Thursday, July 7, 2011

Small Silly Goals and Big Scary Steps

On Monday morning, I love/hate the moment I make my workweek to-do list. Love it, because it gives me direction and priorities in a sea of competing deadlines and client needs. Hate it, because I'm inevitably setting myself up for failure. In my line of work, the to-do list is never conquered. It's like a reproducing cell, multiplying in an exponential fashion, with no end in sight. Unless you're giving birth to a deadline-oriented project, like last week's grants. I happen to like those sorts of projects because deadlines are both inspiring and limiting. 

When I take yoga classes, the teacher always talks about "setting your intention" before you begin your practice. I like yoga for the stretching and the way that hard physical movement clears my brain of thought-clutter over the spiritual side of things. But with yoga, the hippies got something right in a big way: setting a single, doable, "focus on this" approach to the class like "remember to breathe properly", or "hold posture/correct form" or "you WILL make it through every d*mn downward dog without going into child's pose" helps stop me from checking out everyone else's perfect yoga bums and focus on my own process. These small daily goals keep me in the moment while also moving  my practice forward, instead of allowing me to worry about how my bum or yoga skills compare with where I want to be.

When I kickstart life improvement processes, I tend to start with the Monday-morning approach to things: write everything down, triage the most important items, get overwhelmed with the hugeness of my goals, and decide to read something distracting instead. So I'm thinking I need a bit of a yoga approach in my goal setting. I need a way to direct my focus instead of setting strict goals. I need a way to stop getting jealous of the perfect yoga bums (and "perfect" lives around me) and to stay in the moment of single step of the journey instead of worrying  about the big picture.

I know where I am, which is a good place, but not not nearly good enough. I know I'm not living up to my potential. I know I haven't found my "passion" yet (and there will be a lot more talk about passion in upcoming posts and what I think it is and isn't). But I also know where I've come from. Two years ago, I was stagnant. I had a great job (on paper, at least), a great relationship, and great friends, but the ease and comfort were actually a bit discomfiting. I couldn't picture my life in five or ten years because I wasn't inspired or enthusiastic about the big-picture possibilities. The little picture - the everyday vignettes - were great enough to usually mask my vague sense of discontent.

Without direction or ideas, but tired of feeling bored, I just started taking tiny steps in any direction, stumbling forwards, backwards, and sometimes downwards. But the motion itself was a relief, until I suddenly realized I'd created a whirlwind of doing: wedding planning, volunteer teaching, entertaining,  blogging, and even managing full schedule (plus) at work. Despite my exhaustion, the whirlwind cracked open my world and, somewhere amidst the chaos, I started to dream again as I caught glimpses of the possibilities.

Part of the reason the current big picture is giving me panic attacks is because it feels so huge and far away. But at least I can finally see one. The post-wedding calm finally gave me space to birth the first rumblings of my secret dreams. But even with the merest wisp of an outline, I can already tell that my dreams will require hard work, a lot of sacrifice, a leap (or seven) of faith, and very few guarantees. I'll finally have to admit that I can't have it all, despite my overachiever tendencies, and that I need to choose. That whirlwinds are as unsustainable as stagnancy.

But I'm not sure yet what choices I should make and what paths to follow. Or if clear pathways  even exist. I just know, from experience, that I need to take a first step. to get out of this current stagnancy. And then a second step. And so on. That the tiny consistent actions will gather momentum. But I also know that I need to focus so I don't end up in the whirlwind again. But the big picture is making me panicky. The Monday-morning type task list feels impossible because I don't have a clear vision in mind.  And so the yoga approach reminds me that I can achieve clarity by focusing on the action itself. The journey needs to become my focus again. I need to set a direction for myself, with small clear goals to mark a pathway. Not necessarily the pathway, but just a clear sense of possibility.

