When I’m driving you can be sure I’m focused on the road ahead. I see the twists and turns, the potholes in the pavement, the mileage or street signs. I watch for pedestrians, traffic signals, and other vehicles. I don’t do a lot of sightseeing. That’s why, on a longer journey, I enjoy being the passenger, not the driver. I like to check out the scenery.
Of course, if I were the driver I could stop and get out whenever I wanted to take a photograph instead of having to snap through the windshield as scenes whiz past, which is the case when my husband is driving. He’s very focused on reaching our destination in the shortest possible time.
There are many quotations that compare both life and writing to a journey. One comes from Steven Tyler who said, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” I agree with him, to a point. Life and writing are progressive activities. They are pursuits that should bring us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, without some kind of goal in mind they are purposeless. I can’t imagine getting into a car and driving for days to nowhere in particular even if I might enjoy the view along the way.
At the start of a new year many people make resolutions that include admirable goals. (I hasten to add that I don’t make resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure and too often lofty goals are unattainable. As I mentioned in a blog post last year, I prefer to have intentions. “Intentions involve more commitment than a wish or desire, but don’t involve a self-inflicted promise. So if I don’t manage to achieve everything I intend, the disappointment won’t be too demoralizing.”)
Setting realistic goals may be more conducive to success, but how do I differentiate between realistic and unrealistic?
Unrealistic goals are usually the ‘someday’ kind… the dreams you have that require an unlikely coincidence or someone else’s intervention before they can possibly come true. Realistic goals are ones you can make happen without any help. For instance, I might say that some day I’d like to own a racehorse that will win the Triple Crown; or I’d like to write a novel that will be on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Both are possible accomplishments but not from my current position. Both would require a lot of preparatory work but even then would depend on circumstances over which I have no control. On the other hand, owning a top quality, well-conditioned racehorse, or writing a well-crafted novel might be within my sight with the right amount of commitment.
Whatever the task ahead of me, even if it’s something I could do, I may be so overwhelmed at the immensity of it that I’m unable to make a start. To quote Michael Ehret, Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, “Small successes build confidence.” Whether it’s major weight loss, finding money for a racehorse, writing a novel or just cleaning the basement, if I break a job down into reasonable components and tackle just one feasible portion at a time, I’m pretty sure I can eventually accomplish the whole project without anyone’s help. I just have to make a start.
It’s ironic that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” yet his writings are the source of much-quoted bits of wisdom. One that I like is: “As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.”
Another of my favourites is by Mike DeWine: “One of the most important things that I have learned in my fifty-seven years is that life is all about choices. On every journey you take, you face choices. At every fork in the road, you make a choice. And it is those decisions that shape our lives.”
And then there is the famous one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I could wrap up these mental meanderings in a nice neat summary, but I suspect you get the point.
Do you have a realistic goal in mind for 2011? What steps will you take to achieve it?