In Medias Res

Posted on May 11, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This post is longer than usual for me, in large part because it’s a complicated subject for me. I suspect it is for others too.  Goals.  Not goal setting, which many of us do, but goal revising, which many of us stop short of doing and choose instead to call our missed goals failures.

I have set my share of goals, most of them fitness-related, especially in the past decade.  (Note:  When you start talking about your life in terms of decades, you know you’re getting old.)  Sure, I have set work-related goals. For the most part, they’ve been called deadlines.  To my way of thinking, that’s not quite the same thing as setting goals.

Many people use New Year’s resolutions as their goal-setting strategy.  But the idea of making resolutions has always bugged me—why pressure myself to set goals during this monumental goal-setting time once a year?  And if January passed and I hadn’t resolved to do much of anything, I was off the hook for another year, drifting about on the Nonplan Plan, which is what I did for a year or two. Maybe three. Which is, perhaps, why New Year’s resolutions bugged me.

I know a bit about goal setting and time management.  I’ve taught the principles and the actions and I know what I’m supposed to do:  Set big (challenging), specific, measurable goals with realistic deadlines, long and short.  Write them down.  Read them regularly.  But other than fitness-related training goals with the requisite plan tacked on my refrigerator, I hadn’t written down any goals.  Instead, I kept them in my head. Picked a vague date.  Figured I’d make it. Or not.

So this past January, I tried something new.  I made two lists, one of priorities and the other of short- and long-term goals, and taped them to my bathroom mirror.  They were the first thing I saw every morning and the last thing I saw every night.  And since I work from home, I saw them a number of times in between.

I listed my priorities first.  My goals wouldn’t mean much unless I knew what larger picture I was trying to paint.  Additionally, no matter what I have planned on any given day or week, life happens.  The time or effort I have to put toward my goals often conflict, and I have to choose.  Reminding myself of my priorities makes it easier to know what choice to make.  At least in theory.

My priorities, listed in order of importance, looked like this:

  • God
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Writing
  • Work

My logic went something like this:  Life is not about me, it’s about serving others (God).  In order to serve others to the best of my ability, I need to take care of myself (Health).  The things in life that mean the most to me—the things I serve—are not things, they’re people (Relationships).  The abilities, skills, and passions I have to serve others with are gifts, and gifts are meant to be opened, not kept under wraps.  I am blessed with the gift of writing—what can I do with my writing to help others see (Writing)?  I am blessed with the ability to run—how can I extend my life-altering passion to others (Work)?

Under each priority, I jotted down a few phrases about what the priority means to me.  Under God, for example, one of the things I wrote is to keep my light on a table, not under a bushel.  Under Health I wrote only one thing:  You know what to do.  Just do it.  (Clearly, I have set the most goals in my life around this priority.)

Next, I wrote out some goals:  8 for the month of January—specifically under the priorities I knew I would struggle with most; five 3-month goals (end of March); three 6-month goals (end of June); and two one-year goals (end of December).  I intentionally set fewer long-term goals, as I knew that 6 and 12 months were too far out to set very specific goals, and I would need to revise accordingly.

Revise accordingly.  This is where I am now.

I achieved 7 of my 8 January goals.  By the end of March, I achieved only 2 of 5.  I am on track to achieve maybe 1 of my 3 June goals and maybe 1 of my 2 December goals. I took the papers off my mirror at the end of April.  Not because I failed.  But because I choose to succeed.

I fail now only if I choose to do nothing.  I succeed if I revise.

Revision, as it turns out, can be pretty tricky.  It’s a lot like what Ernest Hemingway said about writing:  “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Revision means not only reevaluating your goals, but why you set those goals in the first place.  The goals that I haven’t met, for instance, can be lumped into two categories:  those that depend on others to achieve and those that have to do with writing.  Once I can see a pattern emerge—two categories—I can figure out how to revise.

Goals that depend on others to achieve, as it turns out, are not really goals.  At least not my own personal goals.  Unless I checked with those “others” to see if their goals align with mine.  If I haven’t, then I’ve set unrealistic and probably immeasurable goals.  Every single goal I missed in this category has to do with work.

I feel so passionate about the mission of my organization and I see very clearly in my mind where I believe we need to head.  My vision, however, doesn’t match my past few months’ experience.  Does this mean that I should ditch the organization and our goals because we’re not where I wanted to be?

Hardly.  Rather, I can use life experience to reshape not only our goals, but my goals.  I can learn what to measure, understand what’s realistic, and check with others first.  Then I can set new goals, making sure to set goals that are “mine,” not “ours.”  There is most certainly a place for “our” goals, but that place is not necessarily on my bathroom mirror.

The other category of goals I didn’t meet has to do with writing, which is pretty high on my list of priorities. It’s the first of things I “do” after things I “am.”  In other words, it’s action rather than character.  Sort of.  Because I am, and have always been, a writer, whether I have been a paid writer (sometimes) or not (most of the time).  Writing, writers know, is part of one’s essence.

If a priority is that high on my list and I fail to meet most of the goals associated with it, then, as painful as it might be to even suggest it, maybe my priority is not really a priority.  My boyfriend reminded me of this indirectly just the other day.  I can’t very well get my book published if I’m not sending it out to agents.  And I can’t get a novel published if I haven’t yet finished writing it.

So why haven’t I been doing the things I know I need to do—that I really want to do?  In part, it’s because of competing commitments and accountability.  If there are X hours in a day and I have set aside a block of them to write but a work issue arises that needs to be addressed immediately, there goes writing time.  Two goals—two priorities—competing for the same block of time.  Which one wins?

Technically, it should be the higher priority on my list.  In this case, writing.  Practically, what wins is the priority that serves the most people, most immediately:  Work.  At work, I am accountable to over 100 girls, 30 coaches, 5 sites, and whoever reaches out for information.  In writing, I am accountable to only me.

And it’s this thing called accountability that often causes the bleeding and makes us feel as if we’ve failed when the deadline for a goal has passed with the goal unattained.  We are, in the end, always accountable to ourselves.  Goals are, after all, ours.  We set them.

Who says we can’t revise them?

Revision is part of progress.  How do I know where I’m going if I don’t know where I am or where I’ve been?  I need to set my goals. Measure and monitor them.  And when life happens, as it inevitably does—and thank God it does—revise accordingly.

I wish I could say I have done this already and that I have solved my dilemma of competing commitments. But I have not. I am in medias res, and in the middle of things is not such a bad place to be.  I will figure it out.  And if I’m wrong, I’ll revise.

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