So I'm starting a new feature here, because several of you have mentioned feeling equally adrift, bewildered, and confused. None of us seem to know where or how to begin. We're either paralyzed by ennui, fear, or choice. None is particularly helpful. So today, I'm admitting to one direction (of many!) And then, I'll identify manageable small-task focus-goals that set a direction. And then I'll see where those baby steps take me. And I think you should join me, if you're so inclined. Share your direction publicly. Give form to your wispy secret dreams, even if you think they're small or silly. Because small dreams of little joys and silly dreams of joyful hopes are important too, especially because small victories create confidence and faith. And because the heat of July is just right for small goals and sunburst hopes.

In fact, my first dream is definitely small and silly: I want to define a sense of personal style. Hoo boy. Writing it down makes me realize that it's not terribly small, but it could be seen as silly (even if it's not.) But instead of diving into my closet in a What Not To Wear panic (especially since our budget is somewhat constrained right now and new clothes aren't a real option), I'm just going to think about accessories, since I already have a ton. This month, I'm promising to wear a fabulous piece of jewelery every day. And, if I'm so inclined, a belt or scarf. That's it. I have to accessorize every day instead of rolling out of bed and throwing something on. I just have to pay attention to myself. Teeny steps. We'll see where they take me and what ideas they inspire.

If nothing else, I finally took the first step in moving past wedding recap writing paralysis with this post. I don't claim that this first step was a perfect post, but at least I'm finally trying. I know I'll stumble towards something more coherent soon, both with my posts and (fingers crossed) my style confidence. And from there, who knows? So I'd love it if you joined me here in publicly claiming and working towards your goals. This is a safe space for messy vague thoughts, since I'm more than a bit messy and vague too. But just try taking a step. If you do, we can check back again at the end of July and celebrate baby steps with a celebratory cocktail recipe. Seriously. Since I'm set on finding a perfect Friday-evening-on-the-porch cocktail, I figured this was a good space to chase down that dream too.

Via flickr


  1. What an interesting post. I think, right now, I'm where you were two years ago. My life is fine. But I've realized recently that it's really hard for me to think beyond this, to dream at all. I do feel bored. Maybe I'll follow your lead and just start taking some steps in any direction I can find?
    Thanks for this!

  2. I can't find the blog I'm looking for but there is a whole blog about this! Instead, I will link you to a helpful guide for your style transformation- good luck!

  3. @Meg - Thanks for that link - I appreciate the thoughtful approach. I would LOVE more style blog inspirations. Someone mentioned "Already Pretty" and it's great.

  4. Post-wedding, jobless and without summer classes, I feel like a huge bum who sits on their behind and accomplishes nothing all day. At least with the wedding I had something to work on. I'm so interested to see where you take this since I desperately need to work on my personal style but also have no money to spend on new clothes right now.

  5. Interesting! I have been thinking about my clothes and style recently. I haven't been working, so I haven't wanted to get rid of too much until I knew what the "next step" would be, and I am also realizing some of my (rather eclectic) things in my closet no longer fit how I want to be perceived now, even if I might like the actual item. But as I build my life in my new country of residence, I guess it is a good time to rethink things and move forward with an updated approach.

    This article has helped me as I have begun thinking about this too:

  6. And I like the idea of focusing on one thing. I have a theme for the year (for the first time ever- I got the idea from The Happiness Project blog) and I love how it keeps me focused. I think about my other more concrete goals within the larger framework of the main goal. Examples of the yearly (or monthly) themes could be things like "focus" or "simplify" or "tie up loose ends," etc. For me, having one focus for this year is helping me do some of my concrete goals, without all the pressure I usually put on myself to do THESE SPECIFIC 32 OVERWHELMING THINGS ON MY LIST, you know?

  7. The wedding is still pretty fresh, but yes, this is definitely something that I need to tackle very soon. I am miserable in my current location. I thought that I wouldn't be if I was following my passion, but I am. It's not a perfect job — it has a lot of flaws, which give me no energy to get work done and to tackle the plans I made for this position when I took it.

    So I guess my first goal is to find a new job back in Chicago. It really seems like all signs point to that being the right place for me.

  8. Small goals, I love it. My small(ish) goal- Finish my writing sample that I want to turn in with my grad school application by the end of July. :)

  9. <3 this. Much. You're very smart! I like to have all of the goals/dreams written down (so I don't forget any!) and then pick one to focus on.


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