Follow Your Star: how to work towards abstract long-term goals

Creative Commons Image by Paul Kline
 

When I graduated from high school my dad drew this diagram on our front driveway with chalk.

Jim Wilt’s Diagram of Success

No matter where you set your sights (dashes), gravity (reality) takes you one step lower (solid lines). – Jim Wilt Read more here. 

No matter where you set your sights (dashes), gravity (reality) takes you one step lower (solid lines). – Jim Wilt

Read more here. 

If you fall short following your “star” (aka your passion), at least you fall in a place where you will be able to support yourself. If your goal in life is to make money, you may for a while, but chances are you will get canned.

Often, long-term goals are abstract. There isn’t a guide with step-by-step instructions of how to become the next Oprah, Steve Jobs, or Stephen King. For example, I am working towards the goal of becoming a published fiction author. There is no how-to guide or easy way to do this. Your abstract goal is probably different from mine, but the approach presented here may apply to numerous paths one might take in achieving their goals.

This is how I have been putting things in motion to work towards my abstract goals; I hope you will be able to apply these to your own “star” chase.  

 

Make it a routine.

Set aside time each day to work towards following your “star”. Some people wake up early to go to the gym, where as others practice their chess moves, and the successful writers I know always have a daily writing routine. I try and set aside time each morning to write.  This can be difficult at times. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time getting started or if you don’t feel like working towards your "star" every morning. Famous athletes will tell you that there are some mornings you will hate lacing up your shoes to go for a 5 a.m. run, but it always ends up being worth it in the long run.

 

Every experience is useful.

If your mindset is to take something away from every experience you have each day, the world will work with you as opposed to working against you. When you are in a transition and dependent on a paycheck to survive, make sure the experiences work in your favor or else you will really be in hell. I have worked terrible retail and labor jobs; I have even worked at a pawnshop and Christmas tree farm. Those days would have been miserable if I wasn’t working towards my dream of becoming a writer. Additionally, chances are there are people working those jobs that have similar dreams and are also in a transitional stage. When I was working my most recent retail job, it was these people who made work bearable. Network and support each other, and be on the look out for poor attitudes and world views; don’t get pulled down by these people.

If you are still in school and have to take a class for your degree that is not stimulating, you can still take away something valuable. Observe how your professor is lecturing, how they structure their presentation; think about ways you could improve it. I have had a few semesters (and at other schools, quarters) when the only thing I learned was time management: how to deliver a couple papers each week based on class readings while balancing work and my personal life. Those classes helped me grow my writing skills tremendously and I learned how to write a lot of cohesive words on a deadline.

 

Business and Art, you are going to need both.

If you are in business, you know the value of making things look nice. Presentation often influences more than the function of a product. Similarly, if your passion is the arts and you want to make a living by selling your art, you need to know how to sell it. If you have one and not the other, you will be at a disadvantage. Work on the skill that is holding you back and incorporate the practice into your daily routine.

 

Get a Mentor.

In addition to my mentor at SEI, I have a mentor who helps me with writing. My writing mentor helps me develop my writing tools: craft, style, and routines. He helps to prepare me for what it is like to write a book proposal and work with an agent, by sharing his own experiences with this. Also, he is there if I need someone to bounce an idea off of and talk about writing struggles. I have found that having a mentor is always a step in the right direction in obtaining your “star”. 

Read more about mentors here: Info for Mentors, info for Mentees.

 

Develop Your Craft

This is my writing mantra: read, write, and revise. Applied to a wider scope:

  1. Keep up to date with what's going on in your field interest 
  2. Practice
  3. Critically look at your craft and improve where necessary. 

The goal is to develop your own style and find the patterns and resources that work specifically for you. This is what sets you apart from everyone else.  

 

Know Your Market

Regardless if it’s personal or business, my favorite question to ask someone I first meet is what blogs they read. This tends to separate the novice (dabblers) and the pros (those who fully embrace their passion).

It is imperative to keep up on what’s being published (magazine, white papers, journals), what the community is talking about (blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn), and know what events are going on (conferences, expos, readings, community forums, meetups, etc).

If you read books, go to events, follow game-changes in your field on social media, and read blogs about your passion, you will be at a huge advantage. I have had friends tell me they don’t read blogs (or read in general), go to events, or use Twitter because they want to distance themselves from “mainstream” ideas. If this sounds like you, you will be just like your friends who don’t participate in social media because they want to live in the world: they are in the world, but isolated from what is going on in the world. Bottom line: you will be behind and your reach will be limited.

I suggest to anyone who wants to become a writer to subscribe to two journals where they want to publish so they get an idea of what the market is publishing. Examples for me as an aspiring writer include: The New Yorker, Poetry, Poets & Writers, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Sou'wester, Tin House, The Atlantic, Poetry Quarterly, and local PNW Zines (there are many many more). Look for journals related to your own “star”.  Stay on top of the newly released issues to get an idea of what the industry is publishing. The best in the field are publishing in these journals and magazines.

 

Sometimes when you move closer to your “star”, your “star” moves too.

People change. Your dreams change. You may think you really want to be a writer and then one day you stumble upon a coding class and feel a strong connection to writing apps for smartphones. Go with the change and follow what you feel to be the lightest weight on your back. Being agile and learning to adjust accordingly will make these transitions easier.

The point of the diagram my dad drew is that you will never be able to reach your “star”. Abstract goals are never really achievable, and shouldn’t be. They should be a lifestyle. You should be able to get close to the edge, but never fully capture it.

Every day you should be at the top of your game. I am a better writer today than I was yesterday, and tomorrow I’ll be better yet. Your “star” advances with you. If you have this mindset you will always be producing your best work.

 

 

Having a hard time figuring out what your “star” is? Check out Simon Kemp’s blog, eskimon and his blog post titled Career Planning in 60 Seconds

 

Andrew J. Wilt 
SEI Junior Consultant 
Apprenticeship Program 
andrew.wilt@sustainableevolution.com