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The Goal Spiral (or, ‘Why Writers Shouldn’t ‘Have It Made”)

January 14, 2013

I am of the mindset that someone who always strives to ‘have it made’ will never achieve it.

It’s controversial, I know. We’re always taught to work really hard, do our best, achieve our goals and then relax on a big bed of money. I can’t say I’ve experienced much (given I’ve been here for only twenty-three years) but one thing that keeps popping up in my mind is that the teaching is very flawed.

Let me give you an analogy; say you’re stood in front of a machine. The machine will, every 10 seconds or so, disperse a £10 note (or equivalent in your country). This machine will never run out of notes. For the sake of this analogy, assume you also have unlimited pocket and bag space. You keep taking the notes, and waiting for the next note. Then you take that one, and wait.

Here’s the question: at what point would you stop taking the notes?

It’s tricky, isn’t it? First, you’d surmise that you’d take enough to buy the Shiny New Thing you’ve always wanted. Then you realise how many bills you can pay off. Then you come to terms with the holidays you could take, the houses you could buy. It grows constantly; the more notes you take, the more you can buy.

Some people in this world are, in the terms of the analogy, forever in front of that ATM. They constantly take notes, making goals for themselves before changing it when they reach it. “Just another thousand,” they’d say.  “Then I’ll have it set.”

How does this relate to real life? The problem is, when we have a constant mind-set of ‘having it made’, we stay in a constant need of something else to happen. We point at something else out of our reach, saying “If I had that, I’ll have it made. I’ll be eternally happy”. Then you achieve it and point at the next thing. Perhaps you can think of times in the past where you’ve done this, sworn by a rudimentary condition to be met before you can ‘start living’. Do you feel like you’re living now? If not, why not? Do you have something else you want to achieve?

The spark of this post came in the chat room I regular at. One of the writers there said he wasn’t confident in his work. When asked what would give him confidence, he said he’d feel good if he was published by someone other than a literary publisher (given he’s a literary writer). When he said this, I had the mental image of him constantly being in a state of low confidence, achieving his goals before making new ones to feel bad about. Never content with where he is, always looking to what he hasn’t done.

So, how does one go about beating this problem? The clue was in the sentence of the last paragraph. Be happy with where you are now.

It’s hard. Bloody hell, I know it’s hard. “Simon,” you say, “I can’t be happy with where I am. I haven’t done X/been accepted into Y/earned Z-level dollars yet.” The problem is, if you’re not happy with where you are, there’s a good chance that when you move forward, you’ll ‘get used to’ the position you’re in, attaching the fears and insecurities on the next step of your career. The person I mentioned above in the chat room? His work gets accepted by other people; other people actually like his work enough to endorse it. How many writers do you think yearn for a publisher to even validate their existence, convincing themselves that as soon as the publishing contract lands in their hands, they’ll ‘have it made’? And yet, there he is, making more goals for himself.

It starts with a desire to be published. Then, when you are, you’ll play down your success; that it was an indie publisher, that the editor was nice, that it was only one work, that you ‘got lucky’. Once you settle down on the idea you’re a published writer, you’ll want five works published. You’ll want to be published by one of the big publishing companies. You’ll want to earn $X a year. Then when you achieve that, you’ll still want more.

The key is to look at yourself and say “I have goals I want to achieve, dreams I want to make reality, and plans I need to enact. Right now, however, I have it set”. Bloody hard to do, like I said. If you don’t feel that you have it set right now, however, it’ll eat away at you until you quit. Don’t aim to achieve goals by feeling crap about your current position, aim to achieve goals by feeling confident in yourself at this very moment. Be pleased with how far you’ve come and what you’ve already achieved (no matter how small), while also keeping an eye on where you can improve, where you can go, all the opportunities you can take. This way, you don’t burn out nor stagnate; you have the best of both worlds.

There is another point I want to make, but InkyGirl beat me to it, and did so very well!

And have fun, won’t you? Life’s too short to waste worrying about crap, especially the craft of making stuff up and writing it down. Far too fun to worry about.

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