On Goal Setting, Guilt, and Planning 2015 Around the Metric of Creative Fulfillment

Goals 2015 blog post image_resized

Image by FidlerJan

Ah, the beginning of a new year.

It’s that time when all around the interwebs, you’re exposed to endless talk about planning and goal-setting for 2015, and doing your 2014 year in review. And let’s not forget, it’s also the time for setting some “stretch” goals for the coming year, often referred to as “big hairy audacious goals.” (Why “hairy,” I wonder? I’ve always been puzzled by that phrase. I prefer my goals hair-free. But I digress.)

I’ve listened to a bunch of podcasts, attended half a dozen webinars, and read numerous blog posts in the last six weeks about goal-setting systems and templates and philosophies and rules.

And I’m ready, I’m “ready-eddy-eddy” as Sponge Bob would say, to plan my 2015. In fact, at the end of November I bought a big ass 2015 wall calendar, and I cannot tell you how excited that one simple purchase made me feel! I fairly floated home on a cloud of unfettered fantasies of a rockin’ 2015 in which all my dreams come true.

And then I remembered the goals I set for 2014 that didn’t quuuuuite come to pass.

The 2014 Postmortem

Recently I looked back through my journals from the last two years, specifically, the parts where I wrote down my goals for the following year, and what I discovered left me feeling a wee bit sad and disappointed.

Because even though I’ve been working ridiculously hard for the last two years, there were still many things I said I was going to do in 2013 that I never got around to doing, and even more things I had planned for 2014 that didn’t happen.

I’ve been ruminating about this for weeks, trying to uncover the reason for this sorry state of affairs, and what I’ve concluded is this: my approach to goal-setting in 2014 was based more on what seemed logical and realistic, with a focus on what I “should” want as a writer, copywriter & marketing strategist for hire – and less on what I really, truly, madly and deeply desired.

And while I’m sure there are many circumstances in which being “realistic” and “logical” makes the most sense, I fervently believe that, as Will Smith has said, “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.” And in my case, it was also the road to unfulfilled goals, and their corollary, disappointment and guilt.

The big picture assessment of where my 2014 goal-setting and goal-achieving missed the mark is that I chose some of the “wrong” goals, and the way I was going about achieving even the “right” ones was misguided.

Let me explain.

4 Insights on goal-setting based on my 2014 experience, and where I derailed:

#1: If you don’t choose goals for the “right” reason, that is, goals that actually light you up and tap into your natural skills, gifts, talents and abilities, and even more importantly, goals that take into account what you actually WANT to be doing, they’re much less likely to get accomplished.

For example, one of my goals for this year was to increase my income by 30-50%. I knew I could easily achieve this by reaching out to more healthcare and real estate-related clients, because I’ve done a lot of marketing communications in these two niches for the last few years, so finding additional clients in these categories wouldn’t be difficult.

And at the beginning of 2014, I set out to do just that. I made an initial list of 50+ healthcare and real estate clients to reach out to, set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my weekly outreach and results, and set about contacting potential new clients. Then about 4 weeks in, I lost all motivation to continue down this path. Even though it felt like a revenue increase slam-dunk, my heart just wasn’t in it. I love my current real estate and healthcare clients, but I simply don’t want to take on new writing projects in these niches unless something uber-interesting comes along.

Result: While I got a few awesome new clients in creative fields in 2014 (Yay – these are my dream clients!), I mostly let myself coast with current healthcare and real estate clients. As a result, my income in 2014 was pretty much the same as it was in 2013.

Solution: In 2015, I’ll be making a concerted effort to reach out to creative service providers and other potential clients in my ideal target audience. Actively marketing to the kind of clients I have a strong desire to work with means the daily marketing will get done, because my heart will be in the marketing, and in getting these clients great results.

Inspirational quote that sums up this point, from Brendon Burchard: “The journey to legend begins the moment our bias for ease and comfort is overpowered by our drive for challenge and contribution.”

So for better results? Drop the “bias for ease and comfort” – love that.

#2: Setting huge goals, then not chunking them down into the smaller, manageable pieces that can be accomplished daily, weekly and monthly, is a recipe for failure.

