In Between the Goals: Embrace the Process

Work vs. Play. Please note that my grocery store labeled Cadbury's Mini-Eggs "produce."

Words I have written in new novel started yesterday: 1,207

Words I need to write by October: 69,003

How many ways this is a bad idea: 42 million

My son got his first goal at a soccer game last night. The look on his face was a tremendous blend of “I can’t believe I just did that!” and “I just did that! I wanna do it again!”

I can relate: I have a goal-setting problem. This may come from the same gene as my list-making one, as if by simply writing down “Mueslix,” on a grocery list, it’s as good as done.

I absolutely love short-term goals: blog posts (check!), the newspaper articles I write (check!), essays (check!), getting a 10-miler or other long-run distance done each Wednesday (check!)… but the long-term ones are both my saviors and my nemeses (is that the plural of nemesis?).

I have come to view winter as a time to buckle down and work: the kids are at school (unless they’re sick, which can happen quite a bit in the winter), the weather is too cold to beckon me into the outdoors much, and Things Get Done. This winter, in between shivering and squinching my shoulders and threatening to move to The Islands, I did some novel queries, wrote and researched a couple of longer articles, trained for a half-marathon and felt generally productive.

Summertime, on the other hand, is my favorite season. After the kiddos get out of school, they fight with each other roughly every 5.3 seconds for the first two weeks. Then they settle in, and we go to the pool, visit the family, go to the beach, eat lots of ice cream, watch movies and go on bike rides/runs. Not a lot of goal-doing gets done. Short articles, and this summer, maybe short blog posts will get completed. Don’t bet on productivity. It’s a 16:1 spread.

Then there’s this wonky time in between the two seasons: the feeling of being untethered. The half-marathon over (but a 10-miler race next weekend!), the long, hot summer stands before me. The first novel written, the next one a shimmering possibility turning over and over in my mind. Completing a goal is a complicated mix of satisfaction and… what now?

Back in my last year of college, my then-boyfriend spent some time thinking I was uptight when the end of college was looming. Senior year, for me, was like the image old cartographers recorded of getting ready to step off the end of the world. I didn’t have the problem of having no goals, because my goal was to get a job. Preferably one that didn’t involve asking the two questions: “Would you like fries with that?” or “Would you like to put this on your credit card?”

(I’m rethinking about whether this is uplifting story, since I did end up waiting tables for seven months. And I’m a little peeved that I never got Employee of the Month.)

Some form of redemption did occur when my then ex-boyfriend (remember how unsupportive he was about my freak-out? I kick butts and take names, and don’t forget it.) came over and told me he finally got it. He finished college a year later and experienced the same form of untetheredness.

I did go on to get a job, and then another job, and another job… all goals, all checked off and satisfying. But always, there is the feeling of “what’s next?”

As a goal-setter, I’m trying to learn to embrace the process; the inevitable, in-between time… the time when thoughts are swirling but nothing is getting on paper or legs are covering shorter distances with no goal race in sight. Of course, the novel will get written, the race will be registered for.

I think about the goals themselves at my son’s soccer game: there’s the whole field, lots of running, and people serving as obstacles; the goals are a pretty small fraction of the whole game space. But when the ball sails in between the posts because you had something to do with it… satisfaction.

I’m setting new goals for the fall, even if there will be some slacking off during the summer months. And I have a new tool in my arsenal: Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs are now categorized as “produce.” I can’t imagine anything more motivating.

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14 thoughts on “In Between the Goals: Embrace the Process

  1. crubin says:

    Speaking of goals, I am 5 minutes behind my projected start time of writing 1,000 words of my short story before supper. So this is a short comment. But thanks for getting me motivated. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks for letting me be a diversion. ; ) Good luck getting it written. May I suggest Spaghetti-O’s?

      • crubin says:

        Ha ha! Didn’t even need the spaghettios. Got my 1000 words written and still made the kids a healthy meal with whole wheat pasta–though they would have preferred the spaghettios…

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    Mini-eggs are produce? Does that mean they’re healthy? 😉 Maybe I should run to the clearance aisle at the store before I make dinner….!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Produce? Really? REALLY? I think I kind of love you. And as for waiting tables for seven months…I think that everyone should work in service at some point in their lives!

  4. Melissa says:

    Goals?!? I don’t need no stinkin goals….they make me skittish from the pressure of the what ifs. But then I get nervous without them. Got to love those double edge swords.

  5. 1. Mini Cadbury Eggs are produce!?!?! Proof there is a God and He loves us and wants us to be happy.
    2. Apparently a middle-aged post-menopausal woman works your produce department, May God Bless her Forever Amen.
    3. Goals are like being pregnant. You get started on it and then you feel nauseous, then you need to pee, then you need a snack, then you start feeling crazy, then you get hugely sluggish and think it’s never going to happen oh my GAWD this is crazy what was I thinking I CAN’T DO THIS and just when your brain is .999999% of the way from exploding: out pops the baby. Best of luck and I’m getting the book when it pops out!

    • annewoodman says:

      Ooooh. I like the pregnancy analogy. I was the worst pregnant woman ever. Very grumpy, and the entire time, I kept thinking, “Now? OK. Now? Can the baby come out NOW???” Patience–not one of my virtues.

      • OMG, and when I was pregnant with the twins it was a constant struggle of wanting them out and not wanting preemies (they behaved, made it to 38 weeks). It’s a great analogy for life! I think I got twins so I could learn patience … but the lesson never took 😦

  6. Ok, sorry for the language but I just saw this on FB and choked and almost blew my ice tea out my nose, which did rather hurt, but in view of our previous conversation it cracked me up:
    “Success is just like being pregnant. Everybody congratulates you, but nobody knows how many times you were f*cked.”

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