On setting goals for a new year

2013 is finished. It’s been a mad, mad year. I’ve learned a hell of a lot. I’ve lost a couple of friends, one to suicide and two to fights. I’ve learned how to actually critique criticism that’s sent my way, to evaluate it on the basis of my own values – to take in what would bring me closer to my values, and ignore what would take me further from them. It’s only taken me 30 years and it’s not perfect but WOW what a difference skills like this can make. I’m finally starting to wrap my head around the idea of adulthood in a way that’s exciting instead of skin crawling. Awesome.

One skill I do have that I’m often asked about is goal setting. This is always fun for a multiple because there’s so many, and very divergent, goals, needs, and desires. Every year for the past 5 or so years, I write up a goal list. It’s not a list of resolutions. It’s about things I want to do or try or learn, and it’s there as a reference, partly to help guide choices, and partly to try and make sure no one part’s goals are constantly forgotten. Every year I get some goals done and others get added to the year after or left behind as circumstances change. Every year I’m surprised by some wonderful unexpected opportunities that open up that weren’t on my goal list and I go through those open doors and enjoy a life that isn’t always planned and doesn’t always turn out how I think it will. This is how goals work best for me – as guiding lights. They are the things that help me seek after things I desire in life. I’m always happy to be waylaid, and some goals remain frustratingly out of reach. But there are so many things I love and want to do, this isn’t the end of the world.

So, for example, back in 2011 my personal goals list included items such as:

  • Establish myself as an independent artist
    • get an ABN
    • make a website
    • start a blog
    • arrange business cards
    • attend MYOB training at WEA
    • attend any other available training about business for artists
  • Continue with ACA visual arts degree in Semester 2
  • Continue working with MIFSA/as a peer worker
  • try to pick up about 2 days p/wk total workload
  • Continue working with the Dissociative Disorders workgroup
    • possibly develop a talk for THEMHS
  • Arrange suitable short-medium term living quarters
    • shed?
    • caravan?
  • Apply for training with Lifeline to become a telephone counsellor
  • Apply for training with Radio Adelaide/Poets on Air
  • Take back up Sunflower Shop voluntary position if time permits
  • Publish or get ready for publication a booklet of poems and an introduction to managing DID
  • Investigate becoming a mentor or foster carer with Life Without Barriers
  • Take up learning Japanese
  • Explore Japanese style ink paintings and poetry
  • Develop my camera skills
    • create a portfolio of work based on Singapore trip
  • Develop work for exhibition
    • SAW
    • Mental Health Week
  • Continue to develop my health support system
    • find and begin work with a good psychiatrist
    • continue building my personal library
    • continue to investigate options for health, buteyko, chiro, massage, diet etc
  • Pick up at least one form of regular physical exercise
    • dance
    • pilates
    • martial art/self defense
    • cycling
    • walking
  • Continue to develop social networks – major goal to have at least one physical location (however small) and one person for each member of my system to feel safe and at home with.
    • goth community
    • alternative/hippy community
    • christian community (maybe salvos?)
    • creative community
    • DID/MH support
    • gay/queer/trans community
    • dating and friends

Some of these things were far easier to pull off than others. When life had so many barriers and so few needs being met, I found it was far more effective to focus energy on the goals that were proving easier to meet rather than impose my own hierarchy on them. I also found that sometimes obvious sequences of goals were not that way at all – for example I expected that I would find housing, do a degree, then get work. Things worked differently for me. Housing was phenomenally difficult, whereas I found many passions and work opportunities (usually unpaid, admittedly) first. So part of what makes goal lists work for me is that they are only ideas to navigate by, not things I MUST do or things to make myself feel shame about. I still haven’t taken up Japanese, and I’m okay with that! Maybe I will one day, maybe I’ll never get to it.

I also break my goals down into very small steps. If I try very hard to reach a goal and can’t, I haven’t made the step small enough. For example, I had a number of failed attempts to get back to uni after becoming very unwell and derailing my life plans. Each of these attempts took up all my time and energy, and each time the sense of failure was profound and massively eroding my confidence and sense of hope. I finally decided that this was too big a jump – from bed bound by illness to university. So I did smaller steps. I started to do one day classes at the local WEA. Then I took on two day classes. Then classes that lasted over three or four weeks. I got myself back into routines of travelling to a place to learn each week, of finding my materials from last week, doing homework, navigating parking and the lifts and new people. Then classes that ran over a term. Finally I graduated to term long Tafe ‘Short Courses’, and then I took on semester long classes as an external student, from the visual arts degree in college I wanted to get into. Finally, I enrolled in the degree. I have finished exactly half of my first year so far, and it’s slow and difficult, and I love it, and I’m often very sick and unable to attend. This process has been humbling and frustrating and time consuming, but ultimately far more successful and exciting.

Without To Do lists my life would be impossible. I’m a dissociative multiple who struggles to track information and I have many projects going at once in different life areas. My goals list is another way I check out how things are going in major life domains – social, spiritual, work… and to remind myself about important new journeys I want to take – whether that’s finding a friend to go to the goth clubs with, or exploring the local permaculture groups. Sometimes life is best navigated by going where it takes you. Sometimes you need to run into it, go exploring, try something new, and find new passions, friends, ideas, and experiences to speak to your soul. Goals are best when they are in service of a great life, congruent with your values, and easily cast aside when they come into conflict with values. It’s about living thoughtfully, giving consideration to the life we build every day, so often without thinking about it or realising that our ‘normal’ is a choice and we can make other choices. This is not about success or failure, it’s about maps and star charts and sailing the high seas, about tacking into the wind and setting forth to have a meaningful life.

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