Last week, in the first leadership team meeting of the year, my boss said he wanted each of us to begin thinking about our personal work goals for 2023 and be ready to present them to him in our next 1-on-1.
I lit up. “Oh, right on,” I said. “I have been working on my goals already. I did that over the holiday.”
My fellow team members rolled their eyes. Brown-noser, they thought, no doubt. (One reason I have no doubt is that one of them said to me the next day, “You were totally brown-nosing in that meeting.”)
What’s funny about this is that I was actually trying really hard NOT to show my level of enthusiasm about our boss’ assignment. I wasn’t brown-nosing at all. I am just really, really into New Year goal-setting.
Some people are driven by goals. I am driven by setting goals.
In years past, I’ve drafted up one-pagers with categories and sub-categories: Finances (budget practices, saving, giving, debt-reduction); Professional (publications to pitch, conferences to attend, classes to take); Family (trips, rhythms of interaction with wife and kids); Body (races to run, aches and pains to address); Spirituality (rhythms of silence, prayer, reading), and so on.
All of this could, to be sure, get a little out of hand. One year, one of my goals was to chill out about goals.
Related: When we lived in Boston during graduate school, my wife and I had a friend over for dinner one night and we were talking about one thing or another, I don’t remember what. At one point I made a glancing comment about being a pretty laid-back guy. Our friend interrupted me: “Patton, you are NOT a laid-back guy.” Until she said that, I had no idea.
But honestly, goals do not dictate my day-to-day life (…he wrote, while working on his “30 Good Minutes” writing series.). I don’t track goal progress very much, and I’m almost as prone to set a goal aside as I am to set one. Indeed, one of my concerns in general is that I’m not great about follow-through. Yes, it’s ironic that I’m writing about this as part of a blog project that has me writing for 30 minutes each week, but look at the date. I’ve not written one of these posts for more than 6 weeks. And they always take me more than 30 minutes.
In 2022, one of my goals was to “make our backyard more inviting.” We have a canopy of live oak trees back there, and a great deck built by the previous homeowner, but there is always too much dog poop and the garden is in shambles and there are weeds everywhere and every shrub is overgrown except the ones that are dead and our too-cheap furniture is usually covered in dirt and dog hair and grossness. When it’s all cleaned up, I sit out there every morning and read and write and listen to the birds and look into the trees, and the space does all the things for my soul that you want nature to do for your soul. But mostly, especially for the last three or four years, I put off doing anything about the mess.
So I made that goal in January 2022, and I started early last year by laying down black plastic over a few large areas of grass and weeds that needed to be smothered. And then, the plastic proceeded to lay there All. Year. Long. I made one step toward the goal, and no more.
Take that story, and imagine how it plays out in all the goal areas I mentioned before.
But of course, I am being a bit hard on myself. I have paid down debt and run some epic trail races and published in places I wanted to publish and invested in family trips. Rhythms of silence and prayer? Well, last year was a low point, but some years have been better, and I’m grateful to say that my first week of 2023 has had more intentional quiet than all of 2022 combined.
For me, the pleasure of annual goal-setting is really in the setting. It’s the measure of hope that comes in looking ahead and imagining what is possible. I know I’ll fall short in some areas, maybe even all areas. But I’m not inclined to let fear of failure, or even actual failure, get in my way. Setting goals helps me think past what isn’t working to imagine what could work, and what I want to work.
So what if I only get 25-50% of the way there? If I didn’t write down what I wanted, I don’t think I’d even get that far.
I finally pulled up that black plastic last weekend, and the grass and weeds underneath were really, really dead. This year, that is going to make it a lot easier to finish last year’s goal.