I haven’t really written much this summer. There, I said it. I mean, I’ve written plenty. I’ve been somewhat prolific. But it feels like I haven’t written anything at all. Same goes for reading. The two activities, for me at least, are completely and utterly intertwined. I planned on writing so, so much this summer. I thought I was going to blog nearly every day, I thought I was going to write some stories, I thought I was going to write a novel. I was also going to sit around reading all day. I was going to read every book on my somewhat vague, somewhat ambitious, somewhat long (and ever-growing) “to-read list”. And this is all on top of my handful of other household responsibilities, occasionally interacting with other human beings and sleeping in until noon. There were also TV shows to watch, plays to see and places to go. I was also really going to clean/thoroughly organize my room. So, while technically I had “no plans” over summer break — no camp, no job, no major commitments — I planned on getting a lot accomplished.
I did accomplish a lot. I “published” some blog posts, I wrote a story or two, made some decent headway in Novel Number One during Camp NaNoWriMo — at least as far as word count goes — before abandoning Camp NaNo along with that failure of a “novel”. I started planning Novel Number Two — although, at the rate planning is going, I may be ready to start actually writing the thing by 2020. I read about seven books in the past three months, which for me is pretty good (it probably would have been more if I hadn’t tried out the habit of reading more than one book at a time, but that’s a whole other discussion). I’ve travelled and slept in and just hung out this summer. I socialized, I watched TV, I saw some great movies. I even made some form of dent in the room-cleaning endeavour (by which I mean that now I can totally see what colour my floor is).
So, I had a great summer. A somewhat productive summer. But doesn’t really feel like it. And I think that’s because I aimed too high.
“Shoot for the moon,” some guy once said, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Generally I hate inspirational/motivational quotes, mostly because they tend to be nauseating, thoroughly overused clichés. This is one I hate in particular, and, looking back over my summer, I’ve decided that I strongly disagree with it. I just don’t believe it. The higher the stakes, the farther you can fall — and the more that fall will hurt. At least in my experience.
I tend to have a very “all or nothing” personality, so when I do set goals, they tend to be big and somewhat vague, and then if I don’t meet those ridiculous and all-encompassing goals in the ridiculous and arbitrary amount of time I’ve given myself to meet them, I see it as a failure. Furthermore, for me, just the setting of these enormous goals is enough to keep me from meeting them. I get overwhelmed and paralysed by what I have in front of me, so I just avoid starting. Forget the moon and stars; if that’s where I’m aiming, I’ll just end up dawdling around on the sidewalk, trying to work up the courage to get started on my upward trajectory.
I think “shooting for the moon” is often the clichéd equivalent of “biting off more than you can chew”, or piling up too much onto your proverbial plate — both things that the mighty clichés warn against.
I’m not against ambitions — I certainly have plenty. Ambition and goals are important, but I think it’s also important to remember that whole thing about moderation being key. Last summer, I had a couple of little goals that I wrote down on paper. The only one I met was along the lines of “write something, anything, every single day.” I have a nice journal filled with all sorts of ramblings from that summer and I was actually able to meet that goal. Sure, that journal contains nothing “publishable”, nothing that will directly achieve any of my hopes and dreams. But it was something I accomplished. Something I kept at. Something I felt good about having done. The self-confidence, and creative exercise, that it gave me led to more creativity and the confidence to move on to bigger, more substantial goals. Sure, I imagine I wasn’t completely satisfied by the end of the summer by how I’d spent my vacation — who ever is? But I had accomplished one of my goals and so I was okay. I look back at that summer as being very prolific, although, in terms of quality, I would venture to say that this summer has been far more of a success.
It really just depends on how you look at it. My plans this summer were too grand and so the results fell short; I aimed too high so missing made me feel like I had landed on the ground. Whereas last year I aimed just high enough. Writing (something, anything) every day was something I’d never done before, so while it wasn’t difficult, it was new, it was a challenge. I didn’t write every, single day. There were days I missed, days I skipped. But there was always the next day and the day after that. Because I didn’t aim to high, I was able to stumble at times without much more than a bruise and then keep going.
Maybe this summer wasn’t a failure, I simply didn’t manage to reach an impossible, insane, unspecific goal. I think the real failure, isn’t that I didn’t meet that “goal; the failure was in the nature of the goal I set. And if you remove the vague, all-encompassing plans and aspirations I had for the summer, and just look at what I accomplished, I think you’d find I did pretty well for myself.
I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.
Do you set yourself up for failure by setting absurd goals? Did you get what you wanted out of the summer? Is this post starting to sound kind of like a super lame self-help book about how you can most effectively shoot for the stars? Would this be more interesting if I was giving out chocolate? (That was a joke. There’s no chocolate. Sorry to get you all excited.)