I want to be an artist!
I would say this to myself and others while I was growing up. It was a big, nebulous goal that I actively worked on in fits-and-starts throughout my childhood and into adulthood. I loved the practice of art but also romanticized an artist lifestyle that I would surely one day realize. Why did I want to be an artist? What habits and techniques did I need to develop to get me there? I didn’t know, I just knew I like it. My goal proved effective on it’s own as a way to focus energy in a general direction, but I could feel that some things were left out. For one, I wasn’t very intentional about achieving my goal.
intentional (adj): done on purpose; deliberate.
I’ve generally felt that new years resolutions are only partially effective, similar to my experience with the goal of being an artist. The same way I’m put off by the question “where do you want to see yourself in 5-10 years”, resolutions tend to be, at least for me, at risk for being too big to wrap my arms around and too focused on a destination versus the journey. Instead of just having big resolutions/goals, I’ve learned that I have to first have solid principles that ground me as well as a set of good habits and routines that support the experiments necessary to improve and progress toward my goals.
I recently remembered an “experiment” I did when I was 16. It was the summer of ’96, and while my sister and I went to school in Seattle, in the summers we visited my Dad in Wyoming. This meant that I didn’t have the distraction of my classmates, and in a surprising moment of wisdom, I took advantage of that situation. I set forth a goal of spending an hour per day doing one drawing. The only real criteria I set was that the drawing is done completely in one sitting. I remember that I was really interested in becoming a better artist and I knew I had to practice in order to advance to the next level, but I wasn’t very disciplined at setting aside time and always felt like I needed an idea before I started. In turns out what I really needed was to get out of my own way. I obviously didn’t think of it in any deep way though, I just enjoyed drawing.
So, I got a sketchbook specifically for the task and every afternoon, sometime between 3pm-5pm, I sat down at the desk in my room and did a drawing. The subject of most of these were of superheros and heroic adventure scenes and high-flying car chases, and a lot of them are not very good technically (my figure proportions are way off), but I did it. I filled an entire sketchbook front-to-back with full drawings, and I “finished” them by spraying fixative on at the end (thus they wouldn’t smudge). They exist to this day. There is even one or two that I love.
Even though the habit of a drawing a day was simple in theory, it wasn’t easy. Sometimes I didn’t really want to draw, or didn’t feel like I had a good idea for what to draw, but regardless I sat and and drew something.
Until last week, I hadn’t thought about a drawing a day in years and was almost shocked when I remembered how much satisfaction, joy and energy it gave me as a teenager. A drawing a day was a step towards being something I wanted to be and was totally in my control. It required the simply the discipline to put a pencil to paper and move it. A purpose, goal and action aligned.
A drawing a day led me to ultimately pursue web design, begin a career in technology and was a precursor for my approach to other changes that have most positively impacted my life. Recent examples include experimenting with my diet (going 30 days without caffeine, alcohol, gluten, meat, etc) and another experimenting with mindfulness (starting with 10 min meditations a day for 30 days).
Experimenting with your life frees you to create differently, but you need to choose new causes (intentions) consciously. If you don’t choose different intentions consciously, unconscious parts of your personality (the frightened parts) will choose them for you, along with the consequences they will create for you.Gary Zukav, from the article Intentions and Effects
As I reflect on the past year, I can see that I’ve been pretty good at setting goals (although I can always be better at making them more SMART) and am all-in on progress through experimentation for achieving those goals, but I still struggle with feeling buffeted about by things outside of my control and sometimes feel that I don’t have an internal compass. What’s open for experimentation vs not? How should I choose what to prioritize? How do I weather different challenges and emotions with confidence? What I’ve been searching for can be summed up brilliantly by the following:
“You might not always achieve success, but you can always behave honorably. You can act in alignment with essential values, attaining the peace of mind I call ‘success beyond success.”Fred Kofman, from the book Conscious Business
The Next Level
My next step is to spend more time developing and refining my “why” (thank you Simon), also know as my principles, and lining up my goals and actions accordingly. Here’s the framework I’m (experimenting) with in order to be more intentional:
- Establish principles. I have a list of principles that I have been building and refining over the past year. These are the things that provide the foundation for my intentions and who I want to be. Want help figuring these out? Try this: write down three people you admire. Now write down 3+ traits each of them have that are the basis for your admiration. Those are the same traits you want to have and, I bet, already do. An example of a principle I have is to focus on quality over quantity, and a sub-bullet under that is focusing on on depth of experience vs a material goods.
- Set clear goals. I have a written list of goals, the things I’d like to explore or make happen. These build off of my principles and can and will change. An example of one of my goals is to be a self-published writer and an artist. Another is to move to Scotland with the family.
- Make progress be experimenting. I treat all my tactics as really small, achievable experiments. This is the path to achieving my goals, as they force action and naturally lend themselves to adaptation. Setting aside 60 mins to draw and write each day for the next 6 months is an example. Creating content for this blog with my wife is another.
- Reflect and refine. I try to do reflection on a weekly and monthly basis, it’s so important. Thinking about what’s worked and what hasn’t tends to feel like wasted time, as we want to just get on with the next thing. Spend more time here than you want to and it will benefit. After all, that’s how your principles came about in the first place!
In many ways setting goals is the easy part. The challenge is in knowing yourself well enough to set the right goals, and in having the discipline to sit down and work on them, one drawing at a time.