Monday, September 3, 2012

Ways to Discover Your Goals (Or Telling Dolphins from Sharks)

Waves slammed into shore. The Indian Ocean, normally a shining turquoise, brooded in the wake of the tropical cyclone that had sent residents of Australia's Northwest Cape under cover.

I dug my toes in the warm sand. "Maybe not."

"Come on. There's nothing to it." Eventually, my husband persuaded me to enter those turbulent waters, mask and snorkel strapped to my head and fins on my feet. 

He gave me a reassuring smile. "You'll love it."

I followed him into waist-high water and took my lesson. Relax. Just remember to blow out before you breathe. The buoyant water held me and I relaxed a little. This wasn't so bad, really. My heart rate eased to somewhere around normal.  I dared to open my eyes behind the mask and gave an experimental kick.

A huge silver-blue fish with a dark eye sidled by within touching distance. 

A shark! I just stopped myself from breathing water. Blow out before you breathe. Fighting to find my feet, I fell in the crashing surf. Water poured over me as my husband grasped my arms and hauled me from the water, landing me like a gasping fish on shore.

His laughter washed over me. "It was only a dolphin wanting to make friends."

My face heated. Perhaps if I hadn't nursed the fear of meeting a shark, I'd have recognized the dolphin for the friend it was.

Setting goals can be a lot like encountering that dolphin. If goals loom too close, they can be mistaken for threats when they're really friends. Stepping back gives the full picture. Here are some telltale signs that an idea might be a dolphin and not a shark: 
  • Whatever you do as naturally as you breathe probably belongs in some form in your writing goals.  Do you step in to help people solve problems? Maybe you should write self-help articles. Do you love to cook? Think about writing cookbooks. As a child, I put myself to sleep with my own bedtime stories.Today I write fiction.
  • You're a little jealous about someone else's accomplishments in a certain area. This might be an indicator that you are called to do something similar. Why else you would care?
  • Something makes you angry or concerned, and you feel  "someone" should do something about it. That "someone" may be you.
  • You're afraid of doing a certain thing in life (such as speaking or writing a best seller). Why does it even occur to you to think about it?
  • You'll be disappointed at the end of your life if you haven't done X or accomplished Y or given Z. You only live once. Why wait to get started? 
This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to get you thinking about your own ways to recognize your desired goals. 

Goals versus Dreams

Differentiating between goals and dreams will help you avoid discouragement. I've heard writers mention a goal of getting traditionally published, but what they're really voicing is a dream. A goal differs from a dream in a vital way. A goal lies within your power to accomplish. A dream depends on another person or persons for attainment. 

Before I became a full-time novelist, I was an assistant underwriter for an insurance company. As part of my mandatory continuing education, I attended riveting classes where we read insurance policies, line by line. According to our policies, a person could only insure something that was in that person's care, custody, and control. If those conditions were present, the person was said to have an insurable interest. A goal fits that definition. You can own a goal, nurture it, and even control whether you attain it. A dream does not fit that definition. You can hope for a traditional contract, but unless you own the publishing house, you have no control over whether you'll receive one. 

You can draw goals from dreams in the hope of attaining them, but you can't make a dream come true without someone else's help. Writers falter when they substitute dreams for real goals. Knowing the difference can help you see dreams more as dolphins than sharks.

If you've suffered from discouragement or need a refresher, read: How to Get Published: What Writers Can Learn From Babies .
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