What happens here is, you look at this huge goal, and because it’s so big, so daunting, so seemingly insurmountable, you have no idea where to begin. And because you don’t where to begin, you procrastinate. You don’t take action because you don’t know which action to take first, and next, then next after that. And then your dream turns into a sad, dessicated husk that drifts away on the wind the first time you whine “I can’t figure this OUT!” (Or maybe that’s just me.)

For example, this year I wanted to begin writing my book for and about creatives, the details of which I’m still sorting out. I took a course in how to write a book proposal, I joined an amazing online writer’s group made up of lovely and ambitious souls who are also working on books and book proposals, and in which there is an infinite amount of advice and support; I even wrote up a skeleton outline of the book. But alas, that’s where it ended.

Result: Because I didn’t break the project down into its attendant daily, weekly and monthly tasks, it felt like such a bear that I didn’t move forward on it after the initial flurry of activity.

Solution: For 2015, I mapped out my entire year in “skeleton” form. It’s not overly detailed at this point, but it has my big goals and intentions for the year sketched out, by quarter and by month. I chose 2-3 key goals to focus on each quarter, then broke those down into my monthly and weekly action items. Next I made an extremely detailed plan for 1Q that includes my blog and email newsletter editorial calendar, marketing, promotions, and client outreach for each month, and the bigger creative projects I’ll work on. I don’t do the super-detailed planning more than 3 months in advance, but with the skeleton plan for the entire year in place, I feel on purpose and directed. Which is a vast improvement from last year, when I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants for most of the year. Having a written plan with an actual timeline feels so much better – and oddly, more liberating.

#3: Having too many goals is also a dream killer.

There were so many things I wanted to accomplish in 2014, so I attempted to work a little bit on each of them, all the time. There was the book, a new interview series for the blog, the 6-month class I took the second half of 2014, regular blog and email newsletter content, the client work, the outreach plan to get new clients, the website rewrite, the guest posting blitz, and at least half a dozen other big-ish projects.

Result: Lots of things started, few completed. This left me feeling exhausted, creatively unfulfilled, and cranky. Lesson: Lots of loose ends and unfinished projects is not good for your creative mojo.

The solution: The cure for this is to focus one’s “whole-hearted creative attention” (a Danielle LaPorte phrase) on two or three main projects at any one time, and forget the rest. With that in mind, my three top priorities for 2015 are: writing the book and all activities related to that project; building my online platform and email list, both to support the book release and to increase revenue for my copywriting and marketing consulting business; and to increase my revenue by 50%.

#4: The corollary to this is not knowing which goals to prioritize (or in my case, not validating your dreams by prioritizing your most heartfelt goals).

What I found was that the goals I was actually most excited about – interviewing other creatives for a new blog series, writing my book, and creating products – took a backseat to the day-to-day grind of client work. I told myself repeatedly throughout the year, “I don’t have TIME to step away from client work to work on my book or interview series or product creation. Between clients and deadlines and marketing my services, I just don’t have time!” That’s probably not coming across as shrilly here as it did in my head all year long, but it was a constant, annoying refrain.

Result: Because I wasn’t carving out big chunks of time to work the goals that actually meant the most to me, there were many times during the year I felt resentful and dissatisfied.

This culminated in an “episode” at the beginning of July that scared the bejesus out of me: I was driving to the location of where I do onsite work for a client, and about half a mile from my destination, I started having trouble breathing, my heart was racing, and I felt like I was dying. I considered pulling over and calling 911, because I literally could not breathe. I didn’t know if it was a heart attack, a panic/anxiety attack, or some other inexplicable health-related thing. I made an appointment with my doctor, who suggested an EKG and a chest x-ray, neither of which turned up anything troublesome, luckily. And that’s when I started seeing an acupuncturist regularly, because this thing, whatever it was, didn’t go away. It lingered in more subdued form for months. And it still crops up from time to time even now, usually when I’m feeling stressed. Anyhoo, I’m convinced the July episode was my body’s way of telling me to stop grinding through the kind of work and the kind of schedule I don’t love and find a better path. Duly noted, plan in progress.

Solution: This is not about not having time, but about prioritizing my most important goals and rearranging my schedule to make the actions required to achieve them possible. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and if people with way more time constraints and family and work obligations than I have can create their art and meet their goals, so can I.

