The summer after kindergarten, I was determined to get a library card. Not that I couldn’t use my mother’s library card to check out books. But I wanted my own library card, with my own name printed on it.
Unfortunately, my hometown library required library card applicants to sign their name not only to the library card application but also on the back of the card itself. (This was 1979. Things were serious at the library.)
My poor, exasperated mother did everything she could think of to convince me that a card in my own name was unnecessary. The library had a pretty generous check-out policy; our semi-monthly trips could net both my mom and me more than enough reading material for two weeks.
But I wasn’t having it. Card sharing was insulting to my early bibliophile sensibilities.
So I decided I needed to learn how to sign my name. Even though I wasn’t scheduled to learn cursive until second grade. Which was more than a year away.
My mom finally relented and wrote my name in cursive for me. I copied it over and over. Every day. Until I could sign my name in front of another person without making a mistake.
I’m proud to say I got that library card.
Over the years, I guess I forgot how to work that single-minded sense of determination. Lack of confidence and other “grown-up” issues complicated my ability to reach certain achievements. Nothing is more frustrating than being unable to achieve important goals.
Remembering the pride and excitement of getting my library card, I wondered if I could harness that same process to get things done in my adult life. To that end, I distilled it down to three steps.
1.) Get super clear about what you want.
Clarity is really, REALLY important in any goal-setting activity. Otherwise you’re just swinging blind. You’ll end up putting energy into stuff that doesn’t get you to your goal.
When you’re 5 years old it’s pretty easy to be single-minded. When you’re grown up, sometimes it’s harder to shine a laser beam on what you want.
I know I preach the miracles of meditation like a broken record, but the cushion is often where I get my clarity. Sometimes it’s a slow dawning of something obvious — like “duuuh! why didn’t I see that earlier?” Sometimes it’s like a kick in the pants from inspiration. Either way, it works if you keep at it.
Side note: “Become a better meditator” literally used to be one of my goals. My clarity came when I attended a meditation retreat and realized my goal was really: “Meditate every day for 30 minutes.” It’s a goal that doesn’t have an end date.
Regardless of whether you’re a meditator or not, there are other ways to get clarity:
- Write about it. Just do a brain dump of whatever’s on your mind. Don’t edit. Just write. Start with “I want…” and see where it goes.
- Pros and cons. If you have a hazy idea of something that strikes your fancy, list the pros and cons of accomplishing it. For example: “I want to be famous,” might lead to the pro of: “I would be on the NYT Bestsellers list.” Whoa… wait a minute. Maybe honing your writing skills is really what you’re after, not fame and fortune. Keep at it, even when you have these ah-ha moments. “Hone my writing skills” has more clarity but is still vague.
- Play the “It’s your last day” game. Kinda morbid, I know, but think of what legacy you would leave if you knew you were cashing in your chips tomorrow. What’s the topic you’d want to write about? Where’s the place you’d want to go? What would you want your last creative act to be? What would you want for your last meal? Finality has a way of distilling our desires.
2.) Identify the obstacles to reaching your goal.
What’s in the way of reaching that single-minded goal? If your answer is “time” or “resources” you aren’t trying hard enough – or the goal you identified is not your crystal-clear, burning desire. When we really want something, we move mountains and perform miracles.
So what’s really standing in your way? This is another place where a brain dump – writing down everything you can possibly think of – really helps.
It’s also important to say here that you shouldn’t take a fatalistic view of your obstacles. Nothing is insurmountable.
When I was 5, learning cursive seemed like a pretty tall order. But then I realized only had to learn to write my name. That wasn’t even the whole alphabet. Granted my first name – Stephanie – is on the long side. But my middle name (Southern family – we all used our middle names whether we liked it or not) and last name were pretty short, so it all balanced out.
3.) Work hard to knock out the obstacles.
Show up and do the work. There are people who say all you have to do is ask the Universe. I, too, believe strongly in being open to possibilities. But the thing that gets left out is that you still have to do the work. Sometimes it’s really hard work. But when you are super dedicated to reaching a goal, even hard work doesn’t seem all that bad.
Also, working hard doesn’t mean going it alone. Ask for help! The people who love you want to see you succeed. I know that sometimes it feels like you’re all alone when you’re going after something, but you’ll be surprised to find out who is rooting for you and who wants to help you. It’s all there for the asking.
My mother may have needed a little convincing in the beginning but, ultimately, she was happy to see me set my mind to something and she was proud when I pulled it off. She gladly coached me through my cursive efforts and cheered me on as I got the hang of it.
So, here’s my challenge to you…
What would happen if you went after something big and challenging? I dare you to give it a shot.