Why Achieving Your Dreams is Boring. But Worth It.


If a ridiculous person like myself could be said to have a “career,” I’d say it’s tackling a few dreams at a time.  The most consistent thing I do in my life is use the relatively boring process of setting and achieving unremarkable goals to make my dreams a reality.  For example:

Dream:
Travel abroad for “at least a year.”

Unremarkable goals:

  • save huge chunks of your paycheck for three years while finding ways to live happily with little or no money
  • Stick to a budget. Religiously.
  • Invest even when it feels like you don’t have the money.
  • begin traveling, trying every travel hack you hear about to travel happily with little or no money
  • Stick to a travel budget. Religiously.
  • Invest even when you’d rather spend the money on travel.

Result:
This month marks seven years of location independence, which doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.  I’m writing from Australia, and will spend the rest of this year in eight to twelve different locations across the U.S. and Central America.


Dream:
Stop working 9 to 5 so that I have time to do the things I most want to do.
Unremarkable goals:

  • Stick to a budget. Religiously.
  • Invest even when it feels like you don’t have the money.
  • Don’t give up when life gets terrifying and hard.
  • Don’t listen to people who tell you what you’re doing is ridiculous or unachievable
  • Once you’ve set your eyes on a stream-of-income prize, see it through to the end.

Result:
For ten months of the last seven years I gave the bulk of my time in exchange for money.  Eleven months if you count shoveling shit at a horse farm for a few hours a week when I got to the bottom of my “grocery money” barrel and refused to dip into savings.  I haven’t worked a “real job” for two and a half years.  I plan on getting my next one… never.  I’m not saying I’ll never work again.  But I do hope never to give most the hours of my day to a task that isn’t one of my top priorities in life.

Uh huh… And?

I’m yammering on about the boring goals it takes to achieve one’s dreams because we’re 25% of the way through 2017.  And that means it’s time for me to review how I’m doing on the four 2017 goals I set this year.

I’d rather be at the gym pumping iron than thinking and writing about my goal progress.  Wait.  I’m made of iron.  Do I even need to go to the gym?! photo: brian siewiorek

This quarterly review thing is the perfect example of the miserable reality that underlies achieving one’s dreams.  I’ve avoided monthly reviews like the plague for all but the first month of this year.  And this quarterly review has been #1 on “To-Do List Things I Least Want To Do” for almost 20 days running.

What are the “dreams” I’m tackling in 2017?

  1. Live with the level of awareness it takes to satisfactorily document my life.
  2. Be a warmer, kinder, more thoughtful person.
  3. Take better care of my brain.
  4. Explore storytelling as a hobby and possible future income activity

The action plans for those goals sound less sexy.  Take a photo a day.  Greet people appropriately.  Find a way to like daily meditation.  Spend a few days each month applying to storytelling showcases and then memorizing story bulletpoints.

The minutiae underlying the action plans moves from “unsexy” to “almost painful.”  I’m supposed to sit down at the beginning of each month, evaluate how I’ve done the previous month, and set intentions for the coming month.  Yuck.  I spent the entire month of March putting off February’s look-back-look-forward, blaming a hectic travel schedule.  And I leveraged the same excuse for the first week of April.

Thinking painstakingly through each facet of goal achievement (or lack thereof) is at least as un-sexy as our good friend Joe Dirt. Sorry Joe. photo: chaosfish1

When my Aussie mate went out to get his hair cut, I forced myself to start reckoning with my failures and a few successes thus far.  Now, nine days later, I’m back to finish the job:

Wins & Losses

Photo-A-Day

This has been my biggest win so far this year.  I’ve only missed one day, and only about 10% of my photos are, “Oh shoot… I haven’t taken a photo yet today!” photos.  I do have to give travel some credit for making life easier.  It’s the days where I’m just working that I have to stretch a bit to find something worth capturing.

I wanted to put my favorite photo of 2017 (so far) here. Too hard to choose! So instead I give you my most controversial – target practice with my dad.

An unintentional but welcome consequence of this endeavor has been a hugely increased awareness about the passage of time.  Each week when I post the photos, I mentally check in about where we are in the year.  I’m regularly aware of the month being half-over, the year being 10% or 25% or 30% gone already.  It keeps me “awake.”  It makes it much easier not to put things off until “later.”

Greeting People Appropriately

Fail.  Fail, fail, fail.  I suck at this.  Suck.  My biggest “achievement” in this department is being consistent about writing down my failure every day.

100% achievement of this goal would look like this: I hear a car pull up in the driveway or a door open, and I am so filled with enthusiasm and appreciation for the people I’m about to see that I immediately drop what I’m doing and go running to greet them.

