I was thinking about work time and leisure time, about success and what it all means when – out of the blue – I was struck by an ear worm from the 80s. Dolly Parton has been prancing around in my head ever since – so it’s been getting pretty crowded in here – and this is what’s leaked out.

I’m pretty sure that on most days a goodly number of us do tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pouring ourselves a cup of ambition on the way to the start of some version of a 9-to-5. So where do our dreams and unrealised ambitions fit into this picture and how can we shift from Dolly’s (admittedly tuneful) daily grind towards achieving any or all of them? In essence, how does one become successful? Indeed, what is success?

At various times I’ve attended mindfulness workshops, entrepreneurial workshops, professional development sessions and ontological coaching seminars that have targeted variations of those question. Whilst each event was interesting in its own way, the most interesting thing is that two clear threads seems to run through all of them. Firstly, since it’s based on personal aspirations and ideals, success looks different to every individual. Secondly, the chances of recognising and achieving success are significantly increased if we set ourselves goals.

How does this whole goal setting thing work? No doubt there are as many different answers to this question as there are people to ask it, but not everyone has the time or opportunity to follow the bouncing ball through workshops, seminars, ice-breaker sessions and supplementary reading… so here’s my take on it.

I found that a pretty good starting point is to take about 10 minutes of quiet time. Find yourself a comfy spot and just sit there – on your own – for a while. No, I’m not urging you to meditate, burn incense or sit cross-legged – although feel free to do so if it’s your thing. What I’m suggesting is that you just sit quietly, take a deep breath and think for a bit. Think about what it is that you want to achieve – the big things and the small things. Don’t avoid them just because they seem unachievable, just let them all drift through your mind one by one as you sit there.

I found this part quite hard to work through and had to have a couple of goes at it before I stopped floundering, but I gradually got there. This made the next step, which is to write them all down, a whole bunch easier. Since no-one gets to see your list except you (unless you choose otherwise), it’s important not to self-edit at this point. Just write all those ideas down, then look at the list you’ve created and select four or five major objectives (goals) and a similar number of smaller ones to focus on.

Don’t panic – there’s more. Here’s where I tell you that literature on this subject suggests that it’s a good idea to set SMART goals. This is workshop-speak for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. I wasn’t clear on what that meant at first, given that the literature also advocates dreaming big and not ruling out things just because they seem unachievable. The two ideas seemed mutually exclusive.

It turns out that there’s a trick to all of this: first you set some goals (write them down),  then you define how the goal can/will be measured (the exact $, the size of car, the variety of holiday, the number of children, whatever). Moving on, you look at the goals you’ve written down to establish whether they’re attainable – then you take the BIG goals and redefine them if they look unmanageable. Essentially, you CHUNK the big goals into smaller, achievable steps to move you along the pathway towards where you want to be. It’s that old trick of starting a journey with a single step. The last two points are to ensure that the goals you’ve set are relevant to you (not someone else) and to set a timeframe for achieving each goal (3 months, 1 year, 5 years).

Voilà! SMART goals.

What I did next was to create a vision board of my key goals. I spent a bit of time hunting around online for images that could represent my various goals visually, to give them some specific shape and clarity. I put them all together on one page, printed it out and stuck it up in my study. Why? Well, what both the chunking of the goals and then the visualisation does is to help me to stay focused on them. It provides that little nudge I sometimes need on down days and an affirmation on up days. Either way, I end up feeling like The Little Engine Who Could – chugging away “I think I can, I think I can”  as I gradually move forward.

Success is always a work in progress as some goals are achieved, some are reviewed and others are replaced by more relevant goals. What’s pretty clear to me is that the top only remains out of sight if you don’t start heading towards it. I can honestly say that my forward momentum started with me actually articulating my goals, looking at them and making some decisions about what’s important to me. Perhaps this will work for you. If you do decide to give it a go, please be kind to yourself on the journey. Dust yourself off and start again if things don’t quite work out sometimes – and celebrate your successes – no matter how small – when they do.


the little engine that could

kites collageIt’s been a few years since I last put together birthday goodie-bags, which is not surprising – considering that my youngest just turned 32 🙂

Luckily both skill and enthusiasm were still lurking in the dim recesses and the process turned out to be much as I remembered: a fair bit of planning, lots of glue, bits of paper and trying to get all the lollies INTO the bags instead of eating them. Or at least all of them…

Eventually all the component parts were assembled and the kite kits / goodie-bags were good to go. Kite flying birthday (of aforementioned youngest) dawned a bit grey and rainy looking, but cleared up enough for a foray to the local park for some kite action.  First the kite kits were unpacked and mini kites constructed (tasty treats discovered in bags were fun for all), then the kites were tested and modified (by those of an engineering bent), after which we all trooped across to the park.