At the end of the day, if I wanted to work on the book, do the interview series, and create the products in 2014, I could have pushed other things off my schedule and carved out time to do them, but I did not. I have to give my goals the same weight I do client work, by doing something as simple as adding a non-negotiable hour of writing/creation time into my schedule 6-7 days a week, first thing in the morning, before I do anything else, including client work.

Something that’s helping me like gangbusters in prioritizing my day is a great post by Ashley Ambirge called, Million Things To Do? Prioritize by ROI. (And Then Get a Life.) I’m not exaggerating when I say this blog post has changed my relationship to my work in a way that makes me feel damn near sane most days! And a whole lot happier. I now follow this template daily for arranging my work flow.

Wins: What Went Right in 2014 (It’s All About Mindset & Clarity).

When I review my accomplishments in 2014, the thing I’m most proud of are the profound mindset shifts I made. These shifts are leading to a more profitable business, and though they impacted 2014 mostly in the 4th quarter, going forward they’ll add to my bottom line over and over again.

So we’ve all heard that saying that goes something like, “everything you want is just outside your comfort zone” right? But how many of us live by that in our day-to-work? I thought I was getting outside the ol’ comfort zone on a regular basis until I took a course called Get Known, Get Clients created by business and publicity strategist Selena Soo. Selena’s course had me doing things way, and I mean waaaay, outside this introvert’s very comfortable comfort zone each week for the six months of the course.

While there were many things I was at ease with by virtue of having done them consistently for the last 2-3 years – list-building, guest posting, target market research, branding and so on – there were other things in the course that made me wildly uncomfortable, panicked even.

Such as, you ask? Well, having sales conversations, creating a signature talk and committing to live networking, for starters. (I’d actually done the live networking thing a ton over the years, but decided I was done with it about two years ago, being an introvert and all. Until this course, when I learned how to do it without feeling like I was selling my soul to the devil.)

So, the big scary: sales conversations . . . . something I knew as a service provider I should be doing on a regular basis, but always resisted. And I didn’t feel I really needed to be doing them, because I had plenty of work. But what if all that went away and I had to start over again from scratch to get clients? That’s where it would come in super-handy to develop some skill in having sales conversations. So I committed to learning this skill.

I’ve now had a few sales conversations. Turns out? Not as terrifying as I thought they’d be. (And in case you’re wondering, “sales conversations” don’t have to feel “salesy” or icky at all. It’s about sharing how you can help potential clients who have already expressed some interest in working with you; it’s never about coercion – there’s a way to have them that doesn’t employ any of that desperate, pushy sales energy.)

And when you actually get a fabulous new client out of the practice right away, one that fits your ideal client profile to a “t,” as I did? Well my friend, that’s when your confidence soars and you commit to doing more of this thing you thought you’d never want to do. AND, you help clients achieve their goals and increase your revenue at the same time. It’s a win-win-win if ever there was one.

And the bonus is, once you’ve done something scary and uncomfortable once, that particular thing gets much easier, so you move on to an even bigger and scarier goal, and wrestle that one into submission too.

On the creating a signature talk front, while I didn’t set out to achieve this in 2014, after Get Known, Get Clients, I’ve committed to creating and delivering a signature talk in 2015, because it’s an excellent way to add high-value ideal clients to your client roster. I’ll do this in steps so I don’t become so terrified that it never happens. Because I love to teach, I plan to start by developing a small web marketing & messaging workshop for creative business builders, then after I’ve delivered this 2-3 times, I’ll step it up and create a signature talk. Believe me when I tell you that this is something that a year ago I would have never seen myself doing. Mind, expanded.

The other seemingly small but profoundly impactful thing I changed as a result of taking this course – and something that’s already increased my revenue – is talking to people one-on-one who email me to express interest in working together. What I used to do before the GKGC course was respond to client inquiries with an email asking the potential client to tell me more about their project. This isn’t because I’m an introvert or fear rejection, it’s because my daily schedule is full, and email is quicker. However, what I found (duh) is that talking to potential clients over the phone results in more clients signing on, so it’s worth the extra time it takes to schedule and have the conversation.

Lesson: Getting out of your comfort zone on the regular is necessary if you want to achieve your biggest goals, dreams & visions.

“Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world. You cannot stand still. You must go forward.” ~Robert Collier

Sweet, Sweet Clarity

I often say clarity is like gold, because once you have it, you don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter. Which results in a life of more joy, freedom, cash, and fun. And who doesn’t want that?

After my weird summer and fall (see notes on not validating your dreams by prioritizing your most heartfelt goals, above), I not only achieved clarity on what I really want to work on and what really lights me up in both business and in life, but also started taking action on said clarity. I can’t overstate how important this is for creating massive amounts of joy and liberation in your life. The resource that helped me achieve this goldmine of clarity is Danielle LaPorte’s book, The Desire Map. Highly recommended.

In a nutshell, the process involves getting clear on how you most want to feel in every area of your life, then setting your goals and intentions based on your core desired feelings, or CDFs. My 2015 plans and goals are now based on my core desired feelings, which include: Creatively fulfilled; Financially empowered; Generous; Connected, and Courageous.

Other 2014 Wins:

:: The most fun and creatively satisfying investment I made this year was Book Mama Linda Sivertsen’s Your Big Beautiful Book Plan telecourse, which is essentially a live version with one-on-one feedback from Linda of the Your Big, Beautiful Book Plan digital program (which I also bought this year)

These two resources helped me organize my copious but incohesive thoughts around the book I want to write for and about creatives. And while I didn’t start writing the book in 2014 as I had originally planned, I outlined the entire thing, bought the book domain name, and sketched out a promotion plan. The challenge in 2015 will be carving out the time to consistently take action on this massive project while keeping on top of client work.

:: I transitioned away from taking on strictly real estate and healthcare clients and started working with creative clients this year. Goooooooooaaaaalllllllll! It’s a good start, and I’ll be ramping up my outreach to these clients in 2015 so I can eventually phase out of writing marketing communications in the real estate and healthcare niches.

:: There was an increase in the number of potential clients coming to me through my website this year, which is what this introvert has always wanted. This is a result of getting clear on my ideal client avatar (ICA) and unique selling proposition (USP) and implementing these insights throughout my website, which I did in 2013. I’ll be tweaking things in both these areas even more in 2015.

Figure It Out, & Do What Makes You Happy

So that’s it, that’s my 2014 year-end assessment. I’m clear about what didn’t work, what did, and what I want to achieve in 2015. And I’m setting my goals and intentions based on what I most want, not on what I feel like I should want, or what someone else says I should strive for in my business and in my life, or on anything other than what I know to be true in my heart of hearts.

What about you?

What if you chose your goals & intentions for this and every year based on what makes you the happiest, on what brings you the greatest joy?

Of course you have to make a buck and keep the lights on, but is there a way to put more of your desired creative work into your daily life?

I’ll leave you with this, one of my favorite quotes of all time:

The great actor, director and author Sidney Poitier once said when talking about his background and achievements while accepting an award:

I knew my dreams were as valid as I was prepared to make them.

Powerful stuff.

So I ask you, are you prepared to make your dreams valid this year? I am. Please join me.

 

Resources Mentioned in This Article

Your Big, Beautiful Book Plan 

Book Mama 

The Desire Map 

8 questions to ask yourself before committing to a goal (or a person, or anything for that matter). 

I didn’t mention this Danielle LaPorte blog post in the article here, but it helped me tremendously in setting and reviewing my goals. It’s a list of 8 specific questions you can ask yourself about each of your goals & intentions to find more clarity. I found this most useful when I was trying to decide if a goal was something I wanted for the right reasons, or merely something I felt “conditioned” to want.

Ashley Ambirge on how to prioritize your projects each day – I’m following this template daily now:

Million Things To Do? Prioritize by ROI. (And Then Get a Life.)  

Get Known, Get Clients 

Here’s another piece I didn’t reference in this article, but it’s a very good one on how to do a year-end review, from the fine folks at Fizzle:

The End of Year Review and Planning Process Every Small Business and Online Entrepreneur Should Follow 

And one more quote, because I can’t resist:

There’s a certain delusional quality that all successful people have to have. You have to believe that something different than what has happened for the last 50 million years of history, you have to believe that something different can happen. ~Will Smith

May we all have a rockin’ 2015 in which all our dreams come true. 🙂