Like a lot of people, I’m big on setting goals. I set weekly goals in the form of my ‘to do’ list and I set long term goals on my birthday which is near the end of August. I’m doing it again this year.
We live in a goal-oriented, results-celebrated society. If there was a Goals R Us outlet near you, would you stop by? I would. I’m always up for new goals. Goals are important. But so is moderation. In the past, my annual goal list was pages and pages – the War & Peace of goal setting. And I usually ended up frustrated because I never achieved half of what I wanted to.
So I took a course from author and psychologist Margie Lawson. Lawson believes in the SOAR process – setting obtainable and realistic goals. She has participants write down how long they think it’ll take to meet a given goal – the anticipated time –followed by the real time when the goal is achieved. People – and I was no exception – often underestimate how long it’ll take to complete a task or reach a goal. If they’re late or don’t get there, they beat themselves up. Focus, focus, focus, Lawson told us. Ignore distractions; choose to achieve your goals. And I have to admit, the process of anticipating the time it’ll take to achieve my goals has helped me cross the finish line on a lot of them.
I started this blog a week ago. Anticipated time – about 40 minutes. Twenty minutes in, the phone rang, which I normally ignore (focus, focus). But it was my daughter and she never calls during writing hours unless it’s critical. Bracing myself, I picked up. She’d finished work early and wanted to chat before I left on a weekend away. She wanted to tell me about a disastrous first date in which the guy asked her to ‘bring snacks’ and then, after they met and ate the requested snacks, he walked her to a stylist so he could get his hair cut. Only he didn’t have his wallet and he needed a loan. (I am not making this up). After hearing more (and, unbelievably, there was more), I offered some motherly advice (run; followed by a pointed question – why didn’t you dump his ass and bad hair in front of that salon?) and an hour was gone. The blog was not written.
Margie Lawson would have been ashamed. A few days later, coming home from my weekend away, I got stuck on a mountain highway behind a police-led escort of a cycling team. A drive that should have taken forty-five minutes took almost two hours. It could have been worse – the Malahat (the name of the highway in question) is sometimes closed at length because of accidents. Everybody at home knows when someone is driving down island, they’re on Malahat time. Anything can happen; you learn to go with it.
It seems to me there is anticipated time, there is real time, and there is Malahat time. Malahat time messes with our goals. It is the unexpected. Sometimes it’s in our control (that ringing phone) but often it’s not (my trip home).
As a writer I need to turn in books and articles on deadline. I need to set goals. I need to consider anticipated time and real time, and sometimes I need to shut my ears to a ringing phone. But in the same way that story obstacles forge better characters, I’m starting to think Malahat time flavors a richer life.
So this year I’m not yearning for a Goals R Us or writing a goal list the length of War & Peace. I’m thinking realistically about what I can achieve in the next year. And I’m leaving space for some Malahat time. Because a richer life makes for better fiction. And isn’t that the only goal worth pursuing?