend your time? If there are discretionary activities that are blocking your dreams and you aren’t willing to move them, well, I’ve got news for you, they aren’t discretionary, they are priorities and they will always be higher on the list than anything you call a “dream”.
“I just can’t because…” is something that I overheard a lot. One thing many people don’t know about me was that as a child I was diagnosed with a learning disability (or difficulty as it might more positively be spun). School did not come easy to me and I even had to go to “special” classes where there were other kids with differing learning difficulties and we were given extra assistance with assignments and help absorbing all that information sent our way.
Now let me temper all of this with the following statement: there is nothing scholastic that I am incapable of. School was tougher for me when I was younger mostly because I was still developing and didn’t know what was going on and partly because of the expectations of educators. In grade 9 I decided to no longer participate in any “special” classes. I don’t begrudge them for existing, but there was a big difference that I realised then between my learning difficulties and some of the kids in those classes who genuinely needed assistance. The reason for that was because, aside from being diagnosed with a learning difficulty, I had also been called “gifted” and that I possessed a high IQ. So, I ask you, if you happen to have two conflicting assessments (though they may both be true), are you going to buy into the weakness or the strength? As soon as I began to realise that by using my intelligence I could overcome any potential difficulty, school really did become easy. I went from being a struggling student to graduating high school with honours, graduating university with honours, and getting a master’s degree. In fact, it’s only now that I realise that I could have gotten even more out of each part of my education and that I may have even coasted a bit. A terrible burden to have, no?
The point in telling you this is that limits that stand in your way can be worked around. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but you have to focus on your strengths or you will forever be defined by your weaknesses.
“But what will other people think…” If you are worried about whether your dream will be judged by other people, then you are selling yourself short. Have you ever seen the movie Billy Elliot? The boy just wanted to dance. Let the kid dance.
The day that you decide to set goals and follow them to completion without regard for other people is the day that you finally take control of your life. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t want people to enjoy what I write (because I do), but I’m not going to stop writing if they don’t. It is a passion and something that took me so long to get to. As a kid I would write poems or lyrics to songs and I would hide them, ashamed of what I’d done, worried that someone would see them, and by extension, see who I was. That’s just it. When you are worried about what other people think, you are conforming to their standards of what you ought to be. It’s a cliché to say just be yourself, but it’s truly the only thing that matters. Everyone from your parents to your friends to your employers to that special person you’ll spend the rest of your life with all just like you for who you are.
It’s a great time in my life where I can say that I’ve finally reached that point where I honestly am happy with who I am and how I spend my time. I am proud of my passions and I am unashamed to share them. There will be lots of opinions made about me (good and bad), but I won’t let them define me.
“I don’t know if I can stick it through…” This is the final thing that stops most people from going all the way with goals. They might get 1% or 99% down the road and quit. Well, I can’t tell you anything about your own drive. If something is a big enough goal or dream for you, then you will find that drive.
For myself, however, I can tell you what keeps me going: results. Nothing says things can get done to me more than seeing things get done. When it comes to writing, I had always dabbled and never completed. I had scores of half-finished short stories and novels that never progressed past the third chapter. When I finished Something Like Ideal, I was proud for the sole reason that I had finished it. It was a long process, that took two years, while I was finishing grad school and starting my professional career, scraping together a few hours here and there, but eventually finishing. It’s not the perfect book, by any stretch. No, it’s something that looks like the first 50,000 words on the way to one million, but I’m proud of it. It gave me the confidence that I could continue with writing. Not initially, of course, as I was disappointed with a lot of things, but eventually you have the benefit of hindsight to say, yes, you know what, I did that.
Now, as I had mentioned, I am trying to write a bunch of things, something that wouldn’t have been possible without that track record of finishing Something Like Ideal and finishing my NaNoWriMo novel last November. On top of it all, I gain strength and encouragement from my other results. I had never thought that I’d be able to lose 40lbs in six months (it was a lot quicker than I had planned) so that encourages me with my writing. It’s all about chipping away at the goals and appreciating just how much you’ve chipped as you do it.
Anyways, let me finish this by saying that I don’t claim to have it all figured out. I’m no expert and I don’t pretend to be. I really am just somebody who naively strives to work towards things that I believe in and feel pretty darn good doing it (even with the frustrations that occasionally pop up).