When I was in my teens and early twenties my mindset was flabby and reactive. I had little sense of purpose, and wafted about in the wind like a plastic bag, trying to do the things that other people thought were cool or praise-worthy or status-enhancing, without ever really thinking about what I really wanted to do.
By age 24, I had become a corporate lawyer. It was a job I was ill-suited to, and not particularly good at. I realised that I had had many opportunities, but because I hadn’t steered myself in any particular direction, I had drifted into something that looked good from the outside, but was completely wrong for me. Ahead, I saw an unsatisfying and dispiriting future.
My mindset was all wrong. Fortunately, the dissatisfaction I felt motivated me to change. I realised that to move into jobs and activities that I would enjoy more, I had to ask, and then answer, two questions;
- What did I want to do?
- How could I get myself into a position to do those things?
Those questions now seem obvious, but simply working out that they were the ones to ask changed my mindset completely.
What did I want to do?
To answer this question, I had to dream, whilst withholding judgment. I had to imagine the things I most wanted to do and, whatever I came up with, I had to make sure that I stopped myself from immediately running through a whole list of reasons why it would be too hard for me, or too far beyond my capabilities.
How could I get myself into a position to do those things?
Once I worked out what I wanted to do, then the rest was details. I just had to;
- Work out the things I needed to do to give myself the best chance of doing those things, and then
- Do them.
Of course, that didn’t guarantee I would be successful, but I decided that if I went through the process and failed, that was okay. The thing I most wanted to avoid was getting to the end of my life and regretting that I hadn’t tried.
Any type of innovation, including innovation in your own life, requires two things. Firstly, we need to get all dreamy and creative and imaginative and come up with new ideas. Then we need to get hard-headed, practical and strategic and work out how to turn those ideas into reality.
Often we do the first of those, but not the second. Deep down we know what they really want to do, but we never give them a chance to find out if we can do it. What stops us? Sometimes the journey seems too long and too hard, sometimes we are crippled by self-doubt, sometimes we fear failure, and sometimes we just never get around to it.
So, here are some things you can do to make goals that might seem daunting and far away, more achievable;
Take baby steps
If your dream is to be a concert pianist, break it down into little steps. The first step might be to learn to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. Becoming a concert pianist is daunting, but learning to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’, is much more easily achievable. Once you have mastered that, you can set another goal, and then another. Each one will take you a little closer to the ultimate goal.
Sometimes we act as if we are waiting for a genie to appear and say, ‘Guess what, James! You are now a concert pianist!’ Work out what practical things you can do to take you a little closer to your goal. If your goal is to become a pianist, then the first steps are obvious. Get some lessons. Get access to a piano. Practice as much as you can.
Set goals so that success or failure is within your control
You can control how much you practice the piano, but you can’t control whether or not you become a concert pianist. Whether or not you become a concert pianist isn’t just about how much effort you put in. It’s also about how much talent you have, and how lucky you are. So, the goal of becoming a concert pianist isn’t completely within your control. But the goal of becoming the best pianist you can be is.
Have a back-up plan
Ask yourself, ‘If I don’t reach my goal, what’s a good second best?’ If you want to become a concert pianist, maybe a good second best would be to become a piano teacher, or to play in an amateur group, or to write and record your own music. Try to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. If your mindset is, ‘If I become a concert pianist, I will have succeeded, but if I don’t, then I will have failed,’ you will be putting a lot of pressure on yourself, and that make the whole journey a lot less enjoyable.
Enjoy the journey
If you have a goal that you are striving to reach, you’re on an adventure. Whether or not you will reach your ideal destination is unclear. It’s uncertain, but it’s exciting. It’s difficult, but it’s rewarding. Don’t fixate on getting there. Have fun on the way!
Robert Louis Stevenson put it best;