On Goal Setting: The Before Story

If you are reading this, it’s a sparkling moment for me, and not only because you’re here, although that is delightful.

It’s a special moment because the extremely improbable has occurred. If you are reading this, it will mean that I – the creative wanderer, the half-finisher, the tinkerer, the head-in-the-clouds dreamer, talker, never-doer – have fulfilled a much dreamed, tinkered, and talked-up goal. I have launched this blog.

Technically, I could have done it in a month or two. Instead, I’ve be “working on it” in my meandering fashion for more than two years now. Scribbling pictures, doodling thought webs, reading articles, filling my phone with cryptic messages to myself labelled “GREAT IDEA!!!” in the wee hours of the morn, and talking ears off ad infinitum. But now I’ve done it.

And so, friends, it is fitting that this is a post about goal-setting. Which I’m typically bad at, in case you hadn’t gathered. It’s the first in a series on goals, and effectively, a ‘before’ story, if I may be so bold. A little context for your pleasure and/or commiseration. Ahem.

*  *  *

On January 1st 2013, I put my 8-month-old baby down for a nap, snuggled up on the old love seat and wrote myself one of those New Year’s letters. I thought I’d start a new tradition. I’d say a bit about where I was at, set a few goals, fire myself up a little and then open it a year later to be further inspired by how very much I’d grown and changed. I was so pleased with myself.

I don’t generally operate with a whole lot of forethought, so I was pretty excited for this thing I’d done that required a whole year to come to fruition. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, I decided I’d waited long enough. I took a brief hiatus from the party (okay, I went home to retrieve some more comfortable pants), and in my tights and maybe a little tipsy I ripped that envelope open, to reveal…

…A whole lot of vague, scattered hopes and dreams and nothing I could say for certain had changed at all. In fact, at that moment, it felt like maybe I’d regressed. It was hard to tell though, since what I’d actually written was something between a moony reflection on new motherhood and list of willowy musings, with such gems as, “I hope I can support Achim well and take care of our home and Jonah and myself a bit better”. The closest thing to a goal I could find was, “I suppose I hope that I might develop my career this year, perhaps through my website/blog”. So, two years later… yeah. The letter did have its sweet moments, but as a source of inspiration it would have been hilarious, if it wasn’t frankly kind of deflating. And so, my life altering tradition died, like that.

Except I kept thinking about it, as I do. Clearly, I’d gone about it wrong. Sure, sure – with these self-actualisation practices, there is no wrong, only different. But see, I’d really wanted to feel like I’d accomplished something, and I really didn’t feel that way. My goal-setting, if you can call it that, was ‘different’ in that not actually remotely effective sort of way.

elenasgoalsettingscale-webAnd so I did something I should have done a really long time ago. I set a goal to learn to set goals. It took a while, for obvious reasons. But I did it. With intermittent fervour, I dug around, snuggled with the experts (like, their papers), read, highlighted, and scribbled notes in about 11 different places, some of which I have certainly lost track of. But guys, it was really, really helpful. I actually think it may change my life.

Next week, I’ve got the goods coming your way in illustrated form! I’m super excited to share it with you.

For now, though, I’d love to know – can you relate to my story? Where would you fall on my (highly scientific) goal-setting scale (above)?

p.s. I am warming to the New Year’s letter again, but maybe as a more deliberate tiny time capsule. I also really like the idea of writing a letter to a friend – nothing like a dose of friendly gratitude to ring in the new year (handy, dandy best friend appreciation form letters found here, if you so fancy)!

24 thoughts on “On Goal Setting: The Before Story

  1. Allison

    Elena, I relate so much. I’m not sure where I fall on the scale. For one thing, I’m at the “Well, that almost seems possible!” stage. But there’s others where I’m still in the fog of daydream. I’m looking forward to reading more about your process!

    1. Elena

      Lol, Allison! You know, that’s so comforting! I sort of have the feeling I MUST not be alone here, but then I’m second guessing myself – is this one of those things…? I don’t think the foggy haze of daydream is a bad place to be, it’s kinda nice actually, but I spend a bit too much time there. I’m so stoked to have you following, excited to see what you think next week!

  2. Goldie

    A little foggy, but with intention.

    I love making lists, cus sometimes I can cross a few things off. But I usually lose the list or start a new one or just trash it. Blah. Read/discussed two goal-of-goal-setting tips that are sticking with me and getting me on my way to make goals:

    -Lists may be BS. Cus I may not get to the thing on the bottom. Rather than make a list, schedule tasks. So, I have been. I put them in my phones calendar. And it’s working! And if I put them off, they prolly don’t matter.
    -Figure out the *one* thing that I can do that’ll make everything else easy or insignificant. This one is heavy, cus there’s so many pillars of things that I want to accomplish and so many aspects of my life that need sorting (health, money, family, life enrichment, work; obviously not in order of importance). There’s too many *one* things. I’m working at narrowing it down and I think I know what I need to do – if I clean up my work life, I’ll have time to do and maintain and sort the other things. It’s not glamorous, but I think work is the *one* thing.

