Thursday, January 6, 2011

Setting Creative Goals that Work

A lot of creative people struggle with disorganization. Not everyone fits the stereotype, but many of us admire messy artists—an abstract and freeform lifestyle can imply inspiration, heightened creativity, and a liberated or enigmatic personality. More often than not, the reality of this romanticized stereotype of the scatterbrained artist is far from a carefree, bohemian existence. Just like everyone else, we need to set goals to be successful.

Try as I might to moderate the impulse, I'm addicted to goals. I always have something in mind, I'm always on a quest for self-improvement, and I'm always asking what more I could be doing.

I'm also always falling short. Life never goes as planned, and a combination of perfectionism, high ambitions, and ADD can lead to some big disappointments. It's as important to look at how we set goals as it is to consider what those goals might be.

As a compulsive planner, I tend to forget that ultimate, satisfying success isn't planned. It comes from staying ready to embrace opportunity, both by having an open mind and by knowing yourself well—knowing your values, your style, and who you want to see looking back at you in the mirror every morning.

Of course, we all need something to help us stay fulfilled while we're waiting for opportunity to drop by our living rooms (or wherever you like to wait for opportunity). That's where effective, healthy goal-setting comes in.

I'm currently working on a solid list of creative goals for 2011. However, poor goal-setting can lead to failure and—even worse—low self-esteem. Here are some things to keep in mind when making those oft-intimidating New Year's resolutions:

  1. Think about your values and choose goals that inspire you. Sometimes, we're really good at something that doesn't have an important place in our value system. Or maybe we just think we should want to get a promotion, find a better-paying job, or write for 20 minutes every single day. When do you feel most rewarded for your work, most happy and fulfilled? For example, I love music, but making it is a collective experience for me. As such, I get little enjoyment from hacking away at a song on the piano alone for hours, but playing or singing with an intimate group of people makes me feel absolutely fantastic. So a good goal would be getting over my fear of singing for friends, not learning an intensely challenging piece on my own. As much as you can, set goals that align with your deeper values and make your efforts feel worthwhile. Life isn't all about numbers.
  2. Don't fight yourself. Instead, get to know yourself. How and when do you work most effectively? When do you perform at your peak? It's tempting to set goals based on the negatives: things we want to change. Instead, think about your strengths and apply them to what you'd like to accomplish. It's a lot easier to push from good to excellent than from bad to mediocre.
  3. Get excited. If you're not excited for what's in store, how are you going to stay motivated? Make sure you connect with your goals and know where you want to end up as a result of achieving your goal, whether it's fitting into your college clothes, saving money for an amazing trip out West, or applying for that artist-in-residency program you've been daydreaming about.
  4. Set goals that you can control. I love to write things like "have a solo photo exhibition" or "write a stage play and see it performed" in my list of long term goals. However, the end result is ultimately in someone else's hands, so it's not a good goal. Healthy goals provide a challenge, but leave success up to you and you alone. Writing a stage play, then reaching out to five different theatre companies to see if anyone's interested is far more productive.
  5. Break it down. If I want to submit to six literary journals this year, that means I need to set weekly and monthly writing and editing goals to support that. If I want to write a stage play, I need to set a goal to read scripts on a regular basis, experience plenty of live performances, research proper formatting, and find a competent and critical friend to read it when I'm done. Setting a big goal without stepping back and addressing the steps to get there will set you up for disappointment.
How about you? What strategies have you used to kick off 2011? How do you set and manage goals, and when do you check in with yourself to assess your progress?


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