Omg, omg, omg!! I am sooooo happy to see you!!! photo: margaret jen

Actual 43% achievement so far this year looks like this: the noises of people arriving are still firmly trapped in my subconscious.  I can get from tires in the driveway to car engine shutting off to car doors opening & closing to house doors opening & closing before I remember… “Oh yeah.  I’m supposed to go say hello to those people.”  Then I’m sprinting down the hallways at top speed with a look of panic (versus a look of “Hello-So-Happy-To-See-You!) on my face.

I don’t have any concrete plans to get better at this yet.  My next two goals are taking all the making-change energy I have at the moment.  So I guess the plan is just to “try” – in that non-specific, no-actual-plan, good-luck-with-that-honey kind of way.  Which essentially means I’ll just be writing down my failures for the rest of April.  We’ll see what May brings!

Daily Meditation

At 99% achievement, this goal is not a failure… numerically.  But I kind of hate it.  The point of this goal is to meditate daily (check.) and like it (not check.).  Maybe I should change the goal to “liking meditation.”

It’s just so hard.

It feels like learning to shoot baskets with a lopsided hoop.  Or playing soccer on a field that runs uphill.  Or learning to ride a bike with a flat tire.  I guess I’m saying my equipment feels broken… like I’m doomed from the start.  I suppose this falls into the “Whether you believe you can or you can’t… you’re right” category.

Sad basket. photo: oscar del alcazar

I do have my moments.  Moments of full, deep connectedness and bliss.  But they are nestled among peeks at the clock and “Oh god, really?  Still four freaking minutes left?  Ugh.” thoughts.

I do manage to meditate every day.  But I feel like I’m on a diet and I cannot WAIT to stop eating meat and vegetables all the damn time.

When I traveled through Asheville, North Carolina recently, I stayed with an awesome woman who took me to a yoga class where the teacher had us do something called square breathing – 6 seconds in, 6 seconds holding, 6 seconds out, 6 seconds holding, repeat.  At the end of the class he announced a 50 Day Meditation Challenge coming up.  With deep conviction (and intense dread), I buddied up with my host and we signed up on the spot.

Today is Day 9 of ten minutes a day (up from my former very-achievable goal of three minutes a day) and I am slogging along.  But I remain hopeful!  Headspace is finally available online instead of just as a smartphone app aI don’t have one, because I am crazy..  It’s been widely recommended to me by friends and readers galore.  I can’t help feeling like Headspace might be “cheating,” but at this point it’s the only way I can make mental “meat and veggies only” diet seem even mildly palatable.

Your suggestions welcome.

Storytelling

Hmmm…. Now I understand why I’ve been putting off this quarterly review so tenaciously.  Apparently, I feel like I suck at everything.

On the surface, my storytelling action-plan of performing once a month and doing a continuing education item once per month is going well.

In January, I stood on two different stages talking about being kidnapped by fate and the stupidest thing I ever did as a teenager.  For education, I attended four different storytelling shows in Austin, Texas and read the entire Wikipedia page on storytelling.  bWhich introduced me to the U.S. organization for storytelling on the day of their deadline to apply to perform at their 2017 summer conference.  I rushed to prepare a fitting story, practice, find an empty stage, record a “performance,” edit the video, and submit it before midnight.  Found out a few weeks ago that I was chosen!

In February, I got on stage once, talking about my worst U.S. Immigration and Customs experience.  For education, I attended and analyzed another storytelling showcase.

In March, I was lucky enough to take a storytelling workshop from a woman I admire who has the clout of winning one of the biggest storytelling competitions in the U.S. several times.  I stood up in front of my fellow attendees to talk about the rude awakening I got when I went head to head with a train.

Oh yeah. Totes can beat you. Watch me. photo: extra zebra

Technically, I’m three for three.  Winning, right?

Nope.

I’ve come to hate it.

Well… not meditation-level hate.

The storytelling part is wonderful.  I really like telling stories.  But the devil is truly in the details.  Getting to the storytelling part has been a nightmare.

Originally I thought, “Whoa!  Storytelling would be perfect for me as a traveler.  Everywhere I go, I’d have a fresh audience!”  Finding a stage, however, is miserable.

