I am an enthusiastic goal-setter. I set goals all the time; if not every day, at least once a week. I’m constantly measuring myself. Finish a 5K? Check. Next stop: marathon. It’s all or nothing, so I set my goals high. Reach for the moon; if you miss, at least you’ll be among the stars. Right?
Sometimes. Quite frequently, though, this mindset is a recipe for failure and disappointment. After I ran the Austin half-marathon in February, I was still high on endorphins when I signed up for a smaller half-marathon close to my parents’ house in April. I showed up that morning, ready to run. I announced to a friend who was also running the race that I would PR (PR stands for personal record; in other words, that I would run the race faster than I ever had before). I was dizzy on pre-race jitters, and I failed to take into consideration that a) the temperature was in the 70s-80s; b) it was so humid it was practically raining; c) the organization of the race was terrible and there were infrequent water stops; d) I hadn’t trained for a month; and e) I only got 5-6 hours sleep the night before the race. I was setting myself up for failure.
Within the first two miles, I had to stop to take a bathroom break (something I have never done during a race). After the first hour, I was counting the cones separating the track from the street because the course was so boring and flat. By hour two, I was miserable. The heat made me sick, and a sinking wave of defeat kept me down and out. I think I texted Husband mid-race to tell him how awful I felt. I finished in three hours. My dad met me 300 meters from the finish line to take my picture. By that time, my hips were aching, my throat parched, and I was certain I would have a heat stroke and pass out before I crossed the finish line.
I took my bottle of water, ice-cold towel, and finisher’s medal in shame. I felt embarrassed, and reluctantly texted my friend to tell her I finished. “That course was brutal!” she told me the next week when I saw her. “I had to walk every mile. Never again!”
What I couldn’t see at the time was that yes, I did finish a half-marathon, something not many people have done and that I didn’t even dream of doing two years ago. I have a supportive family, and not everyone can claim the same. All I could see was that I finished 40 minutes slower than my slowest time.
I could tell a similar story about “training” for my first marathon. Long story short: I didn’t. I switched to the half-marathon instead, and had such a great time that I’m still running now, and am ready to run my first full in February (or, rather, am on schedule to be ready to run my first full).
Thus, for my New Year’s Resolutions, I’m tempted to fling myself into battle. I will query agents by the end of the year! I will have a book contract! I will have 1000 blogger followers, and I will finish my dissertation! All admirable goals, but they’re life goals, not goals for only one year. I’m never going to do everything I want to do RIGHT NOW. Rather than try to fit the next 70 years into 12 months, I’m going to break down my life goals to see what I can do now to accomplish them sometime in the future.
My big goal, the one I really want to accomplish, is to publish a novel that will be sold in both regional and national bookstores. Translated into a tangible reality: I want my book to be published by a major publishing house. This means that I need a literary agent. And the literary agents that I think would be a good fit for my project typically represent writers who have published short stories in literary magazines. Which means I need to be published in a literary magazine. Which means I need to keep submitting to literary magazines. Which means I need to keep writing short stories.
This is what this process would look like as a to-do list:
1. Write short stories
2. Publish short stories
3. Write/edit book manuscript
4. Query agents
5. Find agent
6—? PUBLISH BOOK
There are some things on the list that I can’t control. I can’t magically publish short stories in a lit magazine, nor can I predict whether my book will be interesting enough to attract an agent. But there are some parts I can control: writing more short stories, submitting short stories, working on the book manuscript. So that will be my New Year’s Resolution. To keep writing.
If it’s vague, so what? At least it’s manageable. And maybe if I remember to break down my projects in smaller pieces, I’ll be able to accomplish more, do more, eat less and feel great! And all that other stuff that New Year’s Resolutions are supposed to be.
What goals (big and small) are you setting for yourself in 2012?