by Kate M. Colby
Despite the “how to” title of this post, I’m not going to offer a series of steps to reach your goals. Obviously, each goal, each person, and each situation is unique, and frankly, you shouldn’t need me to tell you the steps to meet your aspirations. But what I do want to discuss is the mentality involved in reaching long term (or just plain big) goals.
Autumn is past its prime in New England. Slowly, the ratio of leaves-on-branch to leaves-on-sidewalk is tilting out of the trees’ favor. Every morning when I walk to the bus, the sidewalk is littered with more and more leaves. And yet, every morning, there is a city worker there with her trusty leaf blower and rake to clear the sidewalk.
The first time I saw her, my thoughts were relatively unimportant. Being from the country, where we just let leaves fall and biodegrade where they will, my reaction was something like, “Oh, yeah, they do that in the city. Strange.”
When I saw the city worker the next day, cleaning the exact same swatch of sidewalk, I thought, “Man, that sucks. She just cleared those leaves yesterday, and the sidewalk is full again.”
On the third day, my brilliant analysis was along the lines of, “I think that would drive me insane.”
But then, realization hit me all at once. I already do that every day. Or, well, I do something extremely similar in my own way. I have my own metaphorical sidewalk and leaves.
My long term goal for my writing is to make a living as a full time writer. I want sharing my stories with the world to be my primary source of income. I want to live my dream. In pursuit of that goal, I have to repeat almost everything I do. You see, in theory, my word count should never dry up. Even when I finish writing one book, if I want writing to be my job, I have to write the next one. There is always a new book to replace the one I already wrote.
Likewise, in my constant battle against obscurity, I have to keep slogging through the internet world. Every day I don’t write a blog post, don’t have a social media presence, etc., a layer of obscurity is reapplied to my name. It never ends. Even J.K. Rowling could fall off the face of the virtual world if she just stopped everything…and one day, long after she’s gone, she just may.
I think it’s particularly true for those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo at the time of this writing. Today, you write your 1,667 words and clear your sidewalk of all the leaves. But tomorrow, the challenge begins anew and you have another 1,667 word deficit to fill. Maybe one day it rains and the leaves are extra sticky and your leaf blower doesn’t work. All of the sudden, you’ve got to figure out an entirely new way to approach your goal.
It’s exhausting. But that’s how all long term goals are. Whether you want to be able to run a marathon or learn a foreign language or knit a quilt—it all takes repetition. You’ve got to keep at it, day after day, doing basically the same thing over and over until you finally hit that milestone. It takes daily effort, it takes patience, and it takes a hell of a lot of time.
But, if you really want to reach that goal, you have to do it. Moreover, if it’s your actual job (like the city worker) or your career aspiration (like me), you really have to do it.
Don’t worry. There’s good news! You can take it one day at a time or, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, you can take it “leaf by leaf.” Break your long term goal down into manageable, easy (or easier) steps, and just take them one at a time. If you do this, and I mean really do it (whatever your personal “it” is), then eventually the leaves will stop falling. The proverbial tree of life will stop showering tasks upon you, and you will have reached your goal. Then, you can spend three seasons basking in the brilliance of accomplishment…until you find your next autumn and the leaves pile up on you again. But, hey, where’s the fun in life without dreams?
Guest post contributed by Kate M. Colby. Kate is a writer of multi-genre fiction and creative nonfiction as well as a writing-craft blogger. Kate graduated summa cum laude from Baker University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Sociology. Check out more of her posts on her blog.