I originally planned to fit a performance into my tour of the south last month with my Arubian-Dutch friend who flew over from Amsterdam for two weeks.  I spent hours googling “storytelling _____city-I’m-going-to_____.”  From lists of storytelling events in each city, I’d follow leads, clicking onto organizations’ websites and venues’ listings.  I traced a path through all sort of calendars and events pages, squinting in concentration trying to understand whether or not the website was current and whether or not their “one-day-a-month” event lined up with one of the two or three days I was in town.  You don’t have to be a math genius to understand that the odds are low.  I did this for five cities.  I struck out completely.  I found one event happening on the same night I’d be in a city (on World Storytelling Day, no less!)… but I’d already committed to helping my friend achieve her goal of seeing an American professional sports game.  #fail

And finding a stage is just half the battle.

Round two. Bring it! photo: doctorwonder

Then there’s the application process.  Most storytelling nights have a theme, so wanna-be tellers have to rack their brains to figure out which of their stories fits best.  People who put on these events invest lots of time and energy.  They want them to go well, which leads them to create pretty large barriers to entry.  It’s not uncommon to have to write out your entire story, despite the fact that the written and spoken word are two very different beasts.  Writing down a ten minute story takes hours, my friends.  Hours.

The time suck doesn’t end there.  If you get the return-on-time-investment of actually being accepted to the show, then there’s rehearsal (a few hours), practicing on the day of the show (a few more hours) and then the actual performance (three hours by the time you arrive early, perform, watch other performers, and mingle afterward). cThis, my friends, is why performance artists charge “so much” for a gig.  That $350 band of 5 makes $70 each for a two hour set.  In your brain, you think, “Hey $35 an hour isn’t bad!”  But if you factor in the time it took for them to be find-able dwebsite, flyer making and distribution, etc. and the time they spend rehearsing, they’ve got about ten hours invested in your gig.  $3.50 an hour is a wage so low it’s illegal.  And this doesn’t even factor in all the time they’ve spent over the last several months and years honing their skill.  But… I digress.

Exhausting.

If this is how I made money, I’d resent it immediately.

Hang on, though.  Part of the reason I made this a whole-year goal was in defense against my mile-wide, inch-deep orientation to life.  I don’t tend to be interested in most things beyond the 80% mark, which can be achieved rather quickly.  I find that final 20% – tweaking, refining, perfecting – to be boring.  I’m capable of tenacity, as it applies to my mile-wide, inch-deep philosophy.  But I don’t value the payoff that comes from baby steps that get you from “good at X” to “great at X.”  eI recognize the depth of life I’m missing out on.  I compare it to fair-weather folks missing out on the beautiful contrast between intense, freezing winters and the glory of summer.  They don’t care what they’re missing out on, as long as they don’t have to shovel snow.  I don’t generally care what comes after that last 80%, generally. I’m far more interested in racing off to learn about Y and Z and 1, 2, 3!

Really? I never knew that about orangutans! But you know what I was really wondering. Do you suppose fighter jet pilots get into situations where their brains can’t go as fast as the jets? And actually, speaking of jets… I’ve always wanted to learn to fly. Maybe I should take lessons… photo: likeaduck

I knew if I didn’t make myself stick with storytelling for an entire year, I’d abandon it at the 80% mark.  But you don’t get to part-time, plausibly-respectable storyteller by stopping at 80%.

So here I am.  I hit 80% on storytelling in three months and now I’d like to abandon ship.  Spending the rest of 2017 – the last 75% of the year – on the final 20% is terribly unappealing.  However, I acknowledge that while my life is the way I want it to be, there’s a real chance that I don’t know what I’m missing.  I’m sure there are beautiful things that come out of the 20% slog.

Achieving your dreams is boring.  But worth it.  Right?

Wish me luck?!  ♣

References   [ + ]

a. I don’t have one, because I am crazy.
b. Which introduced me to the U.S. organization for storytelling on the day of their deadline to apply to perform at their 2017 summer conference.  I rushed to prepare a fitting story, practice, find an empty stage, record a “performance,” edit the video, and submit it before midnight.  Found out a few weeks ago that I was chosen!
c. This, my friends, is why performance artists charge “so much” for a gig.  That $350 band of 5 makes $70 each for a two hour set.  In your brain, you think, “Hey $35 an hour isn’t bad!”  But if you factor in the time it took for them to be find-able ((website, flyer making and distribution, etc.
d. website, flyer making and distribution, etc. and the time they spend rehearsing, they’ve got about ten hours invested in your gig.  $3.50 an hour is a wage so low it’s illegal.  And this doesn’t even factor in all the time they’ve spent over the last several months and years honing their skill.  But… I digress.
e. I recognize the depth of life I’m missing out on.  I compare it to fair-weather folks missing out on the beautiful contrast between intense, freezing winters and the glory of summer.  They don’t care what they’re missing out on, as long as they don’t have to shovel snow.  I don’t generally care what comes after that last 80%, generally.


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