New Thinking About Old Goals

Thursday, June 25, 2020
I recently came across an interview with renowned dancer and choreographer, Twyla Tharp, whom I greatly admire, and at the very end of the interview, I read this:

“You don’t want to have a goal that you can accomplish.”

Which is…wait. What? I’m a goal-driven person; I have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, yearly goals. Goals keep me on track, help me to accomplish the little things, like getting a blog post written. Goals push me all the way up to the major successes, like publishing a book. What am I supposed to do? Hope that I can accomplish all that stuff? Hope is great but without actionable goals, I’m not getting far.

But then Twyla added this gem:

“You want one [a goal] that will continuously pull you along to the next discovery.”

Ohhhh. I had to tear those sentences out of the magazine (Calm down, y’all. I own the magazine.) and sip on my tea for a while and think. Because I needed to know: As a creative and a writer, is my goal one that pulls me along to the next discovery?

How about you, dear writer? Are you wondering about your goal, too?

Most of us realize by now that we need something bigger than “wanting to be a writer”. So we get more specific, like wanting to get published. That’s a big goal, especially if you have the kind of specificity that states, “I want to get my byline in a major newspaper, or a contract with a major publisher, or my poetry in a literary journal.”

But here’s what can happen when you accomplish that big, specific, and seemingly worthy goal—at least, it happened to me, and many creatives, I think, deal with the same feeling. I call it the “is that all there is?” feeling. It’s that emptiness, even depression that one’s left with after having achieved a major and specific goal and wondering, “Hmmm. What do I do next?”

So let’s imagine having a goal that’s not accomplishable, one that propels you further and further along your creative journey. Like what if you visit the beach and see yellow tape surrounding a sea turtle’s nest? And because you think, “I hope the sea turtles make it!” you decide to find out more and write an article. So you interview a vet specializing in marine mammals, and you visit a marine science center, researching. And then one day, you sell that article about sea turtles. But that's no longer your over-riding goal, to sell that article. You’re just beginning on a journey, fueled by your love for animals and ignited by your desire to help the sea turtles. So maybe now, you want to write a picture book so children will understand the importance of the sea’s ecosystems, or maybe you’ll volunteer for an environmental organization, or perhaps you’ll even explore other species threatened by extinction…

That’s what Twyla Tharp is talking about, or that’s the way I understand it.

It doesn’t mean that your goals have to be something huge like saving the planet. Big goals can be about our everyday challenges. Maybe you care deeply about bullying or getting kids excited about science or helping people through grief. It’s often our own experiences that fuel our best goals, that can keep us going when we want to give up, simply because we’re not in it for the short term gratification. There's always something more.

So if you’re struggling in these times, wondering about what happened to all your goals and trying to figure out what your next steps should be, try stepping back. Think about what matters to you and look for something big and worthy, something that excites you and that you love. Maybe it’s not writing any more. Or maybe it’s finally getting your personal story out into the world in a TED talk!

But whatever your next goal, make it something you can’t quite accomplish. Have a goal where there's always something more pulling you along!

~Cathy C. Hall

Cathy C. Hall is often inspired by the world around her, but today she owes Twyla Tharp a shout out for the terrific inspiration provided. Not only did she pass along a great quote but Tharp has a book out--her third book at 78!--titled Keep It Moving--Lessons for the Rest of Your Life. So if you need a little no-nonsense inspiration, look around the web for her interviews.


Sioux Roslawski said...

What's the saying? Your grasp should not exceed or equal your reach? Something like that. In other words, you should reach for the stars, but you might only grab onto handfuls of air right above your head.

It IS a difficult time these days. What was a priority a few months ago... Now it seems unimportant.

I look forward to someday seeing Cathy Hall the star of a Ted Talk... Seriously. Or your memoir. Or even meeting you in person. (But don't think you're going to get away that easy. The 3rd things could happen, along with one of the other ones. ;)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Ha! I think we're all reaching beyond what we thought possible, Sioux. And when I show up at your door, I hope you don't pass out!

Kathy Steinemann said...

Great post, Cathy (just about spelled it with a "K" -- force of habit). I've always had a desire to travel to space. Maybe it's not a goal, but it has kept me interested in the universe.

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