It’s that time of year again. I’m sure your inbox and Twitter feed have been chocked full of “Top 100” and “Best of” lists just like mine. There’s something to be said about this annual socio-cultural exercise we put ourselves through, where we tally up all our accomplishments and hope like hell they out-number the disappointments. Obviously, some years are better than others, but sometimes it can be tough not to feel a little blue, especially if things don’t quite align as one envisioned, say, 364 days ago.
I suppose it’s human nature to lift a glass at the crack of midnight and resolve to shoot for the same goals as the year before, vowing this time things be different—really, I swear—even though deep down we know all will likely be forgotten by the vernal equinox, or at the very least, until one sits down to type up next year’s “Best of” list. Rinse, repeat, pour another.
Does this mean we shouldn’t set ourselves goals? No, of course not. Without goals life becomes a stagnant pool of boredom, never changing, never growing. Like food, goals nourish us. Where the problem lies is in expectation.
How many times do we make promises like these?
- This year I’ll finish that novel I’ve been working on for the last five years.
- This year I’ll get started on that blog/website.
- This year I’ll shop around and see if anyone thinks my short story is worth publishing. Maybe someone at the New Yorker will give it a chance.
- This year I’ll write every single day without fail. Really, I swear.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these goals. You could even call them lofty. Are they attainable, though? Depends on how you look at it.
The poet William Stafford wrote at least one new poem a day for over twenty years. In fact, he felt so passionate about the discipline he assigned the same task to his students. The groans and sighs that must have filled that classroom. As lore goes, a student once challenged him by asking how anyone could be expected to write an amazing poem every single day. Stafford’s response, “lower your standards.”
We often set such monumental expectations for ourselves that we risk immobilization at the very thought of taking the first step. It’s like seeing the entire ocean before us without acknowledging the beauty of its very existence. Instead maybe we ought to take a lesson from Stafford, break it down, celebrate the day-to-day achievements, which when recognized make our goals seem less daunting and yes, attainable. Perhaps by year’s end you’ll realize you’ve accomplished more than you ever imagined possible.
What goals do you have for 2019? Please feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.