Reflecting on Goals, Part I

In the last Ground Hog Day Resolution Review, I realized that one of the best things about having them was the reflection that went into them. I did my reflection a few days later than planned, sitting outside this past Saturday at Starbucks with my reporter-style Moleskine for about 45 minutes. I let whatever tickled my mind drive the creation of lists, ultimately filling six pages.

List 1. Random Reflection

Foremost on my mind was a recent post I caught on Senia’s Blog, the biggest lesson she’s learned at a career coach struck home. In part1, she writes about two archtypical creative doers: one who does things because it’s the right thing to do, and another who does things because it’s what he feels like doing. In part 2, Senia writes how she’s struck that there are so many people not doing what they want to do, and how sad this makes her feel. Senia is a very good friend of mine, so I could easily imagine her face falling just a little bit, savoring the sad feeling to get a good grip on it, then exploding into a flurry of energy-creating exercises and actions to chase those blues away from people that she knows can be happier and more fulfilled in life. She’s very good at this, and reflecting upon her approach to life I realized that I’d swung waaaay too far toward the “doing things because I feel like it” approach. I don’t think that this was a mistake, mind you—it was a necessary step to take to really get in touch with what is important to me—but now that I have more answers it’s time to do things because they are the right thing to do. This trumps the forces that have been working against me:

  • laziness, blahness…
  • lack of motivation; a strong feeling of ennui
  • feelings of personal suckiness…
  • feeling disconnected from the world and people…

What I like about “doing something because it is the right thing to do” is that it’s a moral principle, not an process optimization. Before, I had given myself too many choices, and picking the best path seemed impossible even when I knew that any of them would do. I lacked conviction because the choices lay in the domain of process and self-interest. For me, those are not very strong motivators; while I like process, I need the context of real live people to make it interesting and relevant. Also, Wally Krapf once told me that the secret to having a good life was to get outside of yourself. I have been trying to figure out what he meant for the past two years, and I’m thinking that if one does something “because it’s the right thing to do” has something to do with it. It subtly shifts attention away from “what I want, what I feel” toward something larger. And maybe this is the sense of mission I need to self-motivate. To summarize, there are many paths, but perhaps the trick is not to obsess about which path to take. The clarity of purpose comes from taking a path, and by doing so for the “right” moral reason will ensure that the results will be shaped accordingly. This may seem very obvious to anyone with children, but it is rather new to me.

So what is the right thing to do for me? As I was saying to my friend Erin this morning as we talked of the upcoming X-Files movie, what I really believe in is that everyone has magical abilities waiting to be unlocked, and that I love discovering what they could be. This childlike glee is what underlies just about everything I do, and I have an insane desire to see it happen. It’s the basis for my interest in design, process, productivity, empowerment, and inspiration.

List 2. Project 2010

For the past year I’ve been plotting to figure out how to escape my dreary existence and become more of a citizen of the world. This is quite a jump for me because I am inherently a homebody, but interesting and unique stories are out there and I want to find them first-hand. The arbitrary goal I’ve set for myself is by the year 2010, I want to be able to have the means to GO. I jotted down a prep list to keep the outstanding issues fresh in my mind. The highlights:

  • Debt elimination / household stabilization, so I can live leaner and require less money.
  • Updating my Couchsurfing account, so I can meet more people between now and 2010 and therefore be part of a more international community.
  • Looking into TEFL certification
  • Getting the design and product businesses in shape so they can travel with me to any country.
  • Figuring out whether this is an escapist fantasy or not. Maybe I won’t actually like it.
  • Gaining more solo travel experience.

List 3. The Social Scene

Also on my mind is maintaining a connection with my local community. The situation is vastly better than it was last year thanks to establishing myself as a “regular” at the coffee shop, and finding the right local Meetup groups. And then there are the friends I have nearby who are popping out new babies and forming new relationships; they’re farther away, but it’s good to know that things are going well. I wrote down a few things that were important to me:

  • Meetup activities.
  • Visits from people I’ve met through SXSW and this blog.
  • Family visits.
  • Personal health: Dental, Exercise in particular.
  • WebNOB, the Web Developers North of Boston group that formed recently.
  • Getting more creative retreats going this year.
  • Setting up a Quake 4 dedicated server

List 4. Process Challenges

I mentioned earlier that I have been stuck in a “doing things because I feel like it” mode, and the companion mindset has been to not follow a process-oriented methodology. It has been a good vacation, more artistic than engineering, but I have gotten soft and need to get back into some good habits if Project 2010 is going to go anywhere. Here’s what I jotted down:

  • Maintaining the strategic picture, so day-to-day tactical operations are effective and accumulate results over the long term.
  • Not being overwhelmed.
  • Not overlooking details.
  • Not overscheduling or overworking.
  • Making predictable progress.
  • Blueprinting my time use to find the “natural” amount of time it takes to do something.
  • Developing a regimen that works.
  • Developing new process methodologies and documenting them for public use.
  • Working through process discomfort, accepting that it takes a while to develop those mental muscles.

List 5. Next Steps

I needed a big push to get things rolling, so I wrote down a few things that I wanted to focus on to kickstart the week:

  • Clean the house. I threw out 15 years worth of once-sexy computer equipment that I was never going to use again. It felt awful, and it felt good.
  • Sort the house. I am going through each room and figuring out what “piles” exist. As the piles accumulate, I am figuring out where “their place” will be. I’m also borrowing a technique of tagging piles for “transfer” from the world of airline luggage handling, creating piles with a “purpose destination”. I don’t know where that is going to be yet, but all I need to know is that it’s NOT THIS ROOM.
  • Trust my instincts and don’t overthink the consequences. I tend to worry about whether I’m missing something or am about to screw something up, but experience has shown that “things just tend to work out anyway.”
  • Start writing PCEO descriptions and assemble the book. It is going to be long and arduous, but ultimately it probably won’t be as bad as I think.
  • Sell out the remaining ETP pads and don’t worry about the awful e-commerce system I’m using. Just get it done. Then I can move on to stage 2.
  • Visualize, then Do to gain practical experience. It’s very easy for me to visualize how much a pain in the ass a task will be, but it never is as bad as I think it will be.

In Conclusion

Not bad for 45 minutes of thinking. It actually took twice as long to write it all down in this post, but this was (I think) a good way to consolidate the notes into a stream of consciousness. My day of reflection ended up providing me with some useful working principles. My next reflection day is May 27th, so we’ll see by then what aspects of my notes I end up taking to heart.