In January, as I was celebrating my 40th birthday and launching my 4040 list, I also chose the word Gentle to guide me through the year. I sensed that it was the right word to accompany me through my divorce proceedings and the transition to life as a single woman with an eight-year-old daughter. At the beginning of the year, very few things were certain—how peaceful the process could unfold, how my daughter would adjust to her new life, where we would live, how I would stretch my salary to meet new obligations. As a recovering perfectionist, I knew this landscape of uncertainty was rife with opportunities for me to expect things of myself that weren't reasonable under these circumstances. Historically, I have been gentle, accommodating, and kind to everyone around me with very little of those attributes to offer myself. I wanted to spend 2015 retraining my brain and finding a gentleness just for me.
I have had plenty of opportunities to pull out the gentle word and wave it over me and my circumstances like a magic wand. With each reminder, I have breathed deeply and given myself an extra margin of patience, space, and kindness. Words have power. Even words like gentle.
Another word has emerged to define 2015: goal. I have set more goals in the past ten months than I have ever set in my life, and I am on pace to meet them all. Between the 4040 list and the novel writing, I have been one busy writer-mama. All of these activities have been so life affirming that I haven't experienced too much overwhelm or burnout. Being gentle with myself, I am certain, has helped me keep a reasonable pace and has given me the permission I need to back up and take a breather when need be.
“You know you're building a writing career, don't you?” Dan texted one day.
“Yes, I actually do know that.” I replied.
“What goals have you set? You know, without goals you have no way of knowing where you're headed or when you've achieved it.”
I had a mild fit along the lines of “I want to be published, but I can't control whether that happens or not, so how do I set goals for things I can't control?!?”
Dan let me rant. Then I listened to my ridiculousness and answered my own question: set goals for the things I can control. I can't control getting published, but I can control what I submit for publication. I can't submit work if I am not writing. I can control how much I write. I set three goals for each of three separate time periods—within one year, within 18 months, and within three years. My overarching objectives were: To Build my Portfolio, Platform, and Freelance Opportunities. My one-year goals are: Retool my LinkedIn profile into a writer’s profile; Publish at least two blog posts per week.; and Meet with other writers monthly.
At the time, my blog posting was sporadic at best. Nearly four months later I post between four and six posts per week. When I set out to meet with writers monthly, the goal felt like a stretch. I have a lot of writer friends, but I wasn't sure any of them would want to commit to a monthly rotation. Mere weeks after I created these goals, a pair of writers who live in St. Louis and also attended a Haven retreat found their way to me, and we now meet monthly!
What is remarkable is that setting these goals has sharpened my focus and made me more attentive and disciplined in achieving what I've set out to achieve. Also, opportunities—like the new writing group—came my way when I was ready for them. This is the power of goal-setting. It's also a testament to breaking bigger goals down into smaller mini-goals.
Where gentleness fits into goal-setting is that sometimes the goal won't be met on the original timeline or in the way it was envisioned. Being gentle reminds us that even if we haven't met the goal, we're closer than we would be had we not set the goal in the first place. Being gentle helps us to re-evaluate what needs to be done to accomplish the goal, re-calibrate, and start again. I mean, I was the last to believe that I could write a novel at all let alone to complete a first draft in seven months!
The last five days of this writing challenge will detail how I achieved that big hairy audacious goal.