A couple of commercial kites were unleashed, but the mini kites really won the day: perfect for limited space and not much wind. There was lots of fun and laughter – and a little girl running around shouting ‘I got it! I got it!’ added to that immensely. Adorable-Anaira is two years old and found it much more fun to chase kites than to fly them. Very reminiscent of a hyperactive puppy, actually… and that was before the very tasty, icing-covered, kite-cake for afternoon tea…

I see some editing (however minor) in my immediate future…

A few weeks ago I read an essay by George Orwell in which he suggests that a ‘scrupulous writer’ should always ask the following of every sentence s/he writes: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? and Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? He adds that the writer should also consider whether what they’ve written is concise enough.

I’ve been mulling these questions over while waiting on a critique of my memoir (elsewhere referred to as Epic Tome #1). Is what I’ve written clear enough, succinct enough and, most importantly, interesting enough to engage readers? It’s become more and more difficult to answer these questions, particularly since I’m so embedded in the narrative. I’m prepared to confess to a smidgeon of obsessing on the issue, actually.

Then, this weekend, I found a most delightful surprise in my inbox. After weeks of worrying about the manuscript assessment, I finally received feedback in the shape of a very encouraging email and a comprehensive report from Tom Flood. I bounced around for the whole weekend after reading the email, feeling rather like I’d had too much sugar – or caffeine – or both. I didn’t even read the report until this morning – a combination of nerves and that Christmas-morning feeling of anticipation before all the gifts are opened.

Essentially what the report says is encapsulated in the email itself:
“…congratulations on a well thought out and executed manuscript. Not much to do to bring it to a publishable condition…You could have this ready for submission in a very short time… If that is the track you’re interested in, I would eschew agents and approach publishers directly, working from large to not so large.”

happy danceIf I had a picture of me doing the happy dance all over again, it would go here – and would quite a lot like this!

(Oh, and if you’re interested in the Orwell essay, you can find it at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html#part42)

orange blossom_23aug1410 weeks ago I came across a 12-week online programme called Write your book in 12 weeks. It sounded promising – and it only cost $99. What a bargain!,  I thought, and signed up immediately. I waited with an-tic-i-pation for the first of the 12 weekly modules to arrive in my email inbox, confident that this programme would help me to pummel my notes into a good rough draft of my next book within three months.

But here’s the thing – and it’s scarcely new news: writing – or even editing content already mostly written (that’s me) – actually takes a bit more than $99, following instructions and scheduling time. Not exactly a revelation, but it still a bit disappointing to realise that 10 weeks out I’m not a lot closer to that first rough draft than I was at the start. It’s also a bit surprising since I’m usually pretty focused once I set my mind on something. So I guess that this isn’t (currently) something I want badly enough.

So what have I been doing instead? Well, I prettied up Epic Tome #1 a bit and finally sent it off to Flood Manuscripts for a manuscript assessment. That’s a big step all on its own – and I’m anxiously awaiting feedback as to how much rewriting I’m in for before I try sending it off to a publisher. That aside, I’ve been blogging. Yup, instead of editing/rewriting sections of Tome #2, I’ve been cobbling together regular slice-of-life posts as a way of regaining my joy in writing. It’s spontaneous, random, creative and moves me to think about the world around me differently. Coming up with topics each week can be a challenge, but it’s also fun. I head out to work, play, shop, walk and drive with one part of my mind paying that little bit more attention to the odd and the ordinary – and to my responses to them.

Things that made me smile this week: driving through rain puddles and creating giant sheets of water – wearing bright orange socks with my new red shoes – a bedraggled sunflower on a wintery morning – a girl with scarlet hair on the train – watching 100 school kids learning how to draw an emu – the smell of orange blossom.

On reflection, I don’t think it matters all that much that I’ve fallen behind on my 12-week writing programme. It’s still there, ticking away in the background, and I can – and probably will – pick it up again later on. I’m satisfied that I’m writing – and doing so regularly and with enthusiasm.


This is part of a strip that appeared between May and June, 1992. For the whole comic strip, check out http://blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2012/03/sunday-comics-calvin-and-hobbes-on-writing-a-short-story/

happyfaceSuccess! Today (with help from a minion) I managed to do enough tricky stuff to be able to load a picture onto this site and figured out how to get rid of WP random words on test page 🙂