    And now I’m dumping. Your post is super timely. And wonderful! And I can’t wait to read more!

    1. Elena

      Oh man! I can so, so relate, Goldie! Totally not dumping! Helpful! And I have a MASSIVE list at this very moment on my kid’s little easel here, just hanging out. I wrote it last week, and there are 7 checkmarks. Out of, um… maybe 25 items? lol. How does it go? Do, Delegate, Designate, Do away with? I think I may have half made that up, but I there is def something to specifying when that bloody list item will happen. And I fully relate to you on the too many number ones, and I think your rationale for choosing your current one thing is solid. How did you narrow it down?

      I think I’ll be addressing some of this next week, too – I’ve found some good stuff!

  3. Shannon Kalyniak

    YAY ELENA!!! I am so very excited to read this 🙂 Congratulations!
    And yes… I can relate! Narrowing down and achieving goals may be a challenge for the creative-artistic-dreamer types… (re: procrastination funny article)
    I love the idea of a blog that adds some structure and motivation, but also has a great deal of creative freedom (while sharing your art & illustration). Inspiring!
    Love you,

    1. Elena

      Sweet Shannon! Thank you for your affirming comment! and yep sometimes I think dreamer-type is just wayyy across the colour-wheel from these folks who get the shit done! Love you tons and tons! xox

  4. Tara

    Elena, you put a smile on my face. This first entry could not be more perfect, and really really spoke to me. Can I tell you about a letter I wrote to myself when I was 12, to be opened on my 18th birthday…I too experienced that deflated feeling, by 18 I was not a published writer or a famous actress. Looking back on that and on most dreams I have had, there was never an actual goal, no plan, no…trying. Most things in my life happened on a whim. If you look at my career path it goes: Actress, Astrophysicist, Janitor, Massage Therapist, Mom….and no actual career ever really came out of any of those, except mom, and dammit I wish I would earn a living doing it 🙂
    I can’t wait to hear more <3…and "basically daydreaming", all the way.

    1. Elena

      Tara, yeahh! So glad you stopped by! Oh sister, my hopeful trajectory was similar, with a few wild card years of “professional athlete” (!??!) thrown in there! I’ve totally felt the same way, like I’ve just kind of fallen into so many decisions in my life. When I’m feeling positive, I like to think of my random and scattered “career” (including this hefty mothering bit!) as one invisibly linked entity that I don’t completely understand, but that is coming together over time to take me somewhere satisfying, as I grow up and slowly, slowly manage to put the practical pieces in place.

      And you know what – when I look at my whims, mostly they weren’t the worst – I think whims can be pretty intuitive and personal and sometimes they take us to surprisingly fitting places. Shutting out those whims throws a wet blanket on life, but that lack of intentionality can also be so maddening. My goal (ha!) is to strike a balance. I’m really interested to see what you think of next weeks post. I’m so, so happy to have you following along, Tara! And btw, I really liked your comment, you write very naturally. xox

  5. Rick

    The apple does not fall far from the tree, so you bet I can relate. I am proud of you and am can’t wait to see more.

  6. Sara Francis

    Lovely. We were friends in Toronto many moons ago. I’m friends with Rebecca Aikman. That’s how we met. She lives in Calgary now, so we’re still in touch. I didn’t know you were living in Germany now. Makes sense. Well done incorporating your art into the blog. It’s lovely.

    1. Elena

      Of course I remember you, Sara! I’ve seen your gorgeous growing family on FB, and I’m so pleased you stopped by! I haven’t seen Rebecca in so long, that lovely soul. Please give her a hug for me 🙂 Thank you for the sweet comment as well – I’m thrilled to have you following along!

  7. Jackie

    What a beautifully written post, Elena. I can’t wait to read your tips for actually taking action. I’ve been in the planning stages of launching an online business around healing through traditional foods and natural self-care practices for at least a couple years now…but for all my great ideas and lists and attempts to actually get something solid accomplished, I’ve taken action on nearly zilch. I’ve changed the idea a million times trying to see which angle or approach feels best but I think at the heart of it, there is a fear that it’s all already being done and that I have nothing really significant to contribute…which part of me knows is not the case, actually. So I applaud you for putting it out there so honestly and so creatively! I can’t wait for the next post! 🙂

    1. Elena

      Oh Jackie, that sounds so familiar to me! I think that a certain amount of marinating, daydreaming is valuable as you develop a clear picture of your lovely vision, but oh man, after a while it can start to feel like just spinning the wheels. Some of us are naturally door-wide-open idea generators which is so exciting and such a gift but doesn’t always lend its self as easily to the more practical, necessary action steps (that often mean culling some of our beautiful brain children!) that come next. I can relate!
      And sister, it’s never all been done! I feel that sneaky kill-joy fear too, but I am so sure you have something beautiful to contribute. What’s so wonderful about web-based businesses that come with a personal narrative is that you bring your particular life experiences, perspectives, and voice to everything, and that can’t be anything but unique and will certainly speak to some people across this gloriously massive pool of people! I’m sure you know that, but I’m saying it anyway!
      Thanks so much for reading, and I hope next week’s post is helpful and delightful for you! 🙂

  8. Lisa Savage

    This was so nice. Thank you for sharing all this. You are very talented Elena. I am looking forward to reading more!

  9. Julie Hancock

    Love love love this. I’m really excited to see the follow-up posts, as I could use some straight-forward advice on goal-setting for sure! I feel like I spend a lot of my life thinking about the very next step and not the final outcome, and while this is the way I operate best, it sometimes feels like I’m not moving myself forward as much as I’d like to.

    Reading all these comments is amazing, Elena. Your very first post has given all of us pause, allowed us to take a minute to think introspectively. This blog is going to be a huge success.

    I’d love to see more of you and Jonah before we leave! xx

    1. Elena

      Hi Julie! Thank you so much for your sweet comment, I’m so pleased you took a look and I hope you enjoy the next post too… I think I found some good stuff, but then, this comes from a daydreamer!

      I am so pleased that these sweet people have taken the time to visit, and that they could relate to some degree! Here’s hoping 🙂

      Would love to see you before you go, too! I think a brunch is in order.

  10. Kelleyn

    Hello and welcome to the world of blogging! Crazy, but with all of my visits to Germany I have never been to Bonn. Someday! My husband is German and while we live here in the states I have a goal to visit more of Germany.

    1. Elena

      Thanks for dropping by, Kelleyn! It is such a sweet, pretty, green city. Cologne (30 min away) is def the vibrant, exciting culture centre of the area, but Bonn has its quiet, prewar charm! xo

  11. Bia

    Dear Elena!
    After a long time (maybe for two weeks I’ve been wanting to write to you and check out your blog!) I’m HERE!
    I know you mentioned it in your sweet and personal New Years Letter (BTW: Thank you for that! Both Josh and I enjoyed it a lot! 🙂 but as many of us “modern house-makers” know, the actual alone time when you are able to gather your toughs, is scarce and in some cases an endangered specie!
    Such as You, I decided to take action and put it on paper. I decided that even if is not “a worked related goal” but has a more of a unwinding relaxing purpose I should add it to my To Do List! (see pic on FB!)
    I am a bit of a talker (especially now that I’m home by myself) so I will share with you and all the other ladies how I came about the resolution of writing down my goals! As you probably remember from when you visited us in Maine, I was commuting (past-tense, not doing it anymore) to Boston every morning for an internship I managed to obtain @ MGH. It was a bit of a long stretch for me considering that I was spending between 4 and 5 hours/day on the commute and it was also a stretch for my husband Josh, who had to come up with a $400 extra each month for the hole kitten-kaboodle ( I was volunteering) ; but anyways, on the commute I met this Indian guy (his name is Sushil!) and as we became friendly and more familiar with each other I dared asking him why when everyone ( including me….ohhh what a scene!!!!) was trying to catch up on sleep, he was laying his hands on his knees face up, middle finger touching the thumb, closing his eyes and submerging himself in this whispered hmmmm! He was meditating, I knew that, but why? with what purpose? Come to find out that he is a yogi and aspiring guru, moved from his native India to XX Financial Boston for a better living; high educated, sparkling at math and analytics, not much older than me, two kids, a beautiful wife who’s henna tattoos are amazing, vegetarian, and passionate philosopher ( in fact I bet even his 4 y/o is practicing meditation). He started educating me about “the science of self”. He brought me literature, explained techniques, and not just once ( I was soo embarrassed, other commuters were becoming interested) made me practice what I learned! Lets say my morning and evening commute ( under Sushil’s guidance) became like a second internship! It was truly an amazing life experience!
    But how does this relate to your story of setting goals and following through? He explained how in a very abstract way our entity does not disassociate from our feelings, desires, aspirations, or goals ! That there is no disconnect between the “it’ that invents or comes up, if you will, with the goals and the “it” that sets in motion those goals; there is no chief commander and executive department; there is only this singular self, which if it becomes aware or acknowledge it’s own autonomy it “CAN move mountains” so to speak ! He also recommended the exercise of writing down your goals. The explanation lies again in the abstract and relates the autonomic movement of writing with the unconscious action of data entry and information storage in our incredible computer the “brain”.
    Personal note: even though the exact anatomic location of the human mind is not yet established, I believe we can all agree that the brain as an anatomic part of our material body, makes the connection with the not so material mind. By having our brains coordinate the movement of writing we inevitably engage the mind in the process and so the mind is aware that a new information is in existence and needs to be processed! ( boy! my years in med school are finally paying off 🙂
    So by writing our goals on something ( it doesn’t have to be a piece of paper; the idea of the motion of writing and what it stimulates is more important) our goals have a higher chance of becoming a reality than if we don’t!
    That’s it for me! It is late here on the east coast, and Josh already called for me twice: Dinner’s ready!!! I am a little bit behind on following your posts but have no doubts! I will catch up!
    Sweat dreams my lovely Wagners! We miss you but hope in a fairly close reunion!


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