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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