Set Goals. Kick a Million Butts.
Why set goals? In creative work, your personal life, freelancing, or whatever your realm may be, most of your life may be spent swimming in circles with no real idea where you’re going. Occasionally, you may happen upon an island and think, “Wow, that worked out great!” — but you have no real idea how you got there. Plotting out goals is like learning to read the stars. You go from swimming in circles to having a clearer path, and while you may not know what lies on the horizon, you can at least chart a course and act more deliberately to ensure a higher chance of success. For this exercise, let’s start by creating a single goal.
The components of your goal
Make sure your goal pushes your boundaries in some way (ideally, many ways). Does it require learning a new artistic style or technique? Will it force you to work under demanding restraints? Will it enable you to accomplish something larger in scale than you’ve created before? You should feel at least a little intimidated by this goal.
Make it worthwhile.
When you reach this goal, are you better off than when you started? “Better off” can encompass any number of metrics: personal development, skills, or financial, among other things. You need a “why” to pair with your “what.”
Set a due-date.
I will achieve my goal by this date. Don’t see this as a hard date but rather a guidepost to help maintain motivation and focus.
Break it into bite-sized pieces.
If you can achieve your goal in one step, you aren’t aiming high enough. Have a goal that you can break down into tangible, actionable steps to guide you along the way. This is the most important part, because if the space between you and your goal is a completely black void of the unknown, you will never be able to get there.
I want to (reason why). To work toward this, I am going to (ambitious goal here) by (date here). To get there, I’m first going to (step 1), then (step 2), and finally (step 3, 4, etc).
I want to expand my freelance practice into editorial illustration work. To work toward this, I am going to get my first paid editorial illustration published by the end of the year. To get there, I’m first going to study the work of my favorite editorial illustrators. Then I will develop 1 editorial illustration per month based on real articles to add to my portfolio. Finally, I will use my portfolio to solicit my 10 favorite publications for illustration work.
Start with reflection
Look at the previous calendar year through the lens of this goal. Where did you start the year, and where did you end up? If you set goals for yourself at the beginning of last year, how far did you come in your quest to realize them by year’s end? If this is your first time goal setting, breaking down last year’s progress sans-goals can be a great starting point so you have a baseline for your new goals. What mistakes did you make? What worked better than you had expected, and why?
Don’t be afraid to set multiple goals for yourself, but be realistic about what can be accomplished in your given timeline (quarter, year, etc).
Part of a journey
Your goal should be something that, upon completion, is an achievement in itself but also acts as step 1 of a greater journey. “My editorial illustration will be published in the Washington Post” isn’t a bad goal, if you’ve got a portfolio full of editorial illustration, are known in the industry, and are producing great work with clients beating down your door. If your ultimate goal is a big one, break it down into some actionable smaller components first. “I will get my first editorial illustration published” is a better place to begin.
Failure does not exist
Failure implies that if you don’t achieve your goal, you can no longer pursue it. It’s donezo. If you are setting good goals for yourself — even if you miss your goal deadline — you should be able to look back and see tangible progress made toward it. Not meeting a goal isn’t failure. It just means there are more steps to get there than you initially planned for. You may have only gotten 75% of the way to your goal by your deadline, but that just means you’ve only got 25% of the work left and 75% of it behind you! Easy peasy!
Track your progress, and cater to your own style
You know better than anyone how to keep yourself motivated. Are goals clearer for you if you make an idea web or mind map instead of a list? Will you retain better focus if you pin your goals to the corkboard over your desk? Do you need to set weekly or monthly phone reminders to keep you on course? Shape this to what works best for you. I like to keep a Trello board where I track all the steps on the road to my personal and professional goals so I have a nice visual of the progress I’m making and can jot notes along the way.
If you’re the type to schedule a specific slot of time each week for personal reflection or meditation, then also use that time to focus on where you are in regard to achieving the goals you’ve set. If you’re like me and every day is completely unpredictable schedule-wise, then make a conscious effort to reflect every time you have a bit of downtime or a lull in work.
If you set an annual goal for yourself, and you achieve that goal 3 months into the year, don’t let that success coax you into complacency. Always be prepared to reevaluate and refocus your goals. If you’re doing better than you planned, that’s fantastic! Don’t lose your momentum!
Collaboration is the name of the game with everything I do in my life. There are always people aligned with what you’re doing that would love to work alongside you or cheer you on in your journey. Find people with similar goals to your own, and either help each other to achieve your goals, or hold each other accountable